â€œWith fewer than 10,000 World War II Merchant Mariners still alive today, it is important to ensure they have the full opportunity to apply for benefits earned through service to our country,â€ Butterfield said.
With bipartisan support from 17 fellow House members, including House Budget Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.), Butterfield is sponsoring the World War II Merchant Marine Service Act, which seeks to expand which documents are accepted by the U.S. Secretary of Defense in determining Merchant Marinesâ€™ eligibility for veterans benefits.
Butterfield explained that during World War II, U.S. Merchant Marines contributed directly to the war effort. These contributions took place while their private employers were under contract or direction of the U.S. military or government, or due to their participation in military activities such as the defense of wide geographic areas, including Guam and Bataan.
â€œThe Merchant Mariners have long and rightly been known as the fourth arm of defense,â€ Butterfield said.
In the years after the war, Congress held hearings on legislation introduced that would have either expanded benefits then currently available to merchant seamen, or provide benefits comparable to those provided in the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944. Unfortunately, Butterfield said, Congress failed to pass any of the legislation.
Decades later, Congress did eventually approve legislation that provided U.S. Merchant Marines with active oceangoing service during World War II with eligibility for veterans benefits.
While many Merchant Marines gained eligibility, Butterfield said that it is often difficult to meet the current documentation requirements. Currently, the only documents accepted are certificate of shipping and discharge forms, continuous deck or engine logbooks, and shipping company records that indicate the vessel names and dates of voyages.
Butterfield said that many of these documents never existed or are â€œall but impossibleâ€ to obtain, and that the bill would allow several alternatives. Under the bill, acceptable forms of documentation would include Social Security Administration records, validated testimony by the applicant or closest living relative and other official records that provide sufficient proof of service.
The other co-sponsors are U.S. Reps. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), Walter Jones (R-N.C.), Howard Coble (R-N.C.), Larry Kissell (D-N.C.), Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), Bob Etheridge (D-N.C.), Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), Bob Brady (D-Pa.), Madeline Bordallo (D-Guam), Donna Christensen (D-V.I.), Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) and Gene Taylor (D-Miss.).