- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 2, 2005

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

After reading the article in The Washington Times about the need for phone cards at Walter Reed, I posted this to a blog I frequent and quickly got a response saying, “No more phone cards.” I thought I would verify this, so I called Aster Black, American Red Cross station manager, at 202/782-6362, as you suggested. Indeed, they do have loads of cards right now.

I was told they have so many cards, in boxes all over the place, that they can barely get around. So they suggested to check with them again after the holidays and see if they have room for more perhaps in late January or February.

Thank you

Julia D.

Elgin, Texas

Dear Julia:

Michael J. Wagner, director of the Medical Family Assistance Center at Walter Reed, recently said: “Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the American Red Cross thank everyone for their generosity in supporting the wounded service members at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. There has been an overwhelming response by the American public. Donations have included telephone cards, clothing, cold weather clothing, personal hygiene items, CDs, CD players, DVDs, DVD players, cookies and candy, and many other items.

“There have been so many donations that storage capacity has been exceeded. The service members have all that is required and there is a supply that will sustain support to the incoming wounded through at least February 2005. It is requested that no more donations of phone cards and other goods be collected and sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center through February.

“There is always a need for cash donations to be used by the organizations that provide support to service members at Walter Reed. The Walter Reed Society, the Fisher House at Walter Reed, the American Red Cross, and the Helping Hand Chaplains Fund at Walter Reed all provide assistance to those in need through tax-deductible cash donations by providing patients and their family members meals, lodging, transportation and other living expenses while in the capital region.”

Shaft notes

Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, recently announced that he has decided to step down as chairman of the Special Committee on Aging to assume the chairmanship of the Veterans Affairs Committee.

“I am not leaving aging committee issues behind, because I will still serve as chairman of the subcommittee on economic security on next year’s White House Conference on Aging. I will also continue to press forward with legislation important to America’s senior citizens — in such areas as long-term care, Medicare, flu vaccines, Social Security and more,” Mr. Craig said.

Mr. Craig will seek to replace Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, who has led the Veterans’ Affairs Committee but is leaving that post to become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

While Mr. Craig prepares to assume his new position, his home state did veterans a service recently by opening a veterans cemetery in Boise, ending Idaho’s status as the only state without such a burial ground. It gave up that distinction on Nov. 16 with the aid of a Department of Veterans Affairs grant of $8.2 million for construction.

There is now an operational national or state veterans cemetery in every state of the union, plus Puerto Rico and Guam.

The cemetery was dedicated July 31, before construction was finished. The initial construction plan calls for development of 30 acres of the 77-acre site and includes 8,640 grave sites. That includes 2,930 traditional casket grave sites, 2,226 pre-placed crypts, 2,204 in-ground cremation niches and 1,280 columbarium niches. Other elements include a committal service shelter, an administration and maintenance building, and an assembly area.

Approximately 122,000 veterans reside in Idaho. Before the state opened its cemetery, the closest open national cemetery for local veterans was Willamette National Cemetery in Portland, Ore., about 425 miles northwest of Boise.

One burial took place while the new cemetery was under construction. Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, a Republican, gave special approval to inter Army Spc. Brandon Titus on Nov. 22. The Boise resident was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad on Aug. 17.

VA’s State Cemetery Grants Program complements VA’s national cemeteries. The grants have helped establish, expand or improve 57 state veterans cemeteries that provided more than 19,000 burials in fiscal 2004.

Information on VA burial benefits can be obtained from national cemetery offices, from the VA Web site (www.cem.va.gov) or by calling VA regional offices toll-free at 800/827-1000.

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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