Tuesday, April 11, 2006

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:

Resolution:

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.

Background:
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.

The problem:
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. *

The Solution:
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.

Sincerely,

Phil Spear
pjspear1@yahoo.com

* 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.

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8 Comments:

At 5:34 PM, Blogger watson said...

Phil, THANK YOU for helping out the Filipino war veterans. My grandfather on my mother side is a war veteran. He is lucky to be receiving a monthly stipend, considering what his counterparts are going through. He passed away many years ago and his pension has been passed on to my grandma. She too passed away a couple of years ago, and I think the pension has passed on to his grandson who has the same family name as our grandpa. I think that's what happened.

I never got to know my grandpa, though I have a photo with him and my older brother and sister when I was but a kid.

 
At 5:39 PM, Blogger watson said...

It would have been great to have heard stories from him about those times, though I'm not so sure if he would have liked to re-live them :-(

 
At 7:23 PM, Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

Hey Wat, actually these old fellas don't get pensions; unlike their American comrades, Filipino WWII vets are only eligible for disability compensation. The same is true for their widows; they can only receive what is called DIC, or Dependency Indemnity Compensation. DIC is only granted to widows when her veteran husband dies of a previously granted service connected condition. Also, DIC ends at the widow; it cannot be passed on to children, much less grandchildren.

Part of what I enjoy about service officer work is talking to vets. Many of them love speaking about their service; actually, most of them do. I am also a lay-historian, so hearing about past events from the guys who lived it is a real treat for me.

 
At 8:08 PM, Blogger watson said...

Then it would have indeed been great to hear from my lolo. Sadly, that time has come to pass. Our only reminder of him is the big Philippine flag laid on his casket.

 
At 1:47 PM, Anonymous Benjie said...

Hi Phil. I came across your blog as I was doing research for a paper I'm doing for my grad school. How I wish I came across your blog earlier. I'm not sure if you can do something about my grandfather's problem but I guess just telling you about it somehow unburdens me.

My grandfather is also a war veteran but he is not lucky enough to be acknowledged by the US. He has petitioned several times yet they have ruled that he should not be recognized.

They say that my grandfather served under the Japanese when they came here. True, he did that but then it was because his life and his family's life was under threat. The Japanese would have killed him if didn't.

So now he is very old and I feel that he is going to pass away soon. It just pains me everytime he tells me his stories.

Well that's about it. Thank you for your time and let me say that you are doing a wonderful job!

 
At 1:27 AM, Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

Hello benjie, Since I wrote this blog entry I have probably met another 50 or 60 old veterans like your grandfather who KNOW they served and yet are unfairly denied their due by VARO Manila. I continue to be ashamed and frustrated by it... I wish I could offer some hope, but no one in our congress or senate cares; I suppose because these old fellas can't vote, and unfortunately most Filipino-Americans are too busy with their own affairs to get involved. I need to find a single congressman or senator to take this up, but no one has stepped forward. Tell your grandfather I am very sorry... phil spear

 
At 11:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Phil and to all advocates of justice for WW II Filipino Veterans...

Too sad to know the grim reality and fate that befell upon our fellow veterans. They absolutely don't deserve it! They deserve the highest respect, honor, privilege and benefits that a single Filipino individual of this lucky generation may have presently and continually enjoyed. A permanent fruit of liberty emanates from the
self-sacrifice, bloodletting and hard-fought battle waged by our WWII heroes for the love our country. Had it not because of them Philippines could have been still in the dark days of our lives. This we owe it from them!

My point is, we should not entirely depend on what America can do to prove our case. Amadeo's comment may be right that "the United States has too much on its plate at present to help our aging Filipino WWII veterans." And true indeed that it necessitates a legislative act of the U.S. Congress to reconsider, modify or amend their previous act governing the rules and procedures in accepting and adjudicating settlement claims by our fellow veterans. There may be, in my humbe opinion, an oversight on the part of their elder legislators to anticipate future discrepancies or inconsistencies of their act. No one really knows underneath the surface unless they or we can have a freehand access on the records to delve on the statutory construction or legal intent of their legislation...coz i worried that our implementing agencies might have just misinterpreted or misapplied the law available at hand.

