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October 25, 2014

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Heck holds hearing on benefits denied to Filipino-American veterans

Joe Heck

Joe Heck

When Congress acts to right a wrong, sometimes it doesn’t do a very good job.

Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., would argue that’s the case with regard to the federal government providing meager benefits for Filipino-American World War II veterans who helped the the U.S. Army battle Japanese imperialists six decades ago.

Despite a 2009 law designed to provide these veterans a one-time payment of $9,000 to $15,000 dollars for their service, the Army has denied thousands of veterans their benefits, claiming they have incorrect records.

“This is an injustice,” said Jesse Baltazar, a 93-year-old Filipino-American veteran.

Only two out of five confirmed Filipino-American World War II veterans in the Las Vegas area are still alive and fighting for their benefits.

With time running out to resolve the disputes, Heck held a hearing today on the issue in his first role as chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House of Armed Services Committee.

“It is not about money for these men,” said Heck, who represents Henderson and Boulder City. “They are, however, eager to have their service recognized.”

Government officials literally sift through boxes of yellowed forms to verify a Filipino-American veteran’s service. The Army handed out proof of service to these veterans in the chaotic days after World War II.

Other members of Congress expressed outrage at the process.

“We’re quibbling with them over this, and we’re just basically waiting for them to die, which is unconscionable,” said Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill, a veteran. Duckworth noted that the Army in the 1940s “had some racist tendencies” that might have caused some veterans’ records to be incorrectly filled out.

Heck introduced legislation in 2013 to fix the bureaucratic jumble keeping Filipino-American veterans from their benefits. But the legislation has yet to receive a hearing in its committee of jurisdiction.

He said he hopes today’s hearing provides the issue momentum.

“More questions than answers for today,” he said, “But I’m hoping this builds interest.”

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