Three Filipino World War II veterans sued the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in federal court in San Francisco today for allegedly placing unfair roadblocks in the way of their wartime compensation.
The lawsuit claims a belated compensation plan enacted by Congress last year “has become worse than a cruel joke” because of procedural hurdles established by the department.
An estimated 200,000 to 470,000 men from the Philippines, then a commonwealth of the United States, served in the U.S. Army during World War II.
But a 1946 law passed by Congress and signed by President Harry Truman, known as the Rescission Act, stripped them of pensions and other veterans’ benefits.
Last year, Congress enacted the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Act to give one-time lump sum payments to surviving Filipino veterans or surviving spouses. The measure provides $15,000 to those who became naturalized American citizens and $9,000 to non-citizens, most of whom are in the Philippines.
Congress allocated $198 million for the compensation, to be administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs, known as the VA.
But the lawsuit claims the VA’s procedures “make it not only impossible for most vets to ever receive the recognition they are due, but also transform it into a traumatic process by which the loyalty of these long-suffering patriots is insulted and denied.”
The suit says that as of Feb. 1, the VA had received 35,715 claims from surviving vets or spouses, but approved only 12,417 and denied 8,713, while 14,585 were considered “pending.”
VA spokespersons did not return calls seeking comment today.
The lawsuit was announced at a news conference outside the Federal Building by several decorated veterans in their 80s and 90s and one of their lawyers, former Republican Peninsula Congressman Pete McCloskey.
McCloskey, 82, a Korean War veteran, stood next to plaintiff Romeo de Fernandez, 91, of San Francisco, who is blind and wheelchair-bound and has five service medals.
Fernandez joined the U.S. Army in the Philippines and after being captured by the Japanese in 1942 was forced to walk in the Bataan death march and placed in a concentration camp. After being honorably discharged from the Army in 1945, he re-enlisted.
But Fernandez, now an American citizen, was denied the $15,000 payment because his name was not on an armed services personnel list kept at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Mo., according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says, however, that the list is incomplete because much of it was destroyed in a disastrous fire in 1973 and because some Filipino servicemen kept their names off the list during the war for fear of Japanese reprisal toward their families.
McCloskey said, “Can you believe that a man who was a prisoner of war and a survivor of the Bataan death march, and who re-enlisted, is denied benefits?
“These people deserve the money, the Congress has voted it and the bureaucracy is stopping it. If it takes this lawsuit to untangle it, that’s what we’ll do,” McCloskey said.
Fernandez said, “I should receive that because I am an American citizen.”
The lawsuit says that even those who are on the list, known as the Missouri list, face a second hurdle of being required to provide detailed information corroborated by two “disinterested” persons – not family or colleagues–about their activities during the war six decades ago.
“This burden is impracticable for almost all to meet and results in the effective denial of their claims,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit seeks to be certified as a class action on behalf of all Filipino veterans whose claims have been denied by the VA.
It alleges that the veterans’ constitutional right to due process is being violated and asks for an injunction requiring the VA to change its procedures.
The Veterans Equity Group, a nonprofit organization in San Francisco that aids Filipino veterans, is also a plaintiff in the case.