Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Phoenix VA Health Care System Director Fired

Sharon Helman
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced Monday that Sharon Helman, the director of the Phoenix VA Healthcare System, was terminated from federal service.

In a media release the VA said the decision followed an investigation by the VA Office of Inspector General in which allegations of lack of oversight and other misconduct were substantiated. This removal action underscores VA’s commitment to hold leaders accountable and ensure that veterans have access to quality and timely care.

“Lack of oversight and misconduct by VA leaders runs counter to our mission of serving Veterans, and VA will not tolerate it,” said Secretary Robert A. McDonald. “We depend on VA employees and leaders to put the needs of Veterans first and honor VA’s core values of integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect and excellence."

The VA will name a new director in Phoenix as quickly as possible. To ensure continuity of care for Veterans and leadership for VA employees during the recruitment period, Glenn Grippen has been designated interim Phoenix VA Healthcare System director.

National Bar Association responds to lack of charges in shooting death of Michael Brown

Photo courtesy of The Body
WASHINGTON, DC – In a media release, The National Bar Association responded to the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri.

The association is questioning how the grand jury, considering the evidence before them, could reach the conclusion that Darren Wilson should not be indicted and tried for the shooting death of Michael Brown.

Brown was shot multiple times during a confrontation with Ferguson Police Officer Wilson Aug, 9. After months of reviewing evidence and testimony. St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch announced Monday night that Wilson would not be indicted Brown’s death.

Association President Pamela J. Meanes expresses her sincere disappointment with the outcome of the grand jury’s decision, calling on the United States Department of Justice to pursue federal charges against Wilson.

“We will not rest until Michael Brown and his family has justice.” Meanes said.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

VA implements second phase of choice card program

Cards sent to Veterans waiting more than 30 days for care

Athens Community-Based Outpatient Clinic
Washington, DC – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that it began mailing Veterans Choice Cards on November 17 to Veterans currently waiting more than 30-days from their preferred date or the date that is medically determined by their physician for an appointment at a VA facility.

“VA continues to focus on implementation of this new temporary benefit so that Veterans receive the timely quality care they need in a way that reduces confusion and inefficiencies,” said Secretary Robert A. McDonald, who penned an open letter to Veterans announcing the implementation of the Choice Card program.

The Choice Program is a new, temporary benefit that allows some Veterans to receive health care in their communities rather than waiting for a VA appointment or traveling to a VA facility. The first round of cards along with a letter explaining the program was issued on November 5 to Veterans who are eligible based on their place of residence. VA is now engaging in the next phase of its rollout –eligibility explanation letters are being sent to Veterans waiting more than 30 days from their preferred date to be seen or considered medically necessary by their physician.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Keystone XL bill defeated in the Senate

By Michael O'Brien

WASHINGTON, D.C. - In what may spell the end of Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (R-LA) tenure, the United States Senate Tuesday night failed to pass legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. The final vote tally was 59-41, one vote short of the 60-vote threshold the bill needed to advance.

Twelve Democrats joined Republicans in pushing the House bill which was initiated in the House by Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA). Cassidy and Landrieu face-off in a December 6 run-off election. Landrieu is behind in the polls by double digits and hoped the push for a vote on Keystone would propel her to reelection.

New Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vowed to make passing legislation on the project a priority when the new senate convenes in January.

Opponents of the pipeline quickly declared victory.

“We thank all the senators who voted against this dangerous Keystone legislation, and we’re more confident than ever that this pipeline will never be built,” League of Conservation Voters senior vice president of government affairs Tiernan Sittenfeld said. “The decision remains right where it belongs – with President Obama and Secretary Kerry.”

Uber executive proposes digging into personal lives of service's critics

Emil Michael (From Twitter)
On Monday evening, BuzzFeed News reported that Uber Senior vice president Emil Michael detailed a plan to “hire four top opposition researchers and four journalists” to dig into the personal lives of service’s critics.

Buzzfeed reported that Michael apologized Monday for the remarks.

Read more:

Uber executive proposes digging into personal lives of service's critics

Photograph originated on social media and is considered available under fair use.

State fire marshal reminds Ohioans to be fire safe during winter months

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The first significant snow of the season has hit Ohio, and State Fire Marshal Larry Flowers wants to remind Ohioans that that there is increased risk for home fires when the weather turns bad. However, many of these fires are preventable and citizens can reduce their risks of becoming a fire casualty by identifying potential hazards and following simple safety tips.

There have been power outages reported around the state, and that’s when many people turn to alternative heating sources to stay warm,” said Marshal Flowers. “That also means there’s an increased chance for a fire. Make sure that if you’re using candles or makeshift heating sources or cooking methods that you do so safely. By following some basic safety tips, you can protect yourself and your family when severe weather strikes.” 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Eight injured, five buildings destroyed in Uptown Athens fire

By Michael O'Brien


ATHENS, Ohio – An early-morning fire Sunday sent at least one resident and three firefighters to the hospital and damaged several buildings on West Union Street in the Uptown area. The injured, including one resident, three firefighters and three police officer, were transported to O’Bleness Memorial Hospital.

Several businesses, including housing Jackie O's Public House, The Union Bar, Smoke Zone, the Campus Sundry and Jack Neal Floral were destroyed or heavily damaged. 
At least thirty residents were displaced by the fire. 

The fire reportedly started around 4:10 a.m. and units from Athens City, Richland Area, Nelsonville and The Plains and Waterloo Township fire departments responded. At 9 a.m., water from two ladder trucks still deluged the buildings which appeared to suffer severe damage.

Story continues below -

Electrical power is out in what Athens City Safety Director Ron Lucas described as a significant part of the Uptown area. Lucas reported that four residents were injured but three refused treatment. One resident was treated and released. A hospital spokesperson said the four first responders remain in an observation status but no serious injuries were reported.

