There was so much optimism early this year in February when I joined Gen. Antonio Taguba in the halls of Congress to lobby House members to support the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill. We all felt in our bones that after 26 years of lobbying, this would be the year that the Rescission Act of 1946 is finally rescinded.
This excitement was fueled by the Democratic sweep in the November 2006 elections, which resulted in the appointment of Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawai‘i) and Rep. Bob Filner (D-California), the two principal sponsors of the bill in the Senate and in the House, as chairs of the veterans’ affairs committees in their respective chambers.
By April 2007, both Sen. Akaka and Rep. Filner had conducted hearings on their respective equity bills and had garnered their committee’s approval. It had never advanced to this stage before, and many believed that it would be just a matter of time before the bills were brought to a floor vote in the Senate and House.
On June 27, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved the Veterans’ Benefits and Emoluments Act (S. 1315), which incorporated the provisions of the Filipino Veterans’ Equity Bill (S. 57). A provision included proposed monthly pensions of $911 for U.S.-based veterans and $300 for those veterans residing in the Philippines.
“S. 1315 would fix a historical wrong,” Akaka said. “Filipino veterans served under the command of the U.S. military during World War II. They were considered by the Veterans’ Administration, the predecessor of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, to be veterans of the U.S. military, naval and air service, until that status was revoked by the Rescission Acts of 1946.”
The main opposition to the Senate bill came from Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), the former chair of the Senate Veterans’ Committee, who calculated the price tag of the bill to be almost $1 billion over 10 years, which he believes the U.S. government cannot afford when “there are other pressing bills pending before the committee, especially benefits for veterans of the war on terror.”
How could Craig be convinced to drop his strident opposition to the bill? Would it be too much to hope that he would just resign so the bill could pass?
On June 11, Craig went to the men’s room of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and was arrested by an undercover officer for lewd and lascivious conduct. On Aug. 1, Craig pled guilty to a reduced misdemeanor charge, hoping no one would notice. But when news of the gay solicitation charge broke, Craig had no choice but to announce his resignation from the Senate effective Sept. 30.
Unfortunately, this was too much to ask as Craig reneged on his promise to resign. In a key vote in the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, he placed a “hold” on the bill because “a provision was added after it cleared the committee to reopen VA health care to new Priority 8 enrollees.” Priority 8 enrollees are veterans with no service-connected disabilities and no adequate income by government standards.
Craig objected because non-U.S. citizens would be treated by VA health care centers in the Philippines. “First of all, they do not live in this country; they are not U.S. citizens. They are taking money away from our veterans. That is the ‘Robin Hood in reverse’ effect. At least Robin Hood, when he took money, left it in Nottingham. He spread it out amongst his own. Here we are taking money from our own and sending it all the way to the Philippines,” Craig the Grinch charged.
When the Japanese soldiers fired their weapons at the allies in the Philippines, did the bullets distinguish between U.S. citizens and Philippine citizens?
Perhaps the most eloquent response to Craig was the selfless sacrifice of seven of the grandsons of these “Robin Hoods” who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan in the service of the United States just in the last six months: Army Pfc. Victor M. Fontanilla, 23, Stockton, Calif. (5/17/07); Army Spc. Mark R. C. Caguioa, 21, Stockton, Calif. (5/24/07); Army Sgt. Richard V. Correa, 25, Honolulu, Hawai‘i (5/29/07); Army Staff Sgt. Greg P. Gagarin, 38, Los Angeles, Calif. (6/3/07); Marine Sgt. Michael E. Tayaotao, 27,Sunnyvale, Calif. (8/9/07); Army Pfc. Paulomarko U. Pacificador, 24, Shirley, N.Y. (8/13/07); and Army Spc. Lester Roque, 23, Carson, Calif. (11/10/07).
While the year ended on a dispiriting note, there was hope that the gains of 2007 will carry over to 2008. Perhaps.
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