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World War II Senators Close Ranks Behind Filipino Veterans

World War II veterans serving in the Senate are largely throwing their weight behind a bill being shepherded by Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) that contains a controversial provision to give pension benefits to Filipino World War II veterans who live overseas.

A vote on the measure is expected to come late Wednesday after the Senate reopens for business.

The Senate spent much of Tuesday debating the veterans bill, which stalled over the Filipino provision after being passed out of committee in 2007. Some Republicans, led by Veterans’ Affairs ranking member Richard Burr (N.C.), oppose the Filipino language, contending that pension benefits for Filipino veterans should cover only those former soldiers residing in the United States. They also argue that the timing is off because U.S. soldiers returning from the Middle East don’t have adequate benefits.

But on the floor Tuesday, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), a World War II veteran, clashed with Burr and threw his weight behind the Akaka bill and extending pension benefits to all Filipino veterans.

Stevens pointed out that during the war, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt granted U.S. citizenship to Filipinos who joined the military. That promise was later revoked, Stevens added, leaving millions of Filipino veterans empty-handed.

“I don’t get excited too many times on this floor. This bill excites me. There are few of us left from World War II. When I came to the Senate almost every person served in World War II. There are five of us left now. I hope the Senate will listen to the five of us, because we are united on this,” Stevens said.

Besides Stevens, the World War II veterans serving in the Senate are Akaka and Sens. John Warner (R-Va.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).

An aide to Warner said the Senator is still reviewing the veterans bill and has yet to make a decision. Lautenberg and Inouye, chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, said they support the Akaka bill.

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