Bill would give burial rights to Hmong veterans

Thursday, July 29, 2010

FRESNO, Calif.—Members of the country's Hmong community who fought with U.S. forces during the Vietnam War would be eligible for burial in national cemeteries under a bill introduced by a Fresno congressman.

Hmong groups say legislation like the bill Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, introduced Tuesday is long overdue and would give them the recognition they deserve.

"It means a great deal to the community," said Bao Vang, president and chief executive of the Hmong American Partnership, a Minnesota-based community development organization. "Hmong lost many lives due to the war."

The Hmong are an ethnic minority from the mountains of Laos. Thousands of Hmong soldiers fought under CIA advisers—an effort that was not acknowledged publicly by American officials for years—during the war to back a pro-American Lao government. A communist victory in 1975 forced them to flee, with many going to Thailand and the United States.

Census figures show more than 65,000 Hmong live in California, including 48,000 in Fresno. Other large Hmong communities are in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

"Our Hmong veterans fought shoulder to shoulder with American soldiers during the Vietnam War," Costa said in a statement. "Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to these patriotic individuals, and their service should be honored with burial benefits in our national cemeteries."

About 6,900 Hmong around the country would be eligible for the burial privileges if the bill passed, according to Costa. The Department of Veterans Affairs would have to verify their service.

Costa said he was able to finally introduce the bill after garnering the support of 22 other members of Congress, who co-sponsored it.

Will Crain, a spokesman for Costa, acknowledged that time was quickly running out to pass the bill in the current session.

"Looking at the legislative calendar, there's not a huge timeframe under which to move this," he said. "But we're going to continue to build support for it."


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