GMA to Shinseki: Expedite vets’ payment
|Posted by Manila Mail under Articles/Stories|
By Jennie L. Ilustre
WASHINGTON-President Gloria Arroyo asked U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki to help expedite the processing of the lump sum payment for Filipino World War II veterans in the Philippines and the U.S.
In a brief afternoon meeting with Shinseki July 31 at the Willard Hotel here where she and her party were billeted, Arroyo “relayed to him the concerns of veterans who have not yet received the benefit,” according to retired Gen. Delfin N. Lorenzana, head of the Office of Veterans Affairs at the Philippine embassy here.
On his way out after the meeting, Shinseki told this writer he had assured President Arroyo, “We’re doing the best we can to expedite the process.” He said it was a cordial courtesy call in which Arroyo thanked him, adding, “She was very gracious.”“We’re working hard to speed it up and are hiring more people to process the applications,” U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Kirstie Kenney also replied in an interview right after the meeting. The USVA Regional Office in the Philippines is located at the U.S. embassy in Manila . The embassy trained 16 additional staff in May, and they started working on the applications last June 1.
The USVA has been swamped by some 34,000 applications. Originally, an estimated 18,000 whose names are in the Revised Reconstructed Guerrilla Roster (RRGR) were deemed qualified for the benefit. But the regional office in Manila expanded coverage to those with serial numbers and have been receiving veterans’ benefits.
Adding to the delay is the deluge of applications from a number of unqualified applicants: veterans’ widows whose husbands died before the Feb. 17 enactment of the law, and also veterans’ sons or daughters.
In a related development, American Coalition for Filipino Veterans national president Patrick Ganio asked for a veterans’ meeting with the White House outreach director and USVA officers here to address the delay, citing the recent deaths of veterans in the area and in California .
Ganio and volunteer coordinator Eric Lachica said they appreciated the work of the USVA. “But the department should increase their staff handling the processing,” Lachica suggested, adding, “They can’t have some 20 people handling thousands of applications.”
During her White House meeting here with President Barack Obama, Arroyo expressed her profound gratitude to him. Obama signed the economic stimulus bill that included the veterans’ provision.
At the July 30 White House joint press briefing, Arroyo told Obama, “May I say that I bring the thanks also of our Filipino veterans for the inclusion of the veterans’ benefits in the fiscal stimulus package, something that we have all waited for as a country for the last 60 years.”
Obama had earlier noted, “The fact that we have Filipino veterans who have fought side by side with American soldiers on behalf of freedom-all those things have strengthened the relationship between our two countries.”
Lorenzana said he was “happy that Arroyo had raised the concerns of veterans who have not received their checks, because there have been so many phone calls and emails from veterans, spouses and their children complaining of the delay.”
Service Officer Perci Abu of the Office of Veterans Affairs at the embassy also expressed optimism the processing would be fast-tracked as a result of Arroyo’s meetings with high-level officials.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Shinseki informed Arroyo the USVA had completed processing 6,800 applications during the four-month period after the enactment. In the U.S. only 700 have reportedly received their lump sum payment.
One of them was Francisco R. Reyta from the nearby city of Philadelphia, who thanked Shinseki in a photo op. But three area veterans did not get to tell Shinseki about their delayed checks. “It’s sad because we were invited to come today, but were prevented from joining them-we were kept in a room while the meeting took place,” said Amadeo Urbano, 85, of Arlington , Virginia .
Also on July 31, Arroyo presented U.S. Senators Daniel K. Akaka, chairman of the Senate committee on veterans affairs, and Senator Daniel K. Inouye, chairman of the committee on veterans affairs, with a presidential citation expressing appreciation for their work for Filipino WWII Veterans.
Inouye authored the lump sum amendment to the economic stimulus bill that the 111th U.S. Congress passed last Feb. 13. President Obama enacted the law on Feb. 17 which granted Filipino WWII veterans living in the U.S. $15,000 one-time benefit, and their counterparts in the Philippines the amount of $9,000.
The framed citation signed by President Arroyo states: “For his dedication and commitment to the passage of a bill containing provisions that recognized the service of, and grants benefits to, Filipino veterans of the Second World War.”
Remarked Senator Akaka: “Filipinos fought side-by-side with American soldiers during World War II, and their contributions-and sacrifices-were tremendous. The formal congressional recognition of their service that Senator Inouye and I fought for came more than six decades late, but the honor will last forever as it should. I was humbled by President Arroyo’s gesture and gave her my thanks.”
“Senator Akaka and I had a cordial meeting in which the Philippine president conveyed her nation’s gratitude to the U.S. Congress for the Filipino Veterans Bill, “ said Senator Inouye. ”Senator Akaka and I appreciated that. We want to apologize to them, especially those veterans who passed away, for taking so long to recognize their service, their heroism and their sacrifices.”