- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

Words cannot express how grateful I am for you taking your time to present my case to the VA. I sincerely appreciate your interest and personal efforts on my behalf.

I also want to convey my admiration and gratitude for the outstanding service you provide to so many veterans.

My personal attempts with the VA during the earlier stages of my illness were unsuccessful. Perhaps my circumstances are unique. However, thanks to your committed endeavors, veterans’ voices are being heard and veterans’ causes are being championed.

Again, many thanks for your assistance to me personally and your personal dedication to our fellow veterans.

May God bless you in all you do.


Wayne C.

Tallahassee, Fla.

Dear Wayne:

Kudos should go to top officials at the Veterans Benefits Administration who reviewed your case. Your claim could not have been adjudicated favorably if you were not eligible for the benefits you receive. Thanks for your service.

Shaft notes

• The Sarge joins the nation’s leading veterans organizations, representing more than 5 million members, urging that Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, remain chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. In a letter to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, the leaders of these organizations wrote:

“As the Republican Conference begins the process of organizing for the upcoming 109th Congress, we respectfully ask that you take actions as necessary to guarantee that Chairman Smith is returned for the final two-years of his term.

“Since being elected Chairman four years ago, Chris Smith has served admirably as the public face of your party and Congress to America’s 26 million veterans and their families. The [principal] author of more than a dozen veterans laws, the legislative record built by Chairman Smith was often cited by Republican candidates — including President Bush — during the past election campaign. Some of his most notable legislative achievements include modernizing the GI Bill, strengthening legal protections for servicemembers, expanding health care services and benefits for disabled veterans, and restoring benefits for widows of veterans killed in action or permanently disabled.

“Chairman Smith has been especially skillful in turning bills into laws; getting them past institutional roadblocks in the Senate and onto the President’s desk. He has also used the powers of the Committee to hold the Department of Veterans Affairs and other federal programs serving veterans more accountable through aggressive oversight activities. …

“In our view, it would be a tragedy if Chris Smith left the Chairmanship two years before the end of his six-year term limit. The unnecessary loss of his leadership, knowledge, skill, honesty, passion, and work ethic would be a deeply disturbing development not just to us, but to millions of veterans across the country whose lives he has touched.”

• The Department of Veterans Affairs has announced the expansion of benefits to all former prisoners of war with strokes and common heart diseases.

“This is an issue that has been studied and debated too long,” VA Secretary Anthony J. Principi said. “We have scientific studies supporting the association of these illnesses to the military service of our former POWs.”

The secretary announced the new benefits at a recent convention of the American Ex-Prisoners of War. POWs with strokes and most heart diseases automatically will be eligible for disability compensation. POWs with those common ailments, and their surviving spouses and dependents, will be eligible for service-connected benefits related to these diseases.

In September 2003, Mr. Principi began a nationwide outreach effort to identify and provide benefits to the estimated 11,000 former POWs who were not receiving VA disability compensation or other services. There are about 35,000 living ex-POWs.

The secretary also has urged Congress to change federal law that required that former POWs be detained for at least 30 days to qualify for the full range of POW benefits.

The administration’s new decision will add to the list of 16 medical problems that VA presumes to be linked to the military service of former POWs.

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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