Merced County Times: Costa proposal aims to expand Hmong, Lao veterans burial rights
Congressman Jim Costa (CA-16), has introduced H.R. 4204, The Special Guerrilla Units (SGU) Service Recognition Expansion Act, bipartisan legislation that expands eligibility for interment in national cemeteries to all Hmong and Lao citizens who fought in support of the United States during the Vietnam War. Currently, only Hmong and Lao SGU Veterans who became naturalized citizens after the Hmong Veterans Naturalization Act of 2000 are eligible to receive burial benefits.
“It’s far past time these brave men and women are granted the honor they so deserve,” said Costa. “They risked their lives to fight alongside America during a long and brutal war and should have the choice of being laid to rest near their brothers in arms. It is the right and fair thing to do.” Thousands of Hmong men and women covertly trained to fight alongside American armed forces in Vietnam in what is often referred to as “The Secret War”, conducting direct missions against the Vietnamese Army and its supporters. Since the war, thousands of Hmong and Lao families have resettled across the United States, including in the San Joaquin Valley. Last year, Congressman Costa succeeded in getting Congress to recognize SGU burial rights for the first time.
Since then, just a handful of veterans have been recognized. This bill builds on the success of the last Congress and expands eligibility for all SGU veterans who became citizens prior to 2,000. It is estimated that approximately 6,000 Hmong and Lao SGU veterans living in the U.S. today would benefit should this bill become law. “I would like to thank Congressman Costa on behalf of all SGU members for his hard work in supporting the SGU,” said Lt. Tong Vang, a Hmong veteran who served in the Vietnam War. “We are grateful for him to expand the law passed last year. So many members are getting older and passing away. We are hoping this legislation is supported by all and becomes a law very soon.” Cheurchai Vang, president of the Lao Veterans of America and a Fresno resident, said it is of utmost importance to amend the current legislation to include all Hmong SGU who fought in the Vietnam War.
“More than 30,000 Hmong were recruited to fight in Vietnam and we deserve the right to be buried and recognized alongside our fellow American Soldiers,” he said. “Even though we were not born in the Unites States, there was never a question of our loyalty. We ask for the recognition because there is nothing more American than to sacrifice your own life for a country that you never set foot in before.”