Students, parents upset that Christmas cards won't go to local v - Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

Students, parents upset that Christmas cards won't go to local veterans due to policy

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They thought it was a kind holiday gesture, but dozens of Prosper students didn't get to deliver the Christmas cards they made for local veterans because of a VA policy against specific religious cards and phrasing.

The cards are still in North Texas, and the writers are disappointed their thank you's won't be seen by the people they were intended for.

"I'm hoping that it might make their day because their family might live far away, and they might not have somebody to celebrate Christmas with and I'd like them to know they've not been forgotten and somebody wanted to say thank you," said fourth grader Gracie Brown.

Gracie and her brother, Luke, put a lot of thought and effort into their Christmas cards.

"It includes ‘Merry Christmas,' and when you open it up, it says 'Thank you for your service' and the American flag," said Luke.

Fifty-two students at Grace Academy in Prosper spent Friday making the cards they planned to hand deliver to bedridden veterans at the VA hospital in Dallas Monday morning.

When Gracie and Luke's mom, Andrea, found out they wouldn't be able to, she was outraged.

"This wasn't the country I grew up in, when you couldn't say ‘Merry Christmas,' you couldn't say ‘God bless you' or reference any scripture," she said.

The cards were the idea of Susan Chapman, a math teacher at Grace Academy. She's married to a veteran and volunteers with the American Legion and other veterans' organizations.

"It really didn't occur to me there would be a problem with distributing Christmas cards," said Chapman.

She didn't find out about the VA's holiday card policy until she called Monday morning to arrange details for the cards' delivery.

"I told him my students made cards, we'd like to bring them down for the veterans," said Chapman. "And he said, 'That's great. We're thrilled to have them, except the only thing is, we can't accept anything that says ‘Merry Christmas' or ‘God bless you' or any scriptural references because of all the red tape.'"

An spokesperson for the VA clarified the policy Monday, which is in the Veterans Health Administration handbook, by stating the following:

"In order to be respectful of our Veterans religious beliefs, all donated holiday cards are reviewed by a multi-disciplinary team of staff led by Chaplaincy services and determined if they are appropriate (non-religious) to freely distribute to patients.  After the review is complete, the holiday cards that reference religious and/or secular tones are then distributed by Chaplaincy Service on a one-on-one basis if the patient agrees to the religious reference in the holiday card donation.  The holiday cards that do not contain religious and/or secular tones are distributed freely to patients across the Health Care System.  We regret this process was not fully explained to this group and apologize for any misunderstanding."

However, on Tuesday, the director of the VA North Texas Health Care System released the following statement:

"First, we would like to state that the VA greatly appreciates donations made by students and organizations on behalf of our Veterans and we will always accept cards for our patients who celebrate Christmas. We would like to clarify the process though in which VA North Texas Health Care System (VANTHCS) handles religious/spiritual donations. All forms of holiday donations are received every year and recorded through Voluntary Services. A multi-disciplinary team led by Chaplaincy services reviews holiday cards and determines if the cards contain religious/secular material within them and in the event they do - our Chaplains distribute them by asking patients on a one-on-one basis if they will accept a holiday card with religious references.

Our Veterans enlisted in the military with the understanding they may be called to fight for our freedoms. One of those freedoms is our freedom to practice a religion of our choice free of persecution. As a federal agency that provides health care to our Nation's Veterans, it is our duty to uphold and respect the fact that our Veterans are from all faiths and backgrounds and we must honor their sacrifices by making sure we approach religious donations through highly trained VA Chaplains and seek patient approval before distribution.

Happy Holidays!

Jeff Milligan
DIRECTOR"

"I don't know what their definition of appropriate is," said Chapman.

Parents say as disappointing as this experience was for their children, they're more heartbroken for the veterans.

"They couldn't believe the people that these people they wanted to honor weren't going to get the chance to see what they had done," said Andrea.

The cards will not be thrown away -- they are being shipped to Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio and to a private facility for veterans in Louisiana.

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