RICK SMITH: Dear Abby: Thanks for helping veterans
By Rick Smith Saturday, August 8, 2009
Be careful what you wish for.
When the Rev. Fred Campbell started looking for a way to get the word out about new monthly benefits for the widows of veterans who died of Lou Gehrig’s disease ALS — Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), he went to an old friend. “Dear Abby” had helped the 87-year-old San Angelo resident once before, in 2001, when she printed his letter alerting former prisoners of war and their widows to special veterans’ benefits.
On July 18 of this year, she printed his information about the ALS benefits.
“I’m pleased to help you and America’s veterans once again,” she wrote in her column, listing Fred’s mailing address and e-mail. Fred had also offered to have his phone number published, but Abby’s office told him that wouldn’t be a good idea.He found out why a few days letter when the mail started coming.
“Boy, I tell you,” Fred told me, his voice trailing off. His letter appeared in Abby’s column on a Saturday.“By the following Wednesday I already had 1,000 e-mails,” he said.Since then, he’s received another 1,500 e-mails and 400 letters. (When I called Fred on Thursday, he was answering 15 letters delivered that day.)
While he has help answering his e-mail, he takes pride in personally helping as many individuals as he can. “So many people don’t know anything about this benefit,” he said. After his letter was published July 18, Fred realized he had left out a toll-free number so people could call the Department
of Veterans Affairs for help.
He wrote Abby again asking if the number could be published. She called him. “I asked, ‘Are you really Abby?’” Fred told me, laughing. She was. Jeanne Phillips’ mother, Pauline Phillips, created the column in the 1950s. Abigail Van Buren was the pen name her mother picked. The daughter, in turn, continued using “Abby” when she began writing the column in 1987.
She told Fred she will include the 800 number in her Aug. 20 column. Fred figures Abby’s column has helped get the word about the spouses’ benefits to about 5,000 people in all. One woman he talked to was about to lose her home. The additional income will hopefully help her keep it. “Stories like hers keep me going,” Fred told me. He thinks they might help keep “Dear Abby” going, too. “I’m going to write another letter to Abby and tell her about how she helped that woman. About all the people she’s helped.”
For more information, write Fred at 3312 Chatterton Drive, San
Angelo, TX 76904, or call the VA’s regional office, 800-827-1000.