West Union Street between Congress and Court streets remain closed. Court Street was closed from President to Washington streets. It is unknown when the streets will reopen. The Rome Township Volunteer Fire Department is providing fire coverage for while city units work to extinguish the fire, clear the structures and assess damage.

Owner of The Union Bar, Eric Gunn, said he received a call around 5:45 a.m. Sunday. “The bar is a total loss,” Gunn said.
Athens Safety Director Ron Lucas

Lucas said the cause of the fire is unknown. A spokeswomen for State Fire Marshall's office said investigators have been on scene all day and the fire is still under investigation.


In a social 4:45 p.m. media release, Lucas said Union Street will remain closed through the evening between Jackie-O's and the Uptown Dog. Businesses on the south side of Union are accessible by sidewalk and businesses west of Jackie-O's and east of The Uptown Dog are accessible on the north side.

Fire crews will remain on scene throughout the rest of the day and tonight to make sure fires do not flare up. The scene will be assessed in the morning before opening Union St. up to vehicular traffic.

Court St. and Congress St. have been reopened to vehicular traffic.

Three firefighters and three police officers were treated for minor exhaustion and smoke inhalation symptoms. One of the three officers also sustained a knee injury.

Power to 31 S. Court St. is expected to be restored sometime this afternoon.

Approximately 40 Ohio University students are known to have been displaced by the fire, with many of those students being temporarily housed in local hotels.

For those interested in assisting affected students, a donation station has been set up on the fourth floor of Baker University Center. According to OHIO officials, the affected students are in need of toiletries and warm clothing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Universal health care group awarded Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant

COLUMBUS, OHIO - The Universal Health Care Action Network Ohio (UHCAN) has been awarded a Consumer Voices for Coverage grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest health philanthropy.

In a media release Wednesday, UHCAN Ohio said it will work in conjunction with Community Catalyst, which serves as the national program office for the Consumer Voices for Coverage program. As one of 18 state-based consumer health advocacy organizations around the country to receive a grant under the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Consumer Voices for Coverage initiative, we will be working to expand enrollment capacity in communities of color, rural, and other hard to reach communities in Ohio.

Honoring The Veterans Of Athens County, Ohio 2014

ATHENS, OH - A photo slide show featuring the 2014 Veterans Day Parade in Athens, Ohio along with a tribute to those from Athens County killed in the Vietnam War.

Music includes Eternal Father (Instrumental), Eternal Father (Chorus), Anchors Aweigh, The Marine Corp Hymn and The Star Spangled Banner.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans Affairs Secretary McDonald announces reorganization plans

VA Photo / Reynaldo Leal
Washington, DC – In a media release Monday, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald announced changes to the VA health care system in this message sent to all VA employees.

In the last few months as your Secretary, I have met and heard from Veterans and family members about how we can better serve VeteransI’ve also traveled to VA facilities across the country and have had the extraordinary opportunity to meet with you, the men and women who work on the front lines and behind the scenes to care for and serve Veterans every dayThese opportunities have informed my thinking as we work to plan for the future of the Department.

Pastor prays President Obama's death

"Christian' Pastor Prays For President's Death, Calls Obama's Mother A Whore

Gentile receives legislative leadership award for commitment to education

Lou Gentile
COLUMBUS, OH — Senator Lou Gentile (D-Steubenville) received the 2014 Ohio Educational Service Center Association’s Legislative Leadership Award for his dedication to strengthening Ohio’s education system. The award program, which began in 1985, recognizes outstanding ESC and school district board members, as well as elected officials.

“This program symbolizes the very heart and essence of Ohio’s 53 Educational Service Centers—pooling exemplary leaders, community resources, businesses, industries and government together to better serve Ohio school districts and Ohio’s youth regardless of where they live and attend schoolWe are honored to recognize Senator Gentile for his dedicated commitment to public service,” said OESCA Executive Director Craig Burford.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Sherrod Brown Supports Wojtanowski To Lead Democrats After Redfern Resigns

Sen. Sherrod Brown
From WBNS-10TV News

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Sen. Sherrod Brown, Ohio’s top Democratic elected official, is supporting longtime Democratic operative Dennis "Denny" Wojtanowski to lead the Ohio Democratic Party. The news comes less than a day after current chairman Chris Redfern announced he's resigning.

Read more:

Sherrod Brown Supports Wojtanowski To Lead Democrats After Redfern Resigns

Monday, November 3, 2014

5-State Study Finds Unsafe Levels of Airborne Chemicals Near Oil and Gas Sites

Photo by Deb Thomas,
Peer-reviewed results show 'potentially dangerous compounds and chemical mixtures' that can make people feel ill and raise cancer risk.

By Jamie Smith Hopkins  Inside Climate News
Oct 30, 2014

Read more:

Policy Matters Ohio names Harlan Spector communications director

Harlan Spector 
Policy Matters Ohio has named veteran media professional Harlan Spector as the organization's new director of communications.

Spector has decades of experience as a journalist at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland. He supervised news coverage as an assistant metro editor and assistant features editor, and worked 14 years as a reporter, providing in-depth coverage of health care, social services, higher education and local government.

"We are thrilled to have such a gifted, committed, well-respected professional to lead our communications work," said Amy Hanauer, the Executive Director of Policy Matters.

Spector won awards for medical reporting and news writing from both Ohio and Cleveland journalism societies. He was also a long-time officer of Local 1, Northeast Ohio Newspaper Guild and served as Newspaper Guild chairman at The Plain Dealer, honing his communications skills as a spokesperson and advocate for unionized newsroom employees.