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VFW Phone Cards Say 'Thanks' to Service Members, Veterans

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 31, 2002 – In time for the holidays, the Veterans of Foreign Wars' annual free phone card program is gearing up for active-duty, Guard and Reserve military members serving overseas, and for hospitalized veterans.

Both corporate and individual contributors fund the program, which began in the mid-1990s, noted Ron Browning, assistant adjutant general for development at VFW headquarters in Kansas City, Mo.

He said the prepaid phone card program kicks off during the Veterans' Day (Nov. 11) weekend. The cards, he added, will be offered in increments of at least 10 minutes of calling time, up to 30 minutes. The paper cards feature directions for use and include space for user comments, Browning said.

"It's a way of saying 'thank you,' not only from the VFW, but from the donors who promote the cards and provide the cards to these people who are really doing so much for America -- especially today," he emphasized.

In fact, since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America, the VFW and its volunteer network have distributed almost 600,000 prepaid phone cards to service members and veterans, Browning said. That card count represents almost 6 million calling minutes, he added.

About 25,000 phone cards were issued in the program's first year, he noted. This year, he estimated, about a million will be distributed.

He recalled a note written to the VFW by a card recipient: "When no one else cares, I know you folks will be there. For that, I am eternally grateful. I'll use this card to get in touch with my family, whom I haven't heard from in number of years."

"Anyone who has ever been away from home on a holiday -- especially serving overseas -- knows how difficult that period can be," Browning said. "To know that we've made a difference in people's lives is huge, even if it's just a 10-minute phone call."

Historically, people such as parents, spouses, other relatives and military commanders have requested the phone cards for service members and veterans, he remarked. To request a phone card on behalf of a service member, visit www.vfwkc.org/marketing/PhoneCard.asp. To make a donation toward the purchase of cards for distribution, visit www.vfw.org/uplink/donation.shtml.

The VFW attempts to fulfill every legitimate request for phone cards and to get the cards into the hands of service members and veterans, Browning said.

The VFW program "has a pretty extensive volunteer network that makes it work," he said. And this year, he added, the National Football League and Department of Defense have partnered to get the word out about the free phone card program.

"The NFL has selected this particular project as a major part of its salute to veterans on Veterans Day," he said. That effort, Browning noted, kicks off during the Sunday (Nov. 10) and Monday night (Nov. 11) football games at NFL stadiums across the country. Fans at the games will receive flyers explaining the program and suggesting how to contribute, Browning continued. Program information also will appear on various NFL Web sites, he said.

The VFW and its sponsors, he pointed out, are also involved in other support projects for service members. One example is a pilot program that has provided military family assistance centers around the country with about $1.6 million of merchandise and assistance over the past year, he said. That assistance, he noted, should double this year, and triple next year.

"We think now, more than ever, that the military family needs to know that the civilian family really cares about it," Browning concluded.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageRon Browning, assistant adjutant general for development at the Veterans of Foreign Wars headquarters in Kansas City, Mo., displays the prepaid phone cards the VFW is distributing to service members overseas and to hospitalized veterans. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore.  
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