Justice for Filipino WWII Veterans!
After answering Amadeo's comment that the United States has too much on it's plate at present to help certain of our aging Fipino WWII comrades, I decided to add this post to address why my blog buddy is so wrong. Last year, I wrote the following letter trying to find a US senator or congressman to sponsor a bill to at long last correct this terrible injustice. I've had no luck yet, but if anyone else feels as angry as I do about the situation I describe below, by all means contact me with any suggestions.Dear United States legislator,
I have discovered an unjust situation concerning my fellow U.S. veterans—our Filipino WWII comrades. The following is the gist of the problem, and the simple solution that I recently wrote in the form of a resolution, which essentially involves a change to one of the VA's directives/policies. I must stress that the change I am pushing for won’t wait as these folks (the youngest now 80 years old) are dying off even as I write this:
I propose this resolution to amend all appropriate parts of the CFR 38 and M-21 regarding adjudications concerning claims by Filipino veterans of World War II to:
Change current procedure that causes the VARO Manila to deny outright Filipino WWII claimant’s applications for VA benefits based on lack of verification from data archived at National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in spite of contrary documentation* that, if determined valid, shows that they should indeed be eligible for benefits.
1. Just after WWII, in the late 1940s, the United States War Claims Commission or WCC was set up in the Philippines to address claims of civilian property damage and to gather information concerning Filipino veterans who had participated in the war on the side of the allies.
2. A primary task of the WCC was to canvas the entire expanse of the Philippines to determine who was a valid veteran of the USAFFE and of the recognized guerrillas including their status as POWs (as collected on Red Cross lists) and also information concerning possible collaborator status of Filipino veterans.
3. All data gathered by the WCC is archived at NPRC at St. Louis, Missouri.
4. * In 1947, when Philippine Commonwealth Army Personnel reverted to full control of the newly sovereign Philippines, the United States Army turned over all documentation concerning these men to the newly formed Armed Forces of the Philippines. These voluminous papers have been in archive status in Manila ever since, and include such documents as U.S. army pay records, enlistment and discharge orders, medical records, and other such documents. The VA implausibly considers none of this documentation valid, UNTIL the Filipino veteran’s name is confirmed to be on the WCC listings archived at the NPRC.
1. In spite of a supposedly concerted effort by the WCC after the war, not all veterans of the USAFFE and of the authorized guerrillas were contacted by WCC agents, and this resulted in these veterans not being documented.
2. Current procedure is that only WCC information archived at NPRC may be used by VARO Manila or the BVA to make determinations regarding the following:
1. Status of service (as collected by the WCC).
2. POW status (as collected from the Red Cross Lists by the WCC).
3. Collaborator status (as determined by WCC investigation).
4. When a Filipino makes a claim with the VA, and presents apparently valid documentation* showing proof of U.S. service, before the VA processes the claim they query NPRC for “proof” of the claimant’s service and other information based on archived WCC data.
5. If NPRC cannot find the claimant’s name on the WCC service list, the VA denies the claim outright based on lack of proof of authorized U.S. service regardless of any and all documents* presented by the claimant to the contrary.
6. Filipino veterans who became POWs, and then subsequently escaped from the Japanese before the Red Cross recorded their names, are denied authorized POW status by the VA regardless of documentation* to the contrary.
7. Filipino veterans who were determined after the war by the WCC to have collaborated with the Japanese are forever considered collaborators by the VA and denied benefits, even if these men were subsequently legally cleared of these charges and have documentation that shows it.
8. We have found from cruel experience that all data gathered by the WCC, and now stored at NPRC, cannot be added to, corrected, or altered in any way.
9. Because data gathered over 60 years ago by the now defunct WCC is evidently considered infallible by the VA, and therefore information set-in-stone and un-modifiable, Filipino veterans and their widows are routinely denied consideration for benefits by the VA even in the face of overwhelmingly contrary documented evidence. *
1. Amend or append all applicable passages of the 38 CFR and the M-21 to require the VA to adjudicate ALL claims made by Filipino veteran claimants, their widows and dependents regardless of possible faulty and incomplete WCC information stored by NPRC.
2. Before simply denying a claim at the outset based only on unalterable, possibly incorrect and incomplete 60 year-old WCC data, The VA and BVA must fully consider ALL available documentation* when adjudicating claims based on valid U.S. service, as well as claims affected by POW and collaborator status.
