Hmong veterans fight for burial benefits

FRESNO, Calif.

As it stands Hmong veterans who fought along with the United States in the Vietnam War do not have the same burial benefits as their American peers.

Dozens of Hmong veterans were dressed in their camouflage uniforms Sunday.

Some even wore their medals to show the sacrifices they made on the United States' behalf in the Vietnam War.

They gathered at the Orchard Hall in Southeast Fresno to fight for equal burial rights in the US.

General Vang Pao was handpicked by the CIA back in the 1960's and 70's to help recruit and lead tens of thousands of Hmong soldiers into battle against the communists.

"From today, people need to know what we do for the United States," Gen. Vang Pao said.

Roughly 35,000 Hmong soldiers died in the war and for years the UC government publicly denied their involvement.

After the Vietnam War a communist victory forced thousands of Hmong families to flee their homes in Laos.

Census figures show more than 65,000 Hmong live in California, including 48,000 in the valley.

But those who actually fought in the war still find themselves without any burial benefits at national cemeteries.

Congressman Jim Costa showed those in attendance a copy of the bill. It would give them the same burial benefits as their American counterparts.

"It's appropriate and fitting that we recognize these courageous soldiers and the general who fought side by side with our American troops in the Vietnam War," Rep. Jim Costa (D) Fresno said.

If passed, about 6,900 Hmong veterans worldwide would have the choice of receiving full US burial honors.

Congressman Costa says the Veterans Affairs Committee would have to verify their service.

However veterans advocates like Charlie Waters say time is running out to approve this legislation. "Now what we've got to do, is get through the hearings and then we can successfully have this brought to the house for a vote."

Twenty two other members of congress co-sponsored the bill that representative Costa introduced this past week.

A small group from Sunday's meeting is expected to testify in the upcoming hearings on Capitol Hill. A date hasn't been set.

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