Rep. Jim Costa reintroduced bipartisan legislation to honor the service of Hmong veterans in the Valley and nationwide. The legislation would extend burial benefits in National Cemeteries to Hmong veterans who fought with and supported U.S. forces during the Vietnam War era.
"Hmong veterans served side-by-side with American forces in Vietnam, and these veterans deserve the honor of a final resting place next to their brothers in arms," Costa said. "These veterans defended our American ideals long before any of them called our country home. Extending burial benefits to our Hmong veterans recognizes their sacrifice and honors their patriotic service."
Hmong men from Laos were trained and led by officers from the CIA's Special Activities Division during the Vietnam War. Tens of thousands of these men performed direct missions against Communist forces and North Vietnamese supporters. Following the war, thousands of Hmong Veterans resettled across the United States and in the Valley. In 1975, President Ford signed legislation that granted them legal permanent resident status.
Costa introduced the legislation in honor of General Vang Pao, the famed Laotian general who commanded a secret army of Hmong soldiers during the Vietnam War and the undisputed leader of the Hmong community in America. After passing away in January, the U.S. Army denied Costa's request that a waiver to be granted to allow General Vang Pao to be buried in a National Cemetery.
"After fighting to save the lives of U.S. troops, General Vang Pao became an American citizen in the adopted country he loved. Without a doubt he deserved to be buried alongside the same men with whom he fought shoulder to shoulder. Hmong veterans across the country deserve the honor General Vang Pao was denied," Costa continued.
Currently, burial benefits are available to veterans and members of the U.S. Armed Services, their spouses and dependants, Reserve Officers, Public Health Service Officers, Merchant Mariners from World War II, and the Philippine Armed Forces. This legislation would add Hmong veterans to the list of individuals eligible for interment in National Cemeteries after they undergo a verification and documentation process by the Department of Veterans Affairs to certify their service. The Hmong veterans must be American citizens or legal permanent residents to be eligible.
There are approximately 6,900 Hmong veterans who would currently be eligible for burial benefits. If benefits were extended today, estimates show that less than 3,000 of the eligible Hmong veterans would take advantage of the burial benefits.
Costa was joined by 7 other Members of Congress in introducing this bipartisan bill. He introduced similar legislation during the last Congress.