WASHINGTON – The Senate approved legislation Thursday that would increase veterans' benefits and establish pensions for Filipinos who served alongside Americans in World War II.
The 96-1 vote sends the bill to the House, despite objections from some Republicans and President Bush. Bush has not said he would veto the bill, but the White House and some Republicans wanted to strip out the pension for Filipino veterans because they said the money was better spent on soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Supporters of the controversial provision said it would overturn a 60-year-old law to give 18,000 Filipino veterans of World War II who live abroad a roughly $300-a-month pension.
The White House and Republican opponents of the bill point out that such a pension would be added to one already given to these veterans by their own government.
"This legislation would correct an injustice," said Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, who sponsored the bill.
Opposing federal aide to veterans, especially in an election year, is anathema to lawmakers. Senators on both sides bandied that accusation and sparred over which veterans are most deserving of U.S. aid at this time in history.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., noted that there was never a promise of compensation made to the Filipinos ordered to serve with Americans during World War II. His amendment would have spent the money instead on new housing, education and burial assistance for American veterans.
His amendment failed, 56-41.
Burr ended up voting for the bill even with the controversial pensions.
The legislation also includes aid for a broad array of veterans. It would make some benefits retroactive for more people. It also would increase the amount of mortgage life insurance that some disabled veterans can purchase and give severe burn injury victims new kinds of housing benefits.