LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A proposed bill would provide an estimated 3,000 Korean American veterans the same benefits as U.S. service members.
The Korean American VALOR Act expands eligibility for VA benefits to certain veterans who served in Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, or during a time determined by the VA.
Congressman Mark Takano, ranking member on the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, reintroduced the bipartisan bill, which the House passed unanimously by voice vote this month.
"I think it falls nicely within this year where I think it's the 70th anniversary of the alliance between the two nations," said Takano.
The bill would allow the U.S. to negotiate a reciprocal agreement with South Korea.
"Each country, since they're both relatively wealthy countries, would agree to pay for the health care of each other's veterans," said Takano.
In America, it would apply to Korean and Vietnam war veterans who are now U.S. citizens. Traveling to South Korea for healthcare benefits is not feasible for many.
"We cannot go Korea, maybe some people can go, but some people are very sick. They can't," said Korean American Vietnam War veteran Alfred Chung.
Chung along with his comrades - Keun Soo Yang, David K Yim and David Kim - met with Eyewitness News to discuss the bill. They are four of more than 300,000 Koreans who were deployed to Vietnam.
They were all in their teens and 20s at the time and are now in their 70s and 80s after having made a life in America.
Yang owned a Korean restaurant, Kim was a dentist and Yim is currently a pastor. Chung worked in the textile industry and has also volunteered with a local VA hospital. As a group of Korean American Vietnam War veterans, they advocated strongly for the bill.
There is precedent, for example, the VA has provided healthcare services to veterans of allied European nations during World War I and World War II.
"To this day, we have not been recognized as allied veterans," said Kim. "I earnestly requested that the Senate pass a borrow act as soon as possible."
Yang stressed a sense of urgency as these veterans are in their 80s and 90s and urged lawmakers to move it forward.
There's no word on if or when the Senate will take it up, but Takano said its bipartisan unanimous passage in the House sets the stage for quick passage in the Senate.