- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2008

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

We read with interest Maryjoy’s plea from the Philippines for death benefit assistance for her mother’s funeral, featured in your July 3 column. Unfortunately, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ response to the daughter of a widow of a U.S. military retiree did not provide help to repay her aunt.

Recently, our brother Enrico Ortanez died after a long battle with cancer. His wife, Baddette, and two sons, Jericho and Jonah, survived Enrico, who was only 48 years old. Enrico was born and raised in Manila and was a true inspiration for Filipino musical artists. Enrico formed Agos, a group of musicians and artists dedicated to the pursuit of freedom, justice and peace in the Philippines. Our brother believed and promoted Gawad Kalinga (GK), which translated in English means “to give care,” as an alternative solution to the blatant problem of poverty. Battling stage-four colon cancer, Enrico shunned chemotherapy sessions to promote GK and raise funds for the completion of his own GK Agos Village and a promise of a better life for the poorest of the poor in his homeland.

Enclosed is a check payable to the Blinded American Veterans Foundation (BAVF) for Maryjoy to repay her aunt for her mothers burial and for the BAVF to continue to do good deeds. Please accept these gifts in memory of our brother Enrico Ortanez.

With kind regards,

The Ortanez family

Silver Spring, Md.

Dear Family:

Your gesture of kindness in tribute to the memory of your brother and his altruism is heartwarming. A check for $1,000 has been sent to Maryjoy to help defray the cost of her mother’s burial. In addition, the BAVF, www.bavf.org, has given an additional $1,000 to the Development for Peace Program in Mindanao, Philippines. This is a project in its sixth year. It is a 501(c)3 tax-deductible nonprofit charitable organization. The Philippine project areas are in Sulu, where there are close to 25,000 children in the public schools receiving support, as well as integrated health and livelihood programs, which have been essential to preventing terrorism and building hope. They also are assisting communities in Lanao del Sur and Cotabato in agricultural projects to achieve food self-sufficiency as an important component of the peace and reconciliation process between Muslims and Christians. In addition, they are integrated as part of the national peace efforts as an international humanitarian organization through the HELP Caravan project organized through the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process [OPAPP]. They currently are not receiving government funding and are performing work with private contributions and local partnerships. Their Web site is www.asiaamerica.org.

The tax-deductible EIN Number is 187-9852. Contributions should be made out to Asia America Initiative and can be directed to: Philippines program.

The address is Asia America Initiative, 1523 16th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20036

Shaft Notes

The U.S. Department of Labor recently announced a new online resource to help employers in their employment of veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), two increasingly common battlefield conditions.

The new America’s Heroes at Work Web site (www.americasheroesatwork.gov) provides information about TBI and PTSD as well as tools and guidance on how to implement workplace accommodations and other services that benefit affected individuals. In addition, the Web site includes the toll-free phone number of the Job Accommodation Network, which employers can call to receive personal assistance relating to job accommodations for veterans with disabilities.

“This America’s Heroes at Work initiative focuses on the employment challenges of returning service members who are living with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao. “One of the best ways we can help these courageous men and women and honor their sacrifice is to help them return to full, productive lives through work. Employment can also play a role in their recovery.”

Mrs. Chao unveiled the initiative at the National Press Club, along with a number of federal and private partners including representatives from the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Society for Human Resource Management.

• The Veterans Entrepreneurship Task Force (VET-Force) recently became the first veterans’ organization to sign a memorandum of agreement with the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), to bolster GSA’s efforts to spend 3 percent of its contracting dollars on companies owned by service-disabled veterans.

The VET-Force will use its network of thousands of veterans to expand efforts to provide information about training and other efforts targeted to increasing federal opportunities for companies owned by service-disabled veterans.

“GSA welcomes the opportunity to work with the VET-Force and other organizations committed to helping veterans and service-disabled veterans who are entrepreneurs,” said acting Administrator David Bibb. “This is a point of honor, but it is also a point of common sense. When we expand economic opportunities for veterans, we’re drawing on men and women who know teamwork, discipline, cooperation and mission accomplishment.”

The agreement was developed through GSA’s “21-Gun-Salute Initiative,” which works with federal agencies, veterans and industry to implement President Bush’s directive to all agencies to spend 3 percent of federal contracting dollars on companies owned by service-disabled veterans, as stated in the 2004 Service-Disabled Veterans Executive Order.

The VET-Force was organized in 1998 to advocate for the Veterans Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development Act of 1999, which acknowledged that veterans, particularly service-disabled, need additional help to form and expand their small businesses and thereby enable them to realize the American dream that they fought so hard to protect.

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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