- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2006

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I am retired Navy. When I was in Florida, I forgot to bring the prescription pills that I was taking per the instructions from my Tricare for Life provider. I visited a Veterans Affairs center to request a few pills. The VA, however, told me that I am not eligible to use VA for any service or to enroll with a VA clinic because I am with Tricare for Life.

Please advise.

Elizabeth L.

Washington

Dear Elizabeth:

The top doc at VA advised me that an eligible Tricare patient can come to VA for medical care in two different ways: through a referral when Tricare will reimburse the medical center, or if a retiree is enrolled in VA based on a service-connected disability or other entitlement criteria. Unfortunately, as in your case, the Veterans Affairs-Defense sharing agreements seem not to be filtering down to the medical apparatchiks at those departments.

Shaft notes

• Sanford M. Garfunkel, director of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington, D.C., has announced a volunteer driver program of the Knights of Columbus to help disabled veterans access medical care.

A dozen members of the Knights of Columbus have agreed to be volunteer drivers for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). After completing a physical examination and required training, the drivers will work on a rotating schedule to transport patients from Prince George’s County to the medical center at 50 Irving St. NW.

Drivers will use a van donated by the Disabled American Veterans, a veterans service organization. Bowie Mayor G. Frederick Robinson has allowed the van to be parked on county property in the city.

The medical center is grateful to Alan Cecilio, a volunteer with the medical center and a member of the Knights of Columbus, for initiating the program and recruiting the volunteer drivers. Mr. Cecilio is one of the volunteer drivers.

Because of their lack of mobility and advancing age, many veterans are unable to travel to the medical center on their own. This program will help these veterans get the medical attention they need. A ceremony at the medical center honored the commitment and dedication of these volunteers and recognized the Knights of Columbus and the city of Bowie.

• Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican and former chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, once again expressed outrage at the Ethiopian government’s continued silence about a report linking their security forces to nearly 200 deaths during two waves of protests over election results last year, and called for immediate passage of his bill to promote human rights and democracy in Ethiopia when Congress reconvenes.

Mr. Smith — who is the chairman of the House International Relations subcommittee on Africa, global human rights and international operations and author of the Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights Advancement Act of 2006 (H.R. 5680) — said, “Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s silence speaks volumes. The regime refuses to comment on the report, most likely because they never expected it to see the light of day. We have a responsibility to hold them accountable for their brutal actions as well as their subsequent efforts to suppress this inquiry.”

Mr. Smith added, “This report should prompt the House to move on my bill when we reconvene. We must send a message to the Ethiopian government that these actions will not be tolerated.”

The report was submitted well over a year after the first wave of violence, despite the prime minister’s assurance to Mr. Smith during a meeting in August 2005 that an expeditious and transparent investigation would begin.

“This delayed, secret report, as well as the repeated delays in the trial of the opposition leaders, human rights activists and journalists, demonstrates an outright contempt for rule of law and due process,” Mr. Smith said.

The Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights Advancement Act of 2006 aims to bring democratic reform and accountability to Ethiopia by limiting U.S. security assistance to peacekeeping and counterterrorism only; denying visas to anyone who was involved in the June and November 2005 killings of demonstrators; assisting political prisoners, indigenous Ethiopian human rights organizations, the independent press and civil society; and promoting legal training. Mr. Smith’s legislation passed the House International Relations Committee in June.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330; call 202/257-5446; or e-mail [email protected]


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