Opening Statement of Hon. Steve Buyer, Ranking Republican Member, and a Representative in Congress from the State of Indiana
Mr. Chairman as I have written you, I am absent from today’s hearing to attend the funeral of Rep. Charlie Norwood. Congressman Norwood was a colleague, veteran friend, and a statesman dedicated to the Americans he served.
I thank the witnesses here today for their testimony, and those who, under arms, served the American and Philippine people in World War II I especially thank you for your service.
I submit for the record an opinion piece that was published in The Washington Post on January 28, 1998. The article, entitled “Filipino Vets and Fairness” was written by the former Chairman of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Congressman Bob Stump.
I associate myself with his remarks and I look forward to a continuation in the equity with which we have provided Filipino veterans of World War II with VA healthcare and benefits.
The Washington Post
January 28, 1998
By Bob Stump
Filipino Vets and Fairness
Much has been made recently of the renewed demands by Filipino veterans of World War II for an increase in payments of U.S. veterans' benefits ["Under the American Flag," editorial, Dec. 13]. As a World War II Navy veteran of the Pacific theater and of the liberation of the Philippines, I respect the service rendered by Filipino veterans. But it is important to view current policy in its historical context. While Filipino forces certainly aided the U.S. war effort, in the end they fought for their own, soon-to-be independent Philippine nation. I do not believe that simply serving under U.S. command meets the test of swearing allegiance to the Constitution of the United States.
Fairness is a concept often mentioned when discussing veterans' benefits for Filipinos. Fairness is certainly important. That is why I am disappointed that Filipino veterans look to the United States for increased benefits, since it was Philippine soil on which the U.S. and Philippine armies fought the Japanese. I strongly believe the government of the Philippines bears responsibility for its veterans. Yet the benefits provided by the United States far exceed those provided by the Philippines. I believe that is one measure of fairness. Should U.S. veterans ask for benefits from the Philippines or any other country they liberated in World War II?
News accounts about promises of full U.S. veterans benefits being made to Filipino veterans during World War II appear to be unsubstantiated, despite our best-faith efforts to find such documentation. Using the experts at the Congressional Research Service, our investigations have determined five important points. First, the records of President Franklin Roosevelt, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and the War Department clearly show no intent to offer Filipinos full U.S. benefits. Second, most Filipinos who were under the command of the U.S. armed forces were considered members of the Philippine Army. Third, the original Philippine Scouts, who were part of the U.S. Army since 1900, are receiving full benefits. Fourth, at least two court cases have upheld the current benefit program. Finally, Filipinos are the only group of non-U.S. veterans receiving VA service-connected disability compensation and survivors' benefits. No other Allied nation's veterans receive such benefits from the United States. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, in 1997, the United States paid nearly $ 50 million worldwide to Filipino veterans and their survivors. Additionally, the VA spent $ 3.2 million for contract medical care delivered to Filipino veterans in the Philippines.
Two categories of Filipino veterans currently receive full U.S. benefits, while three categories receive benefits at the one-half rate. Even at the one-half rate, the compensation is generous. A 100 percent disabled Filipino veteran receives $ 962 per month -- nearly 12 times the Philippine per capita income, while a veteran rated 20 percent disabled receives about $ 90 per month -- roughly equal to their national per capita income. The Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) payment to survivors of Filipino veterans is $ 416 per month, or five times per capita income. I wish we could do that well for our own veterans. If a U.S. DIC recipient were to receive a payment equal to five times U.S. per capita income, it would be nearly $ 90,000 per year instead of the roughly $ 10,000 they now receive.
We are not ignoring the concerns of the Filipino community and are treating it fairly. In 1997 I had the honor of meeting with several representatives of the Philippine American Heritage Federation, including retired Brig. Gen. Tagumpay Nanadiego of the Philippine Embassy and attorneys Joel Bander and Jon Melegrito. This was the third time I have met with various Filipino veterans in the last several months, including Antonio Ty, commander for the Philippine Department of the American Legion.
It is clear to me, after meeting with Filipino veterans, that many do not understand the benefits for which they are now eligible. I have asked the VA to increase its outreach to the Filipino community in that regard. There also seems to be a misperception among the Filipinos that every American World War II veteran is receiving a VA pension. That is hardly the case. Of the roughly 7 million World War II veterans still living, only about 233,000 (3 percent) are receiving a VA nonservice-connected disability pension. The Filipinos I met were also surprised to learn that I do not receive anything from the VA for my World War II service in the Philippines.
These meetings with the Filipinos do not mark the end of our efforts. I have instructed my staff to work with the Philippine American Heritage Federation to arrive at a common understanding of the U.S. and Philippine benefit programs and their historical context.
The United States continues to be generous to Filipino veterans, and I continue to believe that the basic structure of U.S. programs is appropriate. I believe we have been fair.
The writer, a Republican representative from Arizona, is chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.