- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 26, 2004

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. would like to echo your kind words last week about outgoing Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi. He is a true veterans’ advocate who worked tirelessly to improve VA services to all of the nation’s 25 million veterans. We welcome the opportunity to work with his successor and challenge him to continue to build upon Secretary Principi’s excellent road map for the future of veterans’ health care and benefits.

Your column mentioned legislation that failed in the 107th Congress to fund VA health care on a mandatory basis. The unfortunate result is that the VA’s Veterans Health Administration continues to bear the annual uncertainty of not knowing precisely what its budget will be or when it will become available.

VHA operates the nation’s largest integrated health care system and serves more than 5 million military veterans annually, but its budget has been late the past seven years in a row due to political strife and a variety of other reasons in the funding process.

The proper funding of health care is just one of many obstacles the new VA secretary will encounter. The VA serves America’s veterans with programs and services that also include disability compensation, educational assistance, home loans, vocational rehabilitation and cemeteries. The VFW has a genuine concern that, without proper funding, benefits claims from the current generation of veterans won’t be processed in a timely manner because a significant backlog already exists from previous generations.

Thanks also for mentioning phone cards for wounded troops at Walter Reed and Bethesda. As the nation’s largest organization of combat veterans, VFW members know all too well how important it is to morale to be able to call home. Our Operation Uplink program has donated more than 7 million free phone cards to deploying military and to those recuperating from their injuries, and we would certainly welcome all donations to this very worthwhile program. Your readers can contact a nearby VFW Post to help.

Robert E. Wallace

executive director

Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S.

Dear Bob:

We have a sacred obligation to ensure that our nation’s veterans receive the honors and benefits that they have earned through their service to this nation.

In the past decade, more and more veterans, particularly World War II and Korean War veterans, have turned to the Department of Veterans Affairs for medical services. It is becoming increasingly clear that Congress needs to look at mandatory funding in order to ensure adequate health care for veterans.

Shaft notes

The Sarge salutes the U.S. Department of Labor for its new investment in veterans’ careers.

Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao announced that more than 1,600 veterans in 17 communities in 15 states will be placed in new jobs thanks to $3.78 million in Department of Labor grants recently awarded. In addition, the department expects another 600 veterans to receive employment and training services as a result of these grants, which are awarded under the Workforce Investment Act.

“The Workforce Investment Act has expanded the eligibility criteria for veterans who might not be covered by other programs,” Mrs. Chao said. “This again demonstrates President Bush’s commitment and resolve to help America’s veterans who have so honorably served our nation.”

The grants, which are being awarded in California, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming, make possible a range of services for veterans. Those services include assessing job skills, career counseling, current labor market information, classroom or on-the-job training, skills upgrading or retraining and job-placement assistance.

Authorized by Section 168 of the Workforce Investment Act, the grants are being awarded on a competitive basis by the department’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service. At the end of these six-month, first-year grants, the service will award second-year funding to the grantees that meet or exceed the performance criteria set forth in their original award.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, PO Box 65900, Washington, D.C., 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330; call 202/257-5446; or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.

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