Filipino veterans struggle to remain visible in DC

Posted at 09/03/2012 11:22 AM

WASHINGTON D.C. - He propped himself with a cane, breathing heavily from apparent exhaustion. At 95, Celestino Almeda valiantly works to remain visible – braving heat, sleet and snow – to remind the United States about her unfulfilled promises to an ally over half a century ago.

In California, a group of Filipino World War II veterans gave back their old uniforms and service medals in symbolic protest over America’s failure to grant the same benefits given to her allies at the end of the war.

But the US indicated it was also caring for the aging Filipino World War II veterans in other ways, pouring in $192 million (about P8 billion) in disability benefits for about 8,000 Filipino veterans or their family members this year.

President Obama signed in 2009 the stimulus package that contained the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC), providing a one-time lump sum payment ($15,000 for those in the US and $9,000 for those in the Philippines) for Filipino World War II veterans.

Paying the money – meant to make up for an injustice when Filipinos who served under the US Commonwealth Army and American-led guerilla forces during World War II were arbitrarily stripped of their benefits in the 1946 Rescission Law – is predicated on fulfilling stringent requirements.

Almeda, who earned American citizenship in 1996 by being a “bona-fide” US war veteran, is still fighting to get the lump sum.

“I had an appeal and 3 days before the hearing, I was able to get a record of my service at the NPRC (national personnel record center) in central Missouri, and the appellate judge remanded the case to the regional office in Manila for proper disposition,” he told the Manila Mail.

Since 2009, 18,350 Filipino war veterans or their survivors “have received a total of $221 million in one-time FVEC payments. This exceeds the 18,000 veterans estimated prior to the FVEC benefits becoming law,” according to the US Embassy in Manila.

But about 24,000 have had their applications rejected for various reasons. Some 4,389 have filed appeals, mostly to question the strident reliance on the NPRC, the so-called Missouri List.

“I don’t know why the appellate judge remanded the case to Manila because I got the record of my service at NPRC,” he added testily.

His tone turns sad, “That was 8 months ago now. I have not heard anything about it. I don’t know what will happen now.”

Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Manila reported that last year, the Department of Veterans Administration in Manila disbursed $187 million in compensation and pension payments; $15 million FVEC payments; nearly $11 million for medical services; and over $2 million for education and vocational programs.

The statement noted the funds had “sizeable economic impact on the Philippines and a significant positive impact on the thousands of veterans and beneficiaries it serves in the Philippines.”

But for aging veterans like Almeda, the wait – and the struggle – continues. Perhaps one of the most recognizable Filipino World War II veterans on Capitol Hill, he is present in most major Washington DC events for veterans, providing a face to America’s broken promises.