WASHINGTON D.C. – Filipino World War II veteran Celestino Almeda, 95, was recently featured by the Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) as among some 4,000 veterans who are still waiting for recognition of their services almost 70 years after the war.
"We are just asking for fair treatment," Celestino Almeda told PBS. He is among those applicants for compensation who were not granted veteran status and are contesting that decision.
PBS said the path for recognition began years ago for Almeda, who fought for nearly six years to become a naturalized citizen via his veteran status. Almeda celebrated his 95th birthday this past June. "Guess where I celebrated my birthday?" Almeda asked, chuckling. Along with other guests, Almeda attended a reception hosted by Secretary Hillary Clinton in honor of Filipino President Aquino. "I was one of the invited guests," Almeda said.
PBS then cited President Franklin Delano Roosevelt 's conscription of the Philippines Commonwealth Army to fight the Japanese. "They were promised that they would be given all of the benefits [of] U.S. soldiers" said Rozita Lee of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance. "In 1946, during President Truman's term, Congress decided there wasn't enough money to continue doing this and they reneged." This was the Rescission Act of 1946 that removed full benefits from Filipino veterans.
The fight for more complete benefits for Filipino veterans escalated during the 1980s with the push for naturalization. Over the years, advocates also fought for injury compensation and treatment at Veterans Affairs hospitals. Their most substantial victory came in 2009, when President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that began the process of compensating Filipino veterans for their service.
The status of Filipino veterans remains complicated because there are multiple classifications listed in Department of Veterans Affairs documents. In addition to the Philippine Scouts, who directly served in a division of the U.S. Army, some Filipinos served as members of the Commonwealth Army of the Philippines, or as guerrilla fighters.
Philippine Scouts were able to be verified more easily because they were recorded through the U.S. military. However, veterans like Almeda who fought as soldiers in the Commonwealth Army faced more structural and bureaucratic barriers. In addition to filing in 1946, a second count of veterans was taken two years later, in 1948. By current standards for recognition, veterans must have their name on the 1948 list in addition to their discharge papers.
Certain documentation from the Commonwealth Army is not considered a valid replacement for not being on the 1948 list. "They say I don't have any records," Almeda said. "[The Department of Veteran Affairs] does not recognize the records from the Philippines army."