Dear Annie: Over the past 150 years, our nation has worked tirelessly to care for those who, as President Abraham Lincoln so eloquently stated, "shall have borne the battle." Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs operates 151 hospitals, 134 community living centers and 825 community-based outpatient clinics, as well as many other rehabilitation and support activities, to deliver care to more than 6 million veterans. Coupled with our regional benefits offices and national cemeteries, VA employees and volunteers commit themselves daily, across this country and overseas, to assist and care for those who have given of themselves to this great country.
VA does not carry on this important mission on our own. We work hand in hand with veterans service organizations, civic and community partners and caring individuals from across the country. For all of us, there is no higher calling.
Many of your readers join us each February in the National Salute to Veteran Patients. This VA program encourages Americans to visit and volunteer at their local VA medical centers and to send letters of thanks or valentines to those who have protected our nation. This year's National Salute is Feb. 9-15.
Last year, more than 310,424 valentines were received at VA medical centers, and 18,770 members of the public visited more than 72,000 veteran patients. Thank you and your readers for your work in bringing attention to this worthy cause.
As the secretary of veterans affairs, I encourage your thoughtful readers again to take some time this February to honor our veterans. As always, Annie, thank you for your support of this outstanding program.
For more information regarding the National Salute and volunteer opportunities at a local VA medical center, please visit VA's Voluntary Service website at www.volunteer.va.gov. Sincerely — Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Washington, D.C.
Dear Secretary Shinseki: Every year, our readers amaze and gratify us with their outpouring of appreciation for our veterans through the Valentines for Vets program. We know they will come through again.
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. Tell them how much you appreciate their service. Ask about their families and their hometowns.
Teachers, you have always been so supportive in making this a class project for your students, especially with those charming and much-appreciated handmade valentines. Encourage your students to express their creativity while learning the satisfaction of doing for others.
Every year, the dedicated members of Camp Fire USA participate in this VA program, and Salvation Army volunteers distribute valentines, gifts and refreshments at various VA facilities. Concerts and other programs are held across the country as part of the National Salute to Veteran Patients weeklong festivities.
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. Simply check 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 let them know they have not been forgotten. Please remember our veterans this Valentine's Day. We know of nothing else that costs so little and brings so much happiness. — Marcy and Kathy
This Classic Annie's Mailbox column was originally published in 2014. To find out more about Classic Annie's Mailbox and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit Creators Syndicate at www.creators.com.