America must honor its Hmong "stealth heroes"

Editor’s note: This press statement was received on June 12, 2013.

Senator Lisa Murkowski advocated today on behalf of the 6,900 living Hmong-American veterans who served in Vietnam under covert operations, testifying before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in support of her legislation that would allow these veterans to be paid a final honor they earned: being laid to rest beside their brothers-in-arms in our national cemeteries.

“Members of our Hmong community that fought under the CIA during Vietnam currently enjoy no rights as veterans,” said Senator Murkowski in today’s hearing. “They are requesting to be buried in our national cemeteries, simply requesting to be buried and recognized in our national cemeteries … Providing burial rights to the small number of Hmong veterans remaining that fought for America is the least we can do to honor their service.”

Senator Murkowski’s bill would honor Hmong-American veterans who conducted covert CIA and U.S. Special Forces operations as volunteers in the “U.S. Secret Army,” carrying out aircraft recovery operations of American airmen in Laos and guarding secret bases across enemy lines. Over the course of the war, the CIA employed tens of thousands of these volunteers, and over 100,000 Hmong lost their lives by the end of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

Murkowski’s bill would allow full burial rights in national cemeteries to surviving Hmong-American veterans for sacrifices that have been previously recognized by Congress.

“Many soldiers who fought for the CIA and their families were among the refugees that became U.S. citizens,” said Senator Murkowski. “There are currently over 260,000 Hmong people in America.  In Anchorage, we have about 5,000 Hmong refugees. Of the Hmong who became U.S. citizens, there are approximately 6,900 veterans that are still with us today. The number is dwindling by the day. The Hmong fighters’ sacrifice on behalf of America calls for reciprocal honor paid during the latter years of these veterans’ lives.”

Senator Murkowski’s legislation would not be unprecedented. Burial privileges in national cemeteries were extended to Filipino wartime allies in the Veterans Benefits and Health Care Improvement Act of 2000 for their help in America’s World War II efforts.

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