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The Filipino Veterans Family Reunification Act

By Romy Monteyro

This long awaited piece of legislation which will allow the Filipino World War II veterans' dependents who have been waiting for decades for visas to immigrate to the United States with their families is indeed most welcome!

This Act, still unnumbered, was re-introduced this month in the Lower House by Congresswoman Mazie Hirono (D-2nd District, Hawaii), one of the staunchest supporters of benefits for the FilVets.

On March 15, 2009, this writer who is also the Adviser and Congressional Lobbyist for the Filipino WWII Veterans Federation of San Diego County met with Congressman Bob Filner, to submit Five Talking Points which would one day lead to more legislations or amendments to existing laws to further benefit the FilVets and their widows, as well as other US citizens of Filipino descents.

Congressman Bob Filner, Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, as the Filipino communities in America know, was instrumental in the victory recently won by the FilVets which gave them lump sum benefits in the amount of $15,000 for those who are US citizens, and $9,000 to those who have remained Filipino citizens.

It was his HR6897, which was passed in the House that was used by Senator Daniel Inouye, (D-Hawaii) as the basis of his initiative to authorize the payment of lump sum benefits to Filipino WWII veterans which he attached as a rider to the Economic Recovery Act which is more popularly known as the Stimulus Package Law.

In that meeting with Filner were Commander Manny Braga of the Filipino WWII Veterans Federation of San Diego County, his First Vice-Commander Venancio Lagmay and Dr. Gigi Castillo, a San Diego Filipino community leader, who all took part in the discussion of the 5 Talking Points Submitted to Congressman Filner.

One of the Five is a proposal to revive or reintroduce the Filipino Veterans Family Reunification Act, which was sidetracked back in 2007 when the Immigration Reform Bill was blocked by the Republicans in Congress, who considered the Bill inadequate in addressing their concerns.

Congressman Filner, true to his promise, worked on the re-introduction of the stymied Act by co-sponsoring the House Resolution with Congresswoman Hirono. Through Sharon Schultze, Filner's Legislative Assistant, this writer was informed by telephone of the action taken by Congressman Filner on May 6, 2009.

The enactment into law of this proposed act, while being beneficial to the family of our gallant Filipino World War Ii veterans, would also benefit the United States in that most, if not all, of those future immigrants are professionals who after obtaining gainful employment in the US on their arrival would not only contribute to the economy of this country, but would also enhance to a great extent, the quality of services in the fields of health care, engineering and other fields of worthwhile endeavor, such as but not limited to accounting and other much-needed skills.

Unlike the millions of illegal aliens who simply abuse the social services programs of the State and Federal governments, these Filipino professionals would be important and valuable asset to many industries in the US, to include even the military.

The Senate counterpart of this Act, as expected, will be re-introduced by another of the Filipino WWII veterans' champions in Congress, Senator Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii). Senator Akaka, it will be recalled authored the original Filipino Family Reunification Act in the Senate and even succeeded in making it a rider to the Senate version of the Immigration Reform Act of 2007 which passed overwhelmingly in the Upper Chamber, only to be derailed in the House.

This time around, with both Congressman Filner and Senator Daniel Akaka actively supporting the passage of this Act, it is hope that those veterans' dependents who have been waiting for decades for visas to immigrate will at last be given the opportunity to do so.

This Act would be unique in the sense that the dependents of the Filipino WWII veterans would be exempt from any kind of immigration visa quota, and will come in under a special preference with immediate effect.

For your information, dear readers, the other 4 Talking Points are as follows:

1) An amendment to authorize the use of Medicare in the Philippines for the FilVets, their US citizen spouses and all other retired US citizens of Filipino descents who may wish to return to the old country to live out their retirement there. Given the much lower cost of medical care and medications in the Philippines, allowing the use of Medicare in the RP would result in a considerable savings for the United States.

2) An amendment to allow the payment of benefits to FilVets widows who were left out in the Stimulus Package, such benefits to come from the surplus of the $198 million dollars appropriated separately by Congress to pay the lump sum payments to the FilVets. Since the money is already there, we expect Congress to consider this proposal without much difficulty. We proposed that whatever is left of the $198 million dollars be paid to the widows, irrespective of citizenship or residence, in equal amounts.

3) An amendment to authorize the increase to 100% the payment of SSI benefits to FilVets and their US citizen spouses who may elect to return to the Philippines, from the current 75%

4) Increase in the annual grant of $500,000 dollars to the Philippine Veterans Memorial Medical Center, to $1 million dollars, specifically for the purchase of much-needed medicines for the rapidly aging FilVets in the Philippines. The $500K the USVA annual gives to the PVMMC is limited for the purchase of new medical equipments.

A comprehensive Feasibility Study designed to inform the lawmakers of the justifications and beneficial effects of the Five Talking Points, not only to the Filipino WWII veterans but to the US as well, is now in the works and is expected to be submitted in time, before the current Congress adjourns.