Dear Ann Landers:

For 11 years, your readers have opened their hearts to America's hospitalized veterans by sending cards and letters to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers across the country through your "Valentines for Vets" program.

Last year, VA medical centers received more than three-quarters of a million valentines, and more than 30,000 people took the time to visit nearly 67,000 hospitalized veterans around the country. More than 500 volunteers were recruited to help at our VA hospitals. In addition, teachers throughout the country have taken this opportunity to educate their students about the accomplishments of our nation's veterans and what they have done in support of our country.

It has been said that the nation that forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten. Fortunately, the United States has never forgotten the sacrifices our veterans have made so that we might remain free.

In 2000, America's National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans will be observed during the week of Feb. 14. Every day, approximately 100,000 veterans are treated in VA medical facilities. Some of them are alone, without family, friends or visitors.

Ann, the cards and letters your readers send to our hospitalized veterans during that week serve as tangible reminders that they are remembered, appreciated and valued beyond measure. Your readers can mail their valentines to the nearest VA medical center or drop them off in person. The addresses of our facilities can be obtained by looking in the telephone directory or by calling the VA's toll-free number, 1-800-827-1000, or from VA's Web site at (Our local VA Medical Center's address is 50 Irving St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20422.) Thank you once again for your generous and caring support of our nation's veterans.

--Togo D. West Jr., Secretary

Department of Veterans Affairs

Washington, D.C.

I've always known that my readers are the most warmhearted, responsive people in the world. When I ask them to do something, they come through like champions. Readers, it's time once again to let our veterans know we appreciate them. It won't cost a lot, and it's sure to bring enormous pleasure to our vets, to whom we owe so much.

These men and women served in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Kosovo and all the places where our soldiers have been sent around the world. They represent every race, color and creed. We can never repay these valiant vets for the sacrifices they have made, but we can do something to cheer them up and let them know they have not been forgotten.

Last year, Salvation Army volunteers distributed valentines, gifts and refreshments to VA facilities around the country. Camp Fire Boys and Girls have been giving valentines to our veterans for quite some time. God bless them. The Westin O'Hare Hotel in Rosemont, Ill., will bake a huge cake for the veterans and have their guests sign a five-foot card.

Teachers, you have always been extremely helpful and supportive. I'm depending on you once more to make this a class project. Those handmade valentines are real heartwarmers, especially the ones made by the younger students. Please encourage your students to be creative, and let them learn firsthand the satisfaction that comes from doing something for others.

I know of nothing you can do that would cost so little and bring so much pleasure to the men and women who were willing to lay down their lives for us. They deserve to be remembered. Thank you all, and God bless.

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