WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama's administration pledged Wednesday to reach out to Filipinos seeking payments for World War II service after complaints from veterans over denied claims.
More than 250,000 Filipinos fought under the US flag in World War II but Congress later stripped them of promised benefits, leaving bitterness in the former colony and decades of campaigning to change US policy.
Weeks after Obama took office in 2009, Congress approved a stimulus package that included one-time payments of $15,000 to Filipino veterans in the United States and $9,000 to those living in the Philippines.
Obama aide Chris Lu, co-chair of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, said that 18,000 claims have been approved.
"However, we also have heard from many Filipino veterans who have been impeded from filing claims or believe their claims were improperly denied," Lu wrote on a White House blog.
Lu said that the Pentagon, Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Archives and Record Administration were setting up a working group to assess the issue and "ensure that all applications receive thorough and fair review."
"This is part of the Obama administration's ongoing efforts to honor the contributions of all veterans in their service to our country," he said.
Community advocates said that thousands of veterans had their claims denied, usually because US authorities did not accept records from the Philippines which were the former fighters' sole means to prove their service.
Some aging veterans also said it was unrealistic to file their claims in time for a February 16, 2010 deadline.
Representative Jackie Speier, a member of Obama's Democratic Party whose California district has a large Asian American community, welcomed the latest administration effort, but said that Congress needed to do more and give Filipino veterans the same benefits that others enjoyed.
"Filipinos were American nationals when they fought in the war and they were promised full benefits by President Franklin D. Roosevelt," she said in a statement.
"A promise made should be a promise kept. We have broken our promise and it's time to make amends," she said.
The White House announcement comes ahead of November 6 national elections in which experts say that Asian Americans -- who voted overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008 -- could play a decisive role in close races.
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