Legislation pending in the U.S. Congress may provide aging merchant mariners more than just a thank you for their service during World War II. If passed, the bill would grant a lifetime, tax-free monthly benefit of $1,000 to qualified merchant mariners.
In July, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill called A Belated Thank You to the Merchant Mariners of World War II Act, of 2007. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Bob Filner, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. The Senate version is currently before the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, chaired by Sen. Daniel K. Akaka. Sponsored by Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, the bill has 57 co-sponsors in the Senate.
Despite this support, the future of the bill is uncertain. Part of the problem is the amount of legislation awaiting action by the Senate committee. Currently the number stands at 110 bills.
A spokesman for Nelson said that the merchant mariner bill has not yet been scheduled for discussion. He said people who favor the legislation should press Akaka and his committee to bring the bill to a vote by the full Senate.
Ian T. Allison, co-chairman of the Just Compensation Committee, a group formed to support the bill, said that he is confident that the bill will be passed into law.
During World War II merchant mariners were engaged in highly dangerous duty. One estimate puts the number of merchant mariners who died during the war at 9,521, or one out of 26 who served. That fatality rate was higher than that of any branch of the armed services (the Marines had the second-highest fatality rate, at one in 34).
Despite their service, merchant mariners serving in World War II were never given full veteran status. As a result, they could not take advantage of the benefits being provided by the GI Bill to the other services, such as education, small business loans or medical care for disabilities.
In 1988, after a drawn out legal battle and much lobbying, surviving World War II merchant mariners were granted limited veterans’ rights, including health and burial benefits. Another attempt to grant full veteran status failed in 1998.
Approximately 225,000 merchant mariners served during World War II. Of those, approximately 10,000 are still living and could qualify for benefits if the bill is passed.
To qualify a mariner would have to meet the following requirements:
â€¢ Have a DD-214 from the U.S. Coast Guard. A DD-214 is the honorable discharge from the U. S. Coast Guard. World War II-era merchant mariners became eligible for such discharges when they were granted limited veterans status in 1988. Instructions and forms for filing for a DD-214 may be found at www.usmm.org.