Mrs. S. J. Gawelko of Vienna recently received a letter from the Disabled American Veterans.

The letter began with these words:

"It is dark outside now.

"The food beside the bed is cold. It's been sitting for over an hour.

"The room has grown chilly but the blanket at the foot of the bed remains folded.

"The young man in bed is hungry. The chill is beginning to seep into his body. But there's nothing he can do. He is totally paralyzed.

"He can only lay there, listening to footsteps in the VA hospital corridor.Wondering . . . WHERE IS EVERYONE? Why doesn't someone come?

"Yes indeed, where is everyone? I'll tell you. They no longer work there. Funds that once supported a fine veterans hospital system no longer exist, thanks to the maneuvering of a few politicians and bureaucrats. As a result, staffs have been drastically cut. Quality care is a thing of the past. I could quote you figures. The millions needed but not appropriated. The over 2,200 medical care employees, gone and never replaced."

The letter continued in that vein for many more paragraphs. Then came a direct appeal for financial help. It said, "Please, use the enclosed envelope to send us a contribution."

When she read the letter, Mrs. Gawelko was shocked and angry.

"Can it be," she asked, "that our disabled veterans lack for a warm meal or a blanket when they're cold because too many employees have been laid off?"

I didn't know the answer to her question, so I put it to Va Administrator Max Cleland.

Max may be confined to a wheelchair, but he takes no guff from politicians or anybody else. If budget cuts have left him unable to give proper care to disabled veterans, I was sure Max would welcome the opportunity to protest.

Here's Max's answer -- verbatim:

"VA funding and employment are at all-time highs at the present time and I am pleased to report that the ratio of staff to patients in our hospitals is also at an all-time high.

"Our budget request for this fiscal year totaled $22.4 billion, an increase of $1.3 billion over the previous year. And our request includes 50 additional medical care personnel, and medical care funding of $6 billion, an all-time high and an increase of $100 million over 1980.

"These funds, and this level of staffing, will enable VA to provide the best medical care possible for an estimated 1.35 million veterans as hospital patients, and more than 18 million outpatient visits to VA clinics and hospitals.

"Over the past decade, we have indeed reduced the total number of hospital beds in the system, but rather than resulting from lack of funds, this reduction stems from the fact that advances in medical techniques have enabled us to place a greater emphasis on outpatient treatment.

"This reduces the time a veteran must spend in the hospital and enables him to return more quickly to his home and a normal life in the community. It also allows us to extend care to more veterans than ever before.

"I trust that this information will serve to assure Mrs. Gawelko that no eligible veterans have failed to receive medical care because of lack of funding or a reduction in the number of VA employees."

Professional money-raisers agree that the most effective technique they can use on those who are solicited is: "Make them feel guilty."

The most effective defense for those who are solicited is awareness of the attempts to make them feel guilty.

There are many worthy charities -- so many that, at times, some of them fail to achieve their fund-raising goals.

They become easy prey for professional fund-raisers who say, "We'll get the money for you and merely take a percentage of what we bring in. What we turn over to you, even after taking out our percentage, will be money you would have never seen."

So an agreement is made, and the professionals are turned loose to bring in money needed for worthy purposes.

Professionals can be very hardnosed about the techniques they use. That's a good thing to keep in mind as the Christmas season approaches and fund appeals multiply.

I don't know whether DAV uses professional fund-raisers or does the work in-house. I do know that even a millionaire must use some judgment in apportioning his charitable gifts.