WASHINGTON — For years, they have sought to heal what they call a lingering wound from the
Hmong veterans — who fought in the
But just when it appeared that former Hmong fighters might get their wish, election-year politics dealt them a setback. A veterans bill that would have advanced their cause was derailed in the Senate on Thursday in a partisan fight over unrelated issues.
“Oh, no!’’ said
Col. Wangyee Vang, president of the Fresno-based Lao Veteran Institute of America, vowed to continue the fight with visits to congressional offices when he comes to Washington in May for a wreath-laying ceremony at the Lao Veterans of America Monument at Arlington National Cemetery.
"Our veterans will continue to work on it," Vang said.
The legislation became a priority after the military denied permission for Gen. Vang Pao, a Hmong leader who died in California in 2011, to be buried at Arlington because he and the soldiers who fought under him did not directly serve in the American military. He was buried at
Legislation has been proposed to open national cemeteries to the estimated 6,200 to 8,200 Lao and Hmong who fought in the war and are U.S. citizens or legal residents. But it has languished.
So when the thick Senate veterans bill included a few lines to require the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to issue a report on "the extent to which Laotian military forces provided combat support to the Armed Forces of the United States between February 28, 1961, and May 15, 1975,'' the veterans saw it as a step forward.
While veterans legislation is usually popular, the bill was blocked on a largely party-line vote, with Republicans complaining that the Democratic-drafted measure cost too much and that they were denied a vote on new sanctions against Iran.
"It's a major setback," Smith said. "It's very sad that we're a casualty of the deadlock in Washington.''
The effort to open the cemeteries to the former Hmong fighters, nonetheless, enjoys bipartisan support.
Smith, in testimony before a Senate committee last year, called the legislation "America's unfinished business.''
In 2000, President
Proponents of the legislation to grant former Hmong fighters the right to be buried in national cemeteries point out that Clinton in 2000 also signed legislation making Philippine World War II veterans who fought under the U.S. flag eligible for burial in