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Filipino War Veterans Take Advantage of Delayed US Response 

Thousands of Filipinos fought for the United States military against Japan during the Second World War. But, after the war, these veterans began another long battle to gain recognition as American war veterans. Victory came more than 60 years later, when the U.S. Congress granted a one-time cash payment to all Filipino veterans for "suffering endured". Frail and old now, some veterans say it has come nearly too late.

The pulmonary ward of Manila's Veterans Hospital is filled with old and frail men, once able-bodied soldiers who helped the United States defeat Japan during the Second World War.

For them, a new American law granting at least $9,000 as a one-time payment for their service in the U.S. military has come almost too late.

Melchor Pablo has been confined here since October. He breathes through an oxygen tube and struggles to speak. He is one of scores of Filipino veterans who lobbied in the United States for recognition.

Pablo says, in spite of American promises, he came back empty-handed.

Pablo fought the Japanese in Bataan, in the northern Philippines. His unit was luckily moved to Manila before Bataan fell to the Japanese. Then, tens of thousands of captured Filipino and American soldiers were forced to walk 160 kilometers in intense heat with little water or food - the fabled "Death March".

Pablo tries to hold back tears as he remembers his colleagues who did not live to see this day.

In the past few weeks, thousands of frail Filipino veterans traveled to the veterans' affairs offices, across the Philippines, to apply for the lump sum benefit. Some came in ambulances. A few died shortly after they made the journey.

Beda Carreon, 87, endured a six-hour car ride to the nearest office. Carreon, who cannot walk unaided, says he had to bring a doctor and an aide along for the trip.

He says he thought the trip was his last chance to collect on the American promise. Carreon says the American attitude, over the decades, disgusted him. He says, of the 30 World War II vets living in his area, only five are left

The Philippines was a U.S. territory when the war broke out.

"Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine islands. Last night, the Japan attacked Wake Island and this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island. Japan has therefore undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area," said then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

President Roosevelt ordered organized military forces in the government of the Philippines into service in the American military. More than 250,000 Philippine troops fought under U.S. command. After the war, these soldiers were initially considered U.S. veterans and were supposed to enjoy the same benefits as their American counterparts.

But a 1946 law overturned this status. Many only received partial benefits from the United States. Since then, Filipino veterans have demanded recognition and benefits.

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo welcomed the payment - authorized by the U.S. Congress in February - as a victory for the estimated 20,000 Filipino veterans still alive today.

"With the passing of the bill, in a stroke of a pen, the U.S. Congress and the U.S. president recognized more than 60 years of struggle endured by surviving Filipino veterans of World War II," she said.

Veteran Carreon says he is happy that America has shown compassion.

The veterans have until next February to apply for the payment. It could take months before they finally receive a check. With their advanced age and poor health, some say they hope it will not come too late.