For Asian Americans, two issues always give us the moral high ground: the WWII
incarceration of Japanese Americans and the fight over equity pay for Filipino
American veterans of WWII.
But just because you have the moral high ground doesn’t mean you are guaranteed
That’s been true for the Filipino veterans, thousands of whom are still fighting
for pay equity.
In that sense, it’s like the war never ended for Celestino Almeda, 98, of
Maryland, and a proud Filipino American World War II veteran.
On Veterans Day, he stood out in the cold at Lafayette Park, right in front of
the White House gate, to read aloud his protest letter to anyone who would
Maybe even President Obama.
You see, the president signed something in 2009 called the American Recovery and
That was the official name for the so-called “stimulus” package.
Like a big turkey, it’s stuffed with goodies for politicos and constituents.
Intended to stimulate the economy, it also finally ends a major issue for
Filipino veterans of WWII.
Tucked deep within the bill was the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation
Act–the very law that gave the vets a $15,000 lump sum if they were in the U.S.;
$9,000 if they were in the Philippines.
How are they doing six years later?
As of August, here are the latest numbers available from the Veterans Administration:
- 42,755 applications processed
- 9,305 approved for $15,000
- 9,646 approved for $9,000
It amounts to a payout of over $224 million awarded to eligible Filipino
Before you jump for joy, go over the numbers again.
Of the 42,755 applications, more than 23,804 have been disapproved.
That’s a 56 percent disapproval rate.
In other words, if you’re a Filipino vet of WWII looking for your lump sum, or
think you have a claim, just flip a coin.
It’s better odds than Keno, but with Keno, you might get lucky and win a whole
That’s what it’s been like for the vets the last six years.
Many of the 23,804 were denied because they truly were ineligible. You must be a
surviving spouse or widow. No kids.
But the biggest fixable issue is whether you are a verifiable vet, with legit
documents from both the Philippines and the U.S.
It’s tougher than you think, considering how documents in the Philippines were
lost during the Japanese occupation.
Given all that, of the more than 23,804 denials, more than 4,500 have appealed
Of those, 1,253 have been denied again as of August. For those folks, that’s
it–end of the road. War over. Game over. Many could have used the money and die
But that leaves about 3,000 veterans still in the process of being vetted by the
VA. Still hopeful. Still alive.
One of them is Almeda.
Almeda knows about the broken promise of Roosevelt that brought him as a member
of the Philippine Commonwealth Army to fight side-by-side with the U.S. Army.
He’s got pay stubs and a formal discharge to prove it.
His documents are good enough to be made whole on some of the FDR promises
broken when President Truman signed the Rescission Act of 1946.
Almeda was granted citizenship in the ’90s, and in 2003, began getting VA
medical benefits. He has a VA card to prove it.
But none of that has been good enough so far the VA to approve him for the lump
When I talked to him last year, Almeda had testified in Washington, D.C. before
a Congressional subcommittee.
There’s no doubt in his mind he served.
“I was called to duty when the Japanese invaded the Philippines,” he told me. “I
have in my own personal records all the documents to support that I am a veteran
from the beginning to the end.”
This year in June, Almeda met with Sec. Robert McDonald of the VA and even posed
with the secretary for a picture.
Almeda said McDonald promised to get back to him.
So far, Almeda has heard nothing. That’s why Almeda was out in front of the
White House protesting the inaction of the VA.
But something has also happened since Almeda’s June meeting. The U.S. Court of
Veterans Appeals has determined in at least one case that the VA secretary does
have the right to use his “discretion” on the evidence provided by veterans like
In a memo to the VA, veterans advocate Eric Lachica asked for clarification on
the discretion that Secretary McDonald may have in deciding which documents will
make veterans eligible.
“When will you make your recommendation? As you know, a FVEC claim would be
worthless if the veteran dies and has no surviving spouse,” Lachica wrote in his
memo to VA officials about Mr. Almeda. “If you recall, Secretary McDonald
personally assured Mr. Almeda he would expeditiously consider his appeal by
forming your review team to make recommendations to him.”
Almeda’s case may be the one that could resolve the document snafu that has
stymied thousands who are appealing denials.
VA Secretary McDonald should use discretion at least in Almeda’s case. Accepting
his documents, granting him the one-time lump sum payment wouldn’t just be the
right thing. It would be the humane and honorable thing to do.
Almeda has made it his mission most of his adult life to be made whole after the
Rescission Act. He is now the latest of the dwindling number of vets to lead the
charge for Filipino Americans, for Asian America, at the forefront of the high
At age 98, time used to be on his side. But for how much longer?