- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 4, 2006

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

The National Civilian Community Corps is a respected national service corps organized and operated on a military model. NCCC employs veterans in its command structure.

Based at five regional campuses, NCCC teams work on behalf of civilians and veterans in all 50 states. We recruit young adults who are American citizens and mold them into enthusiastic teams with strong team leaders. They are ready to deploy rapidly, after training by the Red Cross and staff in first aid, CPR, family assistance, firefighting, mass care and damage assessment.

Today, NCCC corps members are serving in Gulf Coast disaster relief, having worked more than 500,000 hours.

Somehow, though, NCCC has been practically eliminated from the proposed 2007 federal budget. Money is included only for the purpose of shutting down the program. Supplemental funding for NCCC Gulf Coast relief activities is also uncertain, with the hurricane season about to start.

As former directors of NCCC, we know firsthand what a mistake that would be. We have seen their work at a Maryland VA Medical Center — where, for more than a decade, corps members have served.

We know that a 10-member AmeriCorps NCCC team served at the Vermont Office of Veterans Affairs to ensure that veterans could obtain the benefits they earned. Clayton Clark, veteran services coordinator, had strong praise for their efforts, saying, “The team spent 2,000 work hours on this project in four weeks.”

The National Civilian Community Corps should not be kicked to the curb. NCCC needs, deserves and appreciates support from all members of the military family.

Brig. Gen. Don Scott (Retired)

Lt. Gen. Andrew P. Chambers (Retired)

Col. Fred Peters (Retired)

U.S. Army

Former directors, National Civilian Community Corps

Dear former NCCC directors:

It seems preposterous that as our military reserves and National Guard are spread thin because of other commitments, the U.S. Congress could even think of defunding this vital civilian disaster-relief partner. I urge the Congress to join the administration in continuing to fund this essential program.

Shaft notes

Recently, Jim Nicholson, secretary of Veterans Affairs, joined with top officials from the U.S. Postal Service to showcase a new Purple Heart stamp.

Mr. Nicholson, a West Point alumnus and retired colonel in the Army Reserves, also presented the Purple Heart medal to two soldiers being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for combat wounds.

“This stamp will be a daily reminder of the extraordinary valor of our service members,” said Mr. Nicholson during remarks at a ceremony for the first day of issue for the stamp held at Arlington National Cemetery.

“It is fitting that we have everyday testimonials to the wounds of war that, for some veterans, have occurred through their brave and selfless service to our grateful nation,” Mr. Nicholson added.

Receiving the Purple Heart were Army Spc. Michael Hilliard and Army Spc. Ian Wagner.

The new 39-cent postal stamp has the image of the military’s Purple Heart medal. Created by George Washington in 1782 for soldiers in the Continental Army, the Purple Heart now goes to military men and women wounded in combat. Next of kin of veterans who die in combat also receive the medal.

In 2003, the U.S. Postal Service first issued a 37-cent stamp with the medal’s distinctive image — a profile of George Washington on a purple background within a heart-shaped medallion. The new stamp has the same image, although it comes in the new 39-cent value set for first-class postage.

• Thanks so much to the Gold Star Wives of America for honoring me along with others at their recent congressional reception.

The Gold Star Wives of America is a nonprofit national military widows service organization chartered by Congress in 1980. Widow(er)s of active-duty deaths and service-related disabilities are eligible for membership.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced a special outreach campaign to inform veterans about VA’s disability compensation program in areas where they may have been underserved.

In May, VA conducted outreach efforts in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey and Connecticut to reach veterans who may have a disability related to their military service but are not receiving VA benefits for their disabilities.

The goal is to ensure that all veterans receive the benefits they have earned. This effort reaffirms the commitment to provide full, fair and equitable compensation for veterans.

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 [email protected]

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