But as far as I'm concerned, this crusade for justice to all Filipino WWII veterans must start at our very own Philippine yard before our U.S. counterpart could take its appropriate move to straighten the records and the law itself. This needs proper representations, a diplomatic move and representation, so as not to put our efforts and hope in total vain. Philippine Veterans Law is an act of our old congress, therefore, it can be safely concluded that the present bicameral have the legislative power and authority to legislate measures to earnestly request the U.S. Congress to supersede, much less modify or amend the laws pertaining thereto. No doubt this would bear fruits if appropriate actions are to be made in view of the U.S.-Philippine ties. Fairly speaking, PGMA is the ideal representation, and I'm optimistic she will include this on her Philippine Agenda.

Let's redirect our course! I salute you Phil and the others for all your noble cause...Only that it needs to end at the right persons and at the right representations. You have made the first gigantic move and now its our Philippine government's turn, either through PGMA or by our Philippine Congress!

Very respectfully yours,

J. Roel Atazan
Dapitan, Phils.
5 May 2007

 
At 11:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Note: First-timer blogger's error...For unknown reason, edited blog did not appear as submitted, hence, this new one...thanks.)

Hello Phil and to all advocates of justice for WW II Filipino Veterans...

Too sad to know the grim reality and fate that befell upon our fellow veterans. They absolutely don't deserve it! They deserve the highest respect, honor, privilege and benefits that a single Filipino individual of this lucky generation may have presently and continually enjoyed. A permanent fruit of liberty which emanates from the
self-sacrifice, bloodletting and hard-fought battle waged by our WWII heroes for the love our country. Had it not because of them Philippines could have been still living in nightmare and in the dark days of our lives. This we owe it from them!

My point is, we should not entirely depend on what America can do to prove our case. Amadeo's comment may be right that "the United States has too much on its plate at present to help our aging Filipino WWII veterans." And true indeed that it necessitates a legislative act of the U.S. Congress to reconsider, modify or amend their previous act governing the rules and procedures in accepting and adjudicating settlement claims by our fellow veterans. There may be, in my humble opinion, an oversight on the part of their old legislators to anticipate future discrepancies or inconsistencies of their act, not loopholes. No one really knows what is underneath the surface unless they or we can have a freehand access on the records to delve on the statutory construction or legal intent of their legislation...because I’m little worried that some of our implementing agencies might have just misinterpreted or misapplied the law available at hand.

But as far as I'm concerned, this crusade for justice to all Filipino WWII veterans must start at our very own Philippine yard before our U.S. counterpart could make appropriate move to straighten the records and the law itself. This needs proper representations, a diplomatic representation and accord, so as not to put our efforts and hope in total vain. Philippine Veterans Law is an act of our old congress, therefore, it can be safely concluded that the present bicameral have the legislative power and authority to legislate measures to make earnest appeal to the U.S. Congress to supersede, much less modify or amend the laws pertaining thereto. No doubt this would bear fruits if appropriate actions are to be made in view of the apparent, dynamic U.S.-Philippine ties. Fairly speaking, PGMA is the ideal representation, and I'm optimistic she will include this on her Philippine Agenda.

Let's redirect our course! I salute you Phil and the others for all your noble causes...Only that it needs to end at the right persons and at the right representations. You have made the first gigantic move and I’m hopeful you could lobby for this. It’s now high time for our Philippine government to act, either through PGMA or by our Philippine Congress! Let’s us not waste our remaining time while our aging veterans are still alive! I know we have the fair chances of winning.

Let our crusade begin!

Very respectfully yours,

J. Roel Atazan
Dapitan, Phils.
5 May 2007

 

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