Dear Annie: Thank you once again for providing me the opportunity to reach out and thank our citizens for the care and support they provide to our veterans. Each year, Americans participate in the National Salute to Veteran Patients by visiting and volunteering at the Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities and by sending letters of thanks or Valentine's Day cards to those who have protected our nation. This year's National Salute is Feb. 14-20, and we again encourage communities across the country to take part in this effort to honor our hospitalized veterans.
Last year, 333,871 Valentine's Day cards were received at VA medical centers, along with 16,279 visits to an estimated 99,238 hospitalized veteran patients. I thank you and your readers for your work in bringing attention to this worthy cause. Of special note, VA Voluntary Service recruited 703 new volunteers during last year's Valentines for Veterans Concert Series.
In order to better focus our strengths, VA is undergoing the largest restructuring in the Department's history with the singular goal of making VA easier for veterans to navigate. This initiative, called MyVA, will create a more veteran-centric organization, with the ultimate goal being to improve care, services and benefits for America's veterans.
As the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, I encourage your thoughtful readers to again take time this February to honor our veterans. As always, thank you for your support of this outstanding program. For more information regarding the National Salute and volunteer opportunities, please visit VA's voluntary service Web page at volunteer.va.gov. Sincerely -- Robert A. McDonald, Secretary of Veterans Affairs
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Dear Secretary McDonald: Every year, our readers impress us with their outpouring of gratitude for our veterans through the Valentines for Vets program. We know they will come through again. The veterans so appreciate these valentines and letters. Teachers, scouting groups, community organizations, houses of worship and social organizations have used this program to encourage young people to become involved in their community and learn about the meaning of service from our veterans.
Sending a valentine or volunteering at one of the VA medical facilities is a wonderful way to express our gratitude to those who have served our country. The veterans would be especially thrilled if you could spend a few minutes visiting in person. Start by telling them how much you appreciate their service. Then ask about their families and their hometowns.
Teachers, you have always been so supportive in making this a class project. We hope you will encourage your students to display their creativity and learn firsthand the satisfaction that comes from doing for others. Every year, the dedicated members of Camp Fire USA participate and Salvation Army volunteers distribute valentines, gifts and refreshments at various VA facilities around the country.
If you do not live close enough to a VA facility to drop off your valentines in person, it's perfectly OK to put them in the mail. Look in your phone book for the nearest VA facility, or go to the VA website at www.va.gov.
We can never repay these courageous veterans for the sacrifices they have made on our behalf, but we can take the time to cheer them up and let them know they have not been forgotten. We know of nothing else that costs so little and brings so much happiness. -- Marcy and Kathy
Annie's Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please email your questions to anniesmailboxcreators.com or write to Annie's Mailbox, c/o Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254. You can also find Annie on Facebook at Facebook.com/AskAnnies.
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