(Senator/Congressman-woman), I wish you could see the look of pained confusion on the faces of these old veterans (and at times their widows) as they bring to me convincingly valid documentary evidence* that shows they served and were honorably discharged. Their confusion comes when the VA discounts their documents*, no matter how legitimate, because their names are not on the 60-year-old WCC list archived at NPRC, or when the VA makes denials based on other obsolete WCC info. The documents* some of the folks clutch expectantly in their hands range from U.S. army discharges, U.S. army pay records*, U.S. active duty medical evidence*, photos of themselves in their U.S. army uniform, and so on.
I have been trying to help these folks since I started in this voluntary position as service officer going on three years now. I have not been idly sitting on my hands or wringing them all this time. I have tried every avenue I can think of to get justice for these veterans, but to no avail. The VA has stonewalled these people and me as we have tried to use the appeal process.
I say, "Stonewalled" because the VA’s routine denial letters are misleading if not outright disingenuous. The VA leads us to believe that it might be possible to set the record straight, just not through them. Some of their denial letters tell the veteran that only the U.S. Army can make the changes, or that NPRC has the authority. In fact, the VA knows full well that these claimant veterans have absolutely no recourse or any available method to correct WCC information whatsoever. I learned this fact the hard way when I actually sent several correction packages to NPRC, after one archives technician wrote and told me that they might be able to “rebuild the veteran’s service records.” After sending several packages to NPRC, I finally got a straightforward answer from a more experienced archives technician who stated, “it will literally take an act of congress” to ever get WCC documentation amended or appended.
(Sir/Madam), I am convinced that the VA is aware of this situation. For example, a traveling BVA judge actually stated off-the-record, “I know it’s wrong but there is nothing I can do.” The attitude displayed by this judge and by VARO Manila representatives is the most un-American mind-set I can conceive of. We have a clear wrong in the way we are treating claimants, its been going on for decades, and VARO Manila’s response has been to shrug their collective shoulders and to smugly imply that this is not their problem, that there is nothing they can do. I lose sleep at night because of this and yet it seems none of this seems to bother the people in charge at VARO Manila at all.
The irony is that most of these old Filipino vets won’t qualify for anything more than a U.S. flag at the time of their death, so for the most part it’s not a question of money. The point is that these veterans deserve to be acknowledged as such, and if they are valid vets, then their claims should be processed. To say that only information derived by the long defunct WCC is the ONLY way that a WWII Filipino can be validated as a U.S. veteran is nonsense.
For instance, Ninety-year-old Mr. Santiago came to me three weeks ago with a stack of U.S. Army documents* after the VA told him that as far as the United States was concerned he had never served. During the war he was the only Filipino rated as a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Forces. He has a picture of himself in his US Army Air Corps uniform. I asked him if he remembered the WCC coming to the Philippines after the war. He said he was too busy helping to set up the fledgling Philippine Air Lines, and in flying the president of the Philippines from place to place, to be aware of any such thing. This man had been a POW and escapee of the Japanese twice, first as a USAFFE troop and then again as a guerrilla, and it seems VARO Manila cannot care less.
My plan now is to start finding advocates in the U.S. legislature to help me with getting the VA to stop their outrageous procedure of ONLY using WCC evidence in adjudicating claims of Filipino WWII claimants. The WCC was NOT infallible and they did NOT get it right in many cases, so why should this documentation be considered some kind of sacred bible-like record?
Late last year I approached senior officers of the VFW and got no help and as I already said, this situation cannot wait for another year, so action must start now. I have found a couple other retired servicemen like myself who are just as upset about this as I am, and they are going to help me write senators and congressmen like you in an attempt to find justice. Your attention to this matter is greatly appreciated, and I humbly ask your support to finally fulfill the promises we made to these brave veterans. I am confident you are fully aware that we enjoy the freedoms we do today thanks to the selfless contributions of these men and women. In my opinion, they are as American as I am and deserve unquestioned and immediate acknowledgement of their service, and if eligible, care and compensation.
* In 1947, when Philippine Commonwealth Army Personnel reverted to full control of the newly sovereign Philippines, the United States Army turned over all documentation concerning these men to the newly formed Armed Forces of the Philippines. These voluminous papers have been in archive status in Manila ever since, and include such documents as U.S. army pay records, enlistment and discharge orders, medical records, and other such documents. The VA implausibly considers none of this documentation valid, UNTIL the Filipino veteran’s name is confirmed to be on the WCC listings archived at the NPRC.