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Source: United States House of Representatives – Congressman Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr. (CA-39)

LOS ANGELES, CA – Today, Representative Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr. (CA-39) announced new legislation providing Korean American Vietnam Veterans with access to healthcare by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Introduced in the House on Monday, January 13, 2020, Korean American Day, the Korean American Vietnam Allies Long Overdue for Relief (VALOR) Act would entitle Korean American Vietnam Veterans to hospital and domiciliary care and medical services in the United States through the VA. The bill’s original co-sponsors include Reps. Judy Chu (CA-27), Suzan DelBene (WA-1), Jimmy Gomez (CA-34), Andy Kim (NJ-3), Grace Meng (NY-6), and Bill Pascrell (NJ-9). To view the text of the bill, click here.

There are approximately 3,000 Korean American Vietnam Veterans who are naturalized citizens. Although they served as the United States’ wartimes allies during the Vietnam War, these veterans do not have access to VA healthcare, unlike the U.S. European allies of WWI and WWII.

“Korean American Vietnam Veterans may have served under a different flag during the Vietnam War, but they served with the same duty, honor, and valor as our United States servicemembers. Suffering significant injuries from service, it’s unacceptable that nearly 3,000 of these patriots and United States citizens are unable to access healthcare from the VA,” said Rep. Cisneros. “I’ve heard from many of my Korean American Vietnam Veteran constituents about the need for change, and today, we’re taking the first step in making that happen. I’m proud to introduce the Korean American VALOR Act to provide VA healthcare to these courageous heroes. Korean American Vietnam Veterans have always had our backs, now it’s time for us to have theirs.”

“Throughout the Vietnam War, approximately 2.7 million American men and women served our country. But they were not alone. We had allies like the Republic of Korea who fought by our side. Over 300,000 Koreans served alongside US servicemembers in support of America’s efforts in Vietnam – making them the second largest contingent of allies,” said Rep. Chu. “And yet, for the about 3,000 Korean veterans who came to America and were naturalized as full citizens, their service on behalf of our country is still not officially recognized by the US government. This is wrong. Not only because it denies them recognition for their service and sacrifice, but also because it denies them the basic healthcare we provide to other veterans. That is what this bill will fix by treating naturalized Korean Americans who served with the US in Vietnam the same as any other Vietnam veterans for the purposes of healthcare. I want to thank Rep. Cisneros for his leadership and the thousands of Korean veterans and their families for their sacrifice and service.” 

“Korean American Vietnam veterans are not recognized as what they are – naturalized American patriots who served our country,” said Rep. DelBene. “Like any other veteran who served the United States, Korean American vets deserve equal access to the health care and veterans services we provide. This legislation ensures all of our country’s heroes are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

“Hundreds of thousands of Korean soldiers fought valiantly alongside American troops during the Vietnam War. Thousands were injured, and many others sacrificed their lives. As the representative of the largest Korean American community in the country – with a high concentration of Korean American Vietnam War veterans – I am proud to co-sponsor the VALOR Act,” said Rep. Gomez. “Not only does this legislation recognize the bravery and sacrifice of these servicemembers, but it also provides them with access to the critical healthcare services they deserve. Korean and Korean American Vietnam War veterans fought shoulder to shoulder with our troops when we needed them, and now it’s our turn to help them in their time of need.”

“Our veterans deserve our full respect and absolute support. These brave individuals fought alongside our service members and came to the United States to help make our country a better place. Like all veterans from the Vietnam War, they’ve earned our thanks; we should pass this bill to provide that to them,” said Rep. Kim.

“Korean American soldiers fought alongside U.S. troops during the Vietnam War and put their lives on the line to defend democracy and freedom,” said Rep. Meng. “They are American citizens and deserve access to the same VA healthcare benefits that servicemembers of other U.S allies have received for their service during World War I and World War II. I thank Congressman Cisneros for introducing the Korean American Vietnam Allies Long Overdue for Relief (VALOR) Act, and I am proud to be an original cosponsor of the measure. The bill is fair and long overdue. Passing it would be the right thing to do for these veterans.” 

“The Korean American veterans who stood alongside American servicemembers during the Vietnam War fought for the same values, with the same bravery, and incurred the same injuries and sacrifices in the enduring cause of freedom,” said Rep. Pascrell, who has worked closely for years with North Jersey’s Korean American Vietnam veterans to win them full health benefits. “My constituents in our vibrant Korean American community who fought with U.S. soldiers are entitled to full and complete VA care. These courageous Americans who donned a uniform must not be denied the warm and complete support of the United States of America any longer. I want to thank Congressman Cisneros and my colleagues for their leadership on this vital measure.”

The Korean American VALOR Act is also supported by the Korean American Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc., Korean American Federation of Los Angeles (KALFA), and the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Los Angeles.

“We were proud to be by the side of the United States during the Vietnam War, and many of us came to the U.S. to start a new life. Even though we are veterans and American citizens, our access to healthcare has always been an issue for us. We brought it to the attention of Congressman Cisneros, and now he’s doing more than just listen to us, he’s doing something about it. Korean American Veterans of America is proud to support his bill, Korean American VALOR Act. This is going to help thousands of Korean American Vietnam Veterans. We are incredibly grateful for the work and support Congressman Gil Cisneros has given to Veterans and the Korean American community,” said Alfred Chung, Korean American Vietnam Veteran and Representative Director of Korean American Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc.

“The entire Korean American community of Greater Los Angeles is very grateful to Congressman Cisneros for introducing this historic bill that recognizes the sacrifices of Korean American Vietnam Veterans by providing our patriotic citizens the vital healthcare they so rightfully deserve,” said Dr. Laura Jeon, President of the Korean American Federation of Los Angeles. “We are proud to support H.R. 5590 and thank all the representatives for their support and partnership in introducing this important legislation.”   

Bill Summary

The Korean American VALOR Act amends title 38 of the United States Code to treat individuals who served as allies to the U.S. in the Vietnam War under the Republic of Korea Armed Forces as a full-fledged veteran of the United States Armed Forces for the purposes of granting them access to healthcare by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Additionally, the category of individual defined in this bill is a person who served during the period beginning on January 9, 1962, ending on May 7, 1975, and became a U.S. citizen on or after this date.

Background

During the Vietnam War, the United States and Korea were allies. After the United States, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) provided the most foreign troops during the Vietnam War at the bequest of the United States. 4,407 Republic of Korea troops were killed and 17,606 were injured.  

It is currently estimated that, of those that served as our allies overseas, there are close to over 3,000 that have since naturalized as U.S. citizens. Many of these Korean Americans suffer from significant injuries from service, including post-traumatic stress disorder, total disability, and the effects of the toxic defoliant Agent Orange. However, despite their service as our allies in the Korean military, these Korean-Americans are not recognized as U.S. veterans in theory or in title, and are therefore not granted access to VA services under the law. 

Additionally, as these individuals are now naturalized U.S. Citizens, they are recognized by South Korea as foreign nationalities with limited services available to them.  Specifically, they are only granted a monthly stipend for their service of approximately $250 and have the right to burial in a South Korean national cemetery. They are only able to apply and restore their Korean nationality for double citizenship after the age of 65, in which case they are then granted discounts when renting an apartment in South Korea and are able then to take part in medical treatment in a Korean Veterans Hospital. 

Rep. Cisneros is a Navy Veteran, serves on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and is an Executive Board Member of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

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