Wednesday, September 18, 2019

US veterans and service members targeted by foreign entities online, report finds

US veterans, current service members and their families are being targeted online with malware and by foreign entities and influence campaigns, and the government isn't doing enough to stop it, a new report says.
The study by Vietnam Veterans of America, a non-profit that advocates for and serves the needs of all veterans, documents a myriad number of ways veterans are impersonated and targeted online -- particularly on Facebook. In at least one instance, they've been targeted by influence campaigns from foreign governments.
Russia's Internet Research Agency, for instance -- the "troll factory" with ties to the Russian government that creates content to push divisive messages on American social media -- purchased more than a hundred online ads targeting US service members and veterans, the study found. It also specifically purchased ads focused on people who followed a number of legitimate organizations on Facebook, including Vietnam Veterans of America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and Concerned Veterans for America.
But the sources of the efforts to target veterans was not always clear. The report found numerous other Facebook pages and groups, often with moderators who were listed in countries like Russia (though not necessarily tied to the IRA) and "with concentrations in Eastern Europe and Vietnam", that follow very similar trends.
One Facebook page called Vietnam Veterans, which has been around since at least 2016, posted both photos of VVA's president to imply a relation with the group, and re-posted Russian IRA memes.

Why GMOs have no place in Africa

Africa a continent once blessed with vast natural habitat providing natural resources foods and medicinal plants, fresh waters, minerals with a rich history cultural heritage and hospitable people has been reduced to a continent laden with wars, suffering, impoverishment, greed and a multitude of diseases. And now, Africa is being confronted with yet another seemingly sweet but bitter package of GMOs but only designed to compound the current problems Africa is grappling with.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) are a result of laboratory processes where genes from the DNA of one species are extracted and artificially forced into genes of an unrelated plant or animal. The foreign genes may come from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans. GMO’s can also be described as living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering.
Genetic Engineering or Modification is a set of technologies used to change the genetic makeup of cells including the transfer of genes within and across species boundaries to introduce improved/novel organisms or the direct manipulation of an organism’s genome using bio-technology.
Genome is an organism complete set of DNA including all the genes each genome contains all the information needed to build and maintain that organism.

Court orders VA to cover veterans’ emergency room debts

In August, the VA Inspector General found $716 million in improperly processed payments in cases involving veterans who sought medical care outside the department’s health system in 2017, including about $53 million that should have been refunded under existing rules.
A federal court this week ordered Veterans Affairs officials to reimburse veterans for all expenses at non-department emergency medical centers, a move that could mean payouts of tens of thousands of dollars to patients facing financial distress because of their hospital bills.
The ruling also has the potential to add billions in medical care costs to the department’s budget in coming years.
A divided three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims on Tuesday said that VA’s current reimbursement regulation for veterans who seek non-department medical care violates existing federal law.
They blasted administration officials for creating an “unacceptable” policy and ordered that any emergency medical expenses not covered by veterans’ private medical insurance must be covered by the agency.
In August, the VA Inspector General found $716 million in improperly processed payments in cases involving veterans who sought medical care outside the department’s health system in 2017, including about $53 million that should have been refunded under existing rules.

Veterans Group Sues VA Over Processing Delay of Blue Water Disability Benefits

A veterans advocacy organization filed a lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) over its decision to delay paying disability benefits claims to Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans until at least January 1, 2020. Lawmakers have also urged VA officials to lift a stay on processing the disability claims, calling for quicker action on the cases instead of waiting until next year.
Military Veterans Advocacy (MVA) filed the lawsuit in the Federal Court of Appeals. The group called the stay “unlawful” and requested the court to compel the VA to begin processing the claims immediately. In a memo, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the Congress-approved legislation signed by the president authorized him to delay the claims until next year. However, MVA Executive Director John Wells argued that the delays were “unconscionable” and created hurdles for “veterans whose health and longevity are at stake.”
 “Blue Water veterans have already had to wait decades for the benefits to which they are entitled. They have waited long enough,” commented Florida veterans lawyer David W. Magann. “Aging veterans who are suffering from serious, sometimes even life-threatening, illnesses due to toxic herbicide exposure deserve to receive their disability payments as soon as possible.”
VA officials said the delay was necessary to ensure agency employees were adequately prepared to process the influx of new claims. They added that entering thousands of new claims into the system could create problems that could affect millions of other veterans filing for disability payments besides those seeking Blue Water benefits.

