This vote was on an amendment by Richard Burr, R-N.C., that would have prohibited money from being transferred from the Veterans Affairs Department to the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund. An earlier amendment by Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, had added language to enable the transfer (see vote 174). Both amendments were offered to a bill that would provide supplemental appropriations in fiscal 2010, including extra money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as money for veterans, areas affected by natural disasters, and and funding for some social policy initiatives, such as for teachers and firefighters.
Burr said because of the slumping economy, the VA has been able to get better deals on construction than previously anticipated and as a result they have saved $103 million over dozens of projects. The language his amendment would have deleted would transfer $67 million of that into the Filipino Equity Fund.
“On the face you would say, well, if it is going to Filipino Equity Fund, it is not going to U.S. veterans. You are right. It is not going to U.S. veterans,” Burr said. He called the fund a “special pension” for Filipino veterans who fought under U.S. command during World War II.
“I don’t think it is appropriate to pay a benefit that is not adjusted for the different standards of living that exist between the Philippines and the United States. Example: Pensions in the United States for veterans achieve an income of 10 percent above the poverty level,” Burr said. “Finally, I don’t think these benefits were ever promised in the first place. I will not get into the exhaustive debate the chairman of the Appropriations Committee and I had 2 years ago. I don’t remember a time where anybody told me anything I said was not factual or suggested it was wrong. I made a tremendous case that in the 1930s, these veterans were organized to fight for the soon-to-be-independent Philippine State. They were called under U.S. command in defense of their own homeland. The view of the Congress immediately following the war was that care of these veterans was a shared responsibility.”
Inouye said President Roosevelt issued an order stipulating that if Filipinos fought alongside the United States, they would be entitled to apply for U.S. citizenship and receive all the benefits of a U.S. veteran.
“After going through the horror of Bataan and Corregidor, the Congress of the United States passed a law doing exactly that: authorizing Filipinos who wished to be naturalized to do so; and upon naturalization, a receipt of citizenship, they were entitled to all the benefits,” Inouye said. “Well, in this case, it should be apparent to all of us what we did was not right. We made a promise. We were honor bound to those men who served and got wounded. The emergency is very simple: they are dying by the dozens each day. They are old men. Their average age is 87. They do not have too many months left in their lives. That is why it is in this supplemental bill. If we wait another year, who knows how many will be left? I just wanted the record to be clear this is a matter of honor. We should uphold our promises.”
By a vote of 37-58, the amendment was rejected. All but four Republicans present voted for the amendment. All but three Democrats present voted against the amendment. The end result is that the bill retained language allowing $67 million to be transferred from unspent VA construction funds to the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund.