Senate Votes to Give Benefits to Filipino Vets
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Sixty-two years ago, Congress voted to withhold veterans' benefits from hundreds of thousands of Filipino soldiers. They had fought under American command during World War II when the Philippines was still a U.S. territory. Well, today the Senate voted overwhelmingly to restore those benefits. The debate exposed the generational divide in the GOP ranks between World War II vets and their younger colleagues.
NPR's David Welna has this report.
DAVID WELNA: Right after Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt issued a military order drafting nearly half a million Filipinos into an army under American command. They fought and died alongside U.S. troops. Hawaii Democrat Daniel Akaka led the push to include a special $300-a month pension for those Filipino vets in a broader veterans benefits bill, the Senate approved today. A caucus said it's clear the Filipinos were shortchanged for decades.
Senator DANIEL AKAKA (Democrat, Hawaii): On October 1945, General Omar Bradley, then director of the Veterans Administration, affirmed that all Filipinos who served under U.S. command were entitled to all benefits under laws administered by that agency.
WELNA: But a year later, Congress rescinded those benefits. For Alaska Republican Ted Stevens, it was a wrong that had to be rectified.
Senator TED STEVENS (Republican, Alaska): It's a matter of honor, the honor of the United States is at stake. These people put on our uniform, wore our uniform, fought with our comrades, almost to death, all the way to Corregidor, and the survivors were denied what should they have had.
WELNA: Stevens, whose 84, is one of five World War II veterans still in the Senate. Eighty-three-year-old Hawaii Democrat Daniel Inouye is another.
Senator DANIEL INOUYE (Democrat, Hawaii): There was a promise, a solemn promise on the part of Americans, and by congressional action we broke that promise.
Senator RICHARD BURR (North Carolina, Republican): Mr. President, I can't find that promise.
WELNA: That's North Carolina Republican Richard Burr who was born a decade after World War II ended. Burr led a drive to block the Filipinos vet's benefits.
Sen. BURR: There have been searches everywhere to try to find any documentation that would lead one to believe that there was a promise. There was an insinuation. And the fact is, whether its Roosevelt documents, whether is Army documents, whether it's General McArthur's personal documents, no one can find anything other than we believe this existed.
WELNA: Pensions for 18,000 remaining Filipino vets are projected to cost $241 million over the next decade. Texas Republican John Cornyn called that too much.
Senator JOHN CORNYN (Republican, Texas): The U.S. Treasury is not bottomless, and the funding that's being provided to create this new pension for these Filipino allies which were, of course, fighting not only with us, but for themselves, for their freedom, for their country, is it with - literally be at the expense of U.S. veterans.
WELNA: Still, seven Republicans join Senate Democrats to defeat a White House-backed amendment, redirecting the Filipino pension funds to U.S. vets. One of those seven was Alaska's Ted Stevens.
Sen. STEVENS: This is a burden that should have been born before. These people have not had these benefits during all of these years, and they've asked us now, as a matter of honor, to restore their rights before they leave this planet.
WELNA: In the end, just one Senator, Louisiana Republican David Vitter voted against the broader veterans bill.
David Welna, NPR News, The Capitol.