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Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President I have come to the floor today to reintroduce a piece of legislation that I feel is long overdue. The Hmong Veterans' Service Recognition Act is a bill to authorize the interment in national cemeteries of Hmong veterans who served in support of U.S. forces during the Vietnam War. Thousands of members of the Hmong community fought for America during Vietnam yet they enjoy no rights as veterans. The Hmong veterans are requesting to be buried in national cemeteries and I, along with a bipartisan group of colleagues, Senators Franken, Klobuchar, Feinstein, Begich, Whitehouse, and Pryor, believe this is an appropriate honor.
To preserve Laos's neutrality during the Vietnam War, the U.S., Soviet Union, North Vietnam, and ten other countries signed the 1962 Geneva Declaration prohibiting all foreign military personnel from Laos. While the U.S. and other countries withdrew all military personnel, the North Vietnamese Army blatantly violated the Geneva Declaration by keeping thousands of troops in Laos. Using Laotian territory to circumvent borders, these NVA forces posed a direct threat to America's military position in South Vietnam. Unable to be present in Laos, but needing to counteract the NVA, America required a covert military force. The Hmong were ideal candidates for America's secret war--they were renowned as being brave fighters who knew the rocky mountain terrain of Northern Laos well.
All told, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency conducted covert operations in Laos which employed some 60,000 Hmong volunteers in Special Guerilla Units. The Hmong Fighters interrupted operations on the Ho Chi Minh trail and assisted in downed aircraft recovery operations of American Airmen. In Laos, they valiantly fought the Vietnamese and Laotian Communists for over a decade and were critical to America's war efforts in Vietnam. In all, over 35,000 Hmong lost their lives by the end of our involvement in Vietnam.
Since the end of the Vietnam War, thousands of Hmong and Lao families have resettled around the United States to become legal permanent residents or United States citizens and have greatly contributed to American society. There are currently over 260,000 Hmong people in America. According to the 2010 Census, the heaviest concentrations are in California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Michigan, Colorado, Georgia, Oklahoma, Oregon, and my home State of Alaska.
Of the Hmong who became U.S. citizens, approximately 6,000 veterans are still with us today, and they deserve the choice to be buried in national cemeteries. This concept is not without precedent. Currently, burial benefits are available for Philippine Armed Forces veterans who answered the call to serve during World War II, just like the Hmong. This legislation would not grant the small group of Hmong veterans full veteran benefits, but would simply authorize their interment in national cemeteries across the Nation. A small, but deserved token of appreciation and an appropriate honor for their sacrifices towards a common goal of democracy and freedom in the world.
This new legislation is improved from the previous version, S. 200, in that it connects with Public Law 106-207: The Hmong Veterans' Naturalization Act of 2000 which acknowledges Hmong Special Guerilla Unit's contributions during Vietnam and provides a path to validation of a Hmong veteran's service for the purpose of naturalization. Public Law already recognizes the service of Hmong Special Guerilla Unit veterans for the purpose of naturalization, so it is a natural connection to afford them burial rights as well.
Hmong-Americans who fought and risked their lives in secret for America deserve the same public respect and honor we give the men and women they served with and rescued. I believe it's time to honor the service and sacrifice of Hmong Special Guerilla Unit Veterans by allowing them to be buried alongside their brothers in arms in our national cemeteries. Again, I appreciate the support of my colleagues from across the aisle for this legislation and look forward to working with them and others in the Senate to finally getting this approved into law this year.
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