97-year-old Pinoy veteran testifies before US House committee

By Don Tagala, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

Posted at Jun 25 2014 01:34 PM | Updated as of Jun 25 2014 09:34 PM

WASHINGTON, DC – For many years now, 97-year-old Filipino World War II Veteran Celestino Almeda has fought for full military benefits for him and thousands of his Pinoy comrades.

Almeda is among those who testified before the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

In his testimony, Almeda said that he is an unfortunate example of how the Department of Veterans Affairs and the US Army have repeatedly denied claims for full recognition of Filipino veterans, despite the fact that his name and his US Armed Forces Service documents existed in the US Army archives since 1946.

He said they were withheld from him and were only released two years ago.

Eric Lachica, executive director of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans, also testified before the House committee.

Lachica said while the US Congress appropriated $265 million for the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) in 2009 – some 4,552 Filipino veterans were still denied compensation of $15,000 each.

Lachica cited three major problems surrounding the Filipino veterans eligibility determination process.

He said the VA Secretary relies solely on the National Personnel Record Center in Missouri as proof of their service, but these archives are incomplete.

Lachica noted the US Army failed to grant the Filipino vets their benefits even if their names are found on recognized rosters of guerrillas.

Lachica also pointed out there is widespread fraud reported in the secret “US Army Recognition Program of Philippine Guerrillas”, a US Army report declassified in 1988. As a result, the US Army revoked almost 40,000 recognized guerrillas who were earlier recognized.

Lachica said this may be a major factor why there are still 4,500 remaining claimants today.

He ended his testimony by asking the House committee to individually recognize these Filipino veterans if they meet certain criteria such as a discharge document certified by the Philippine government's Veterans Affairs Administrator; use of Philippine Guerrilla service documents; and as long as the veteran can show that he was not involved in any disloyalty to the US or fraud from the Philippine military.

Lachica, a son of a Filipino American World War II veteran, said he wants to send a strong message to the Army, NORC and VA.

“No more denials, no delays and no more deaths for our Filipino veterans,” he said.