Monday, September 9, 2019

September Is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month: What You Need to Know

First of all, the disease is prostate cancer, not prostrate cancer.
Much more importantly, however, is the fact that more men are diagnosed every year with prostate cancer than women are diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s true. You just don’t hear or read about it as much. It’s time to change this.
The prostate gland is a mysterious, walnut-sized gland that sits below the bladder, in front of the rectum and surrounds the urethra – and only men have one. Its purpose is to provide fluid to propel sperm.
Most men are unaware of their prostate until it starts giving them trouble. Around middle age, the gland can begin to enlarge and put pressure on the bladder, making urination difficult. This is called BPH: benign prostatic hyperplagia. It is not prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer, like many cancers, happens when something goes “wonky” (real medical term) in the cells. We can’t always tell why, but we do know that exposure to certain chemicals (Agent Orange, for one) can increase the risk of prostate cancer. There is also a genetic link. If a father, brother or other close relative has had prostate cancer, it greatly increases your risk of developing the disease.
What should you do? As with all cancers, early diagnosis is critical to the cure. It is recommended that every man have a baseline screening prostate exam at age 50, but earlier if there is a family history of prostate cancer. The exam consists of two parts: a PSA (prostatic-specific antigen) blood test and a DRE (digital rectal exam – a finger test). If both are normal, then these tests should be repeated annually to track any changes.
If you are at least 50 and your doctor has not mentioned a prostate exam, be proactive by asking for one! A lot of men are reluctant to have the DRE because it may be a little uncomfortable, but it lasts only 10 to 15 seconds. It’s far less uncomfortable than suffering a fatal case of prostate cancer.

Exposure to dispersant raised likelihood of neurological symptoms in Deepwater Horizon responders: study

U.S. Coast Guard members who were exposed to oil while responding to the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe were twice as likely to experience headaches and dizziness as those who were not, according to a new study by researchers with the Uniformed Services University, a health science university in Maryland that is run by the federal government.
And those who were exposed to dispersants as well as oil were significantly more likely to report acute neurological symptoms than those who were exposed only to the oil, said Jennifer Rusiecki, one of the study's authors and a professor in the university's department of preventive medicine and biostatistics.
Previous studies have examined lung and skin irritation in relationship to exposure to oil and dispersants. But the new study provides a glimpse of acute neurological effects stemming from exposure to the oil and dispersants.
The study will be published in the journal Environment International in October, but is available online now.
In addition to local fishers and coastal residents, more than 8,500 U.S. Coast Guard personnel were deployed to help aid in the cleanup after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion led to the largest marine oil spill in U.S. history.
They provided support in placing containment booms, skimming oil from the water's surface, cleaning up beaches, decontaminating equipment, administrative work and a variety of other tasks. 

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Birth Defect Research for Children - August Newsletter

Dear Birth Defect News Readers,
For 37 years, Birth Defect Research for Children has been there for you: We have provided all parents with free information about their child's birth defects. We have helped families connect with each other through our Parent Matching Program. We have prevented birth defects through  the Healthy Baby  Resource. We have helped veterans of Vietnam and the Gulf War learn if their children's birth defects and disabilities are linked to wartime exposures. We have helped communities investigate toxins linked to birth defects. We have sponsored the only National Birth Defect Registry that collects information on all kinds of birth defects (structural and functional) and the health, genetic and exposure histories of both parents. The registry now has 10,000 cases.
Now we need your help. Funding for environmental health research is disappearing and our organization is struggling to continue all our services.
We are supported totally by public donations and some small grants. We need your donations to keep on doing the work we have done for nearly 40 years.
Just click on THIS LINK and go to our donate page. We appreciate any gift you can make.
Also, we are pleased to announce we have opened our more than 100 fact sheets to be downloaded without having to fill out any form. You can see them here.
With my appreciation,
Betty Mekdeci
Executive Director
976 Lake Baldwin Lane Suite 104
Orlando FL 32814
407-895-0802

Soil testing considered at Riverside Park, prompts tense exchanges

WAUSAU, Wis. (WAOW) — A group called Citizens for a Clean Wausau has pushed for testing of Riverside Park. The group is concerned about possible dioxin contamination in the soil.
In July the Parks and Recreation Committee requested a plan from REI engineering to take soil samples at the park.
Tuesday the firm brought it’s proposal back to the committee. It specified six locations to draw soil samples from across Riverside Park.
Tom Killian, a spokesperson for Citizens for a Clean Wausau, voiced disapproval over the initial plan at the meeting.
“In its current state, this would not be recognized as sufficient, acceptable or legitimate as a testing plan,” said Killian.
Killian’s comments prompted several tense exchanges during the meeting.
“I feel like this has gone around and round and round for a number of meetings,” said Jamie Polley, Director of the Marathon County Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Department. “And now we’ve come to another proposal and Mister Killian is picking it apart.”
Polley went on to ask for specific soil sample location recommendations from Citizens for a Clean Wausau.
“I’m, frankly, growing very fatigued of this constant hashing over something,” said committee member David Nutting. “We either will do something, but finance is really going to draw the conclusion. Finance is going to say whether they’ll spend the money and do this or not. That’s what it really comes down to.”
Killian later told the committee he felt he was being “castigated” and seemingly attacked.
“We presented three zones of testing. We presented the depth. We recommended the testing. We even went so far as to recommend the specific EPA method of dioxin testing. This was done in great detail and I know it was in depth,” said Killian. “So perhaps you missed some of those things Miss Polley.”

