The Korean American Vietnam Allies Long Overdue for Relief (VALOR) Act would amend 38 U.S.C. § 109 to treat troops who served in Vietnam as a member of the Republic of Korea Armed Forces as veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces for purposes of granting them access to VA health care. Although the legislation would affect only about 3,000 individuals who emigrated from South Korea and have become naturalized U.S. citizens, supporters say the move is important to show America’s commitment to troops who fought to protect U.S. interests and values, regardless of where they were born.
“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 U.S. service members. 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. Gil Cisneros, D-California.
Korean Allies Not Afforded Same BenefitsLawmakers backing the proposal said there is precedent for such granting of VA health care to foreign troops. After World War I and World War II, European allies who became American citizens were granted certain U.S. veterans benefits, in recognition of their contributions to American security.
More than 5,000 Korean troops were killed and nearly 11,000 injured while fighting alongside U.S. troops during the Vietnam War, according to the nonprofit Korean American Veterans of the Vietnam War. Still, according to Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, a co-sponsor of the bill, the U.S. government has yet to officially recognize these veterans for their efforts in Vietnam.
“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.”
Additionally, as these Korean troops 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.
Early Stages of ResolutionUnder the measure, the foreign-born veterans would be able to access only VA health care, not other disability or education benefits. Individuals who served between 1962 and 1975 with the Korean military and later became American citizens would be eligible.
Legislators did not release any potential cost estimates for the new plan. The House of Representatives has not yet scheduled hearings to review and evaluate the legislation.