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Filipino WWII veterans sue feds over benefits

A lawsuit claims the federal government is discriminating against Filipino World War II veterans by giving them benefits far below what U.S. veterans receive.

"If you are recognized as a war veteran, then you should be accorded benefits like any other war veteran," said attorney Arnedo Valera, who filed the suit in San Francisco federal court Friday on behalf of 27 plaintiffs.

Valera spoke at a rally in front of the federal courthouse which drew dozens of Filipino veterans and women whose husbands served during the war but died before benefits were made available. Some held signs reading "Full Equity Now."

The suit against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs claims lump-sum payments of either $9,000 or $15,000 given to the Filipino soldiers are a pittance compared with the benefits that other veterans receive, including pensions and health care.

The U.S. agreed to pay those sums last year in lieu of pensions it promised the soldiers during the war but reneged on paying.

The suit demands compensation equal to what other veterans receive. It also wants the federal government to make the widows of Filipino soldiers who died before the benefits were approved eligible to receive their husbands' share.

About 250,000 Filipinos fought alongside American troops against the Japanese during World War II.

Florentina Delos Santos' husband, Alfonso, was among them. He received a Purple Heart for a gunshot wound he suffered at the hands of the Japanese, she said.

But Alfonso died at age 91 in 2006, three years before Congress approved the lump-sum payments. That makes his 75-year-old widow ineligible for the money.

"We ask only for what widows like me and his children deserve," she said.

The suit also claims the VA is unfairly withholding benefits from veterans whose war records may have been destroyed in a fire but have other ways of proving their service. Another suit filed earlier this year on behalf of three Filipino World War II veterans makes the same claim.

A statement released by VA spokeswoman Susan Fishbein said the administration could not comment on the litigation but reported the VA has paid out more than $200 million in lump-sum benefits to approximately 17,000 Filipino WWII veterans or their widows since last year.

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