Monday, August 9, 2010

Possible VA Burial Benefit for Hmong

After years of lobbying and with the help of California lawmakers a House bill H.R.5879 was introduced 27 JUL to make some 6,900 Hmong veterans eligible for internment in U.S. national cemeteries. Among veterans, who fought alongside the CIA and U.S. Special Forces during the Vietnam War, have long sought to gain access to those hallowed grounds. Now, more than 30 years after participating in a covert operation in the mountains of Laos, the Hmong likely will be honored by Congress and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for their service.

"Our Hmong veterans fought shoulder to shoulder with American soldiers during the Vietnam War," said Rep. Jim Costa [D-CA] who introduced the bill. With the help of 22co-sponsors, Costa said he had garnered enough support in Congress to finally propose the legislation. Though he expects the bill to pass, Costa said he'll need to educate his fellow members of Congress about the story of the Hmong veterans.

"Many paid the ultimate sacrifice, and I am proud that Hmong veterans now call places like our Valley home. Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to these patriotic individuals and their service should be honored with burial benefits in our national cemeteries."

Leaders of the Hmong community say that winning the burial rights demonstrates a U.S. commitment to give the estimated tens of thousands of Hmong and Lao who died in the war and the remaining veterans the recognition they deserve. According to the 2000 Census, more than 65,000 Hmong live in California, including 48,000 in Fresno. Other large Hmong communities in the U.S. are in Minnesota, with 45,930, and Wisconsin , with 31,578. Traditionally, the Hmong resided in the mountains of Laos . Beginning in the early 1960s, many were recruited by U.S. personnel to assist in a largely covert theater of the broader war in Southeast Asia . Tens of thousands of Hmong and Lao are estimated to have died. After the war, with Laos fallen into communist hands, many immigrated to this country.

Along with the lowland Lao, the Hmong have lobbied in recent years for various immigration and other benefits. Until now, though, they have not explicitly sought burial rights in U.S. national cemeteries. Politically, it is easier to ask for one benefit at a time rather than an outright declaration of veteran status.

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