LeRoy Collins Commentary 64

Commentary #64
29 June 2007

Veterans' Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007

Perhaps two months ago, the Governor's Deputy Chief of Staff, to whom I report on a regular basis in my job as Executive Director of the Florida Department of Veterans' Affairs, asked if I was enjoying my job. My YES answer was explained by replying....my job of dealing with Veterans is a new history lesson everyday. Attached is such an example, which I thought you might find meaningful, as well. But first you need to have some historical background yourself:

On 22 June, I attended the Governor's signing of the "Scott Speicher Bill" at the Veterans Memorial Wall located in the park a block west of the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. LCDR Scott Speicher USN was shot down on a combat mission flying an F/A-18 Hornet from his aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf during the first Gulf War in the early 1990s. His parachute was seen and he was believed to have been captured, yet neither him nor his remains have been found ever since. His fate is still undecided, so this bill was passed by the 2007 Florida Legislature to allow two of his children to receive some education benefits typically accorded the survivors of deceased Veterans.

Among those present besides the Speicher family, was a small, but visible group of perhaps 6-8 Filipino Veterans, with their active leader whom I see often, Dick Acquino. After the ceremony, Dick introduced his comrades to Governor Crist, who graciously oblidged with a photo op (in which they invited me, too).

Dick introduced me to the Filipino Veterans, one of whom was quite elderly, but still lean, standing straight, and proudly bemedaled with many decorations I recognized from World War II. But in addition, Dick explained this wiry smiling gentleman with a cane had ESCAPED FROM THE BATAAN DEATH MARCH following the fall of Corregidor in Manila Bay in the early days of the War, .....joined the U.S. Army, ......and later participated in a daring successful raid to lead a U.S. Army Ranger team to rescue American POWs from a notorious prison deep in the Philippine jungle near the end of WWII. WOW!!!

With that history lesson of less than two weeks ago, you can imagine why this newsclip got my attention in the last few days:

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Dateline Washington, DC, 27 June 2007:

The Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs today approved legislation authored by U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye that corrects a wrongful action committed against Filipino veterans of World War II, and provides them with fair and equitable treatment.

Under Senator Inouye's provisions that are part of the Veterans' Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007, Filipino veterans of World War II would be officially restored to full veterans status, making them eligible for VA benefits and healthcare services that had been denied to them.

"Between 1934 and Philippine independence in 1946, the United States retained certain powers over the Philippines, then a U.S. possession," explained Senator Inouye, a combat veteran of World War II who received the Medal of Honor, the United States' highest award for military valor. "These rights included the right to call into the service of the U.S. military those forces organized by the Commonwealth government. That occurred on July 26, 1941, by order of President Roosevelt. The Filipinos who served are entitled to full veterans' benefits by reason of their active service with our armed forces. Hundreds were wounded and many more died in battle.

"Furthermore, shortly after Japan's surrender, the Congress passed legislation that sent Filipino troops to occupy enemy lands and to oversee military installations.

"However, in 1946, two laws were passed that betrayed our Filipino allies. As a result, Filipino veterans who fought in the service of the United States were now precluded from receiving veterans' benefits that had been available to them before 1946, and that are available to all other veterans of the U.S. military, regardless of race, national origin, or citizenship status.

"By denying Filipino veterans their benefits, we are denying the reality of their service, their bravery, and their willingness to answer our call to arms.

"What happened 61 years ago was not right; it was shameful and disgraceful. That is why for 16 years I have been persistent in my efforts to secure passage of the Filipino veterans equity provisions. The legislation is about fairness and dignity - core American values. It is also about correcting an injustice that has stood for way too long."

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I guess sometimes it takes extra time to get it right....
/s/LeRoy Collins, Jr.
www.leroycollins.org


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