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Calif. rep. calling for benefits to WWII merchant mariners

Calif. rep. calling for benefits to WWII merchant mariners

A California congressional representative has reintroduced legislation for a third time calling for compensation to merchant marine veterans for service during World War II.

   Rep. Bob Filner, D-CA51, is calling for $1,000-per-month compensation for the estimated 10,000 surviving members of the U.S. Merchant Marine, most of who are well into their 80s.

   Honored, memorialized and credited as the supply backbone of Allied military success during WWII, the 250,000 civilian mariners hauled cargo through all theaters of the war and suffering horrendous casualties from enemy action, losing up to 9,300 men and 1,554 ships during the war. Formal recognition as military veterans came after a successful 1988 lawsuit against the Defense Department, but far too late for the survivors to take advantage of generous WWII veteran benefits such as the G.I. Bill.

   “We’re hoping things will change for us this year. We went through hell to deliver the goods during the war,” Joe Colon, 78, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. A Plantation, Fla. resident, Colon drove trucks through occupied territories when he was 16.

   Filner, who is now chairman of the House Committee on Veteran Affairs, believes that the third time might be a charm for the bill. Two similar bills introduced by Filner in past years never made it to the House or Senate floors, largely due to staunch opposition from former Senate Veteran Affairs Committee chair Sen. Larry Craig of Indiana.

   The new bill, HB23, would offer the monthly compensation to honorably discharged mariners who served in “harm’s way” between Dec. 7, 1941, and Dec. 31, 1946. Spouses of qualifying mariners would receive the benefits if the veteran were alive when the bill is passed.

   During the bill's first hearing Wednesday night, some legislators expressed concern over possible precedents set by the so-called 2007 Merchant Mariners Compensation Act. Believing it could open the door for other civilian groups to claim benefits typically reserved for members of the military branches, critics of the bill pointed to the 60,000 civilian contractors currently working for the government in Iraq as an example.

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