Lawmakers to VA: Provide Health Care to All Veterans Made Sick by Burn Pits

A bipartisan group of congressmen is pressuring the Department of Veterans Affairs to extend health benefits and disability compensation automatically to veterans battling illnesses thought to be caused by exposure to open-air burn pits.
Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Florida, and Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-California, have both introduced legislation that would direct the VA to study illnesses thought to be related to exposure to the toxic fumes emitted by waste disposal sites in Iraq and Afghanistan and designate any linked illnesses as presumed to be caused by exposure, thereby automatically qualifying affected veterans for VA health care and disability benefits.
Both also have signed on to support each other's bills, while Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas; Rep. Peter King, R-New York; and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pennsylvania, have thrown support behind Ruiz's bill.
Bilirakis, who introduced the same measure in 2018, said the government needs to heed the lessons of Vietnam veterans, who fought nearly 20 years to establish a presumptive service link for exposure to Agent Orange and other toxic herbicides.
"It's not a coincidence that so many of the exposed veterans are all suffering from the same diseases," Bilirakis said in a statement last month. "We saw similar patterns with veterans who had been exposed to Agent Orange in earlier wars. Sadly, many of those veterans died while the VA took decades to study the issue."

Everyone has a role to play in preventing Veteran suicide

Suicide is a complex issue, but there are simple actions that anyone can take to support the Veterans in their lives. Use the resources and information below to learn more about what you can do to help.
Showing your support can be as simple as sending a message. Your words could be exactly what a Veteran in crisis needs to hear, and our message generator can help you find the right words to start a conversation.

Roundup lawsuits shed light on Monsanto's internal — and controversial — PR strategies

ST. LOUIS — More than a year after Bayer gobbled it up, Monsanto has managed to stay in the headlines, thanks to a mountain of lawsuits that allege its moneymaking weedkiller Roundup causes cancer. Like Monsanto, Bayer insists the widely used product is safe, but three big jury verdicts have found otherwise.
 “It’s been a little bit more noisy than expected,” Liam Condon, president of Bayer’s crop science division, conceded during a recent visit to the company’s St. Louis-area facilities. “The noise is completely related to glyphosate,” he added, referring to the active ingredient in Roundup. “For sure, there’s a speed bump with the glyphosate litigation, but that’s not going to last forever.”
But the product liability lawsuits — the company is now being sued by more than 18,400 plaintiffs — haven’t just raised questions about a weedkiller that’s been on the market since the early 1970s, they’ve also offered a rare glimpse into Monsanto’s internal public relations strategy when under fire.
To shape public perception about Roundup, the biotechnology giant formerly headquartered in Creve Coeur engaged in a coordinated push to counteract negative publicity — efforts that included moves to discredit critical journalists and activists, and also aimed to influence search engine results online, according to records divulged in the lawsuits against the company.
Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, Los Angeles-based trial lawyers who have handled many of the anti-Roundup cases, have been selectively posting Monsanto documents, including internal correspondence, starting in 2017.
The latest trove of documents, released in July, detail a range of glyphosate-targeted efforts from Monsanto officials over the years.

After June’s 2-year hike in VA mortgage fees, Congress is ready to do it again

Most Americans would agree Congress seems to be gridlocked. But, there’s at least one exception to the impasse: Hiking fees for mortgages backed by the Veterans Administration.
Two months ago, Congress approved a two-year hike in funding fees for VA mortgages to pay for the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, passing on the some of the costs for caring for ill Vietnam vets to military families buying homes with VA mortgages. President Donald Trump signed the bill into law on June 25.
Under the Blue Water bill, which takes effect on Jan. 1, the first-use fee for a VA mortgage rises to 2.3% from 2.15%, while the subsequent-use fee increases to 3.6% from 3.3%.
Now, another bill is pending that would extend the two-year life of the hikes by six years. It has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives and now is pending in the Senate. The new legislation provides grants to adapt homes for disabled veterans and includes educational benefits for military spouses and children.
You won’t find many people who object to caring for disabled veterans and their families. It’s when you talk about the source of the funding that you get some push-back.
 “These are all worthwhile benefits, and we want to see veterans get the care they deserve, but why is Congress choosing to pay for these benefits on the backs of military families?” said Chris Birk, director of education for Veterans United, the largest VA lender.
In the last two decades, Congress has either increased VA loan fees or extended temporary fee hikes about a dozen times, often to pay for veteran-related programs.
Using current mortgage rates, every 25 basis point hike in the fee cuts 78,871 military or veteran buyers from the home market, according to a report by NDP Analytics. When rates rise, the impact is bigger.
 “In the environment of rising interest rates, an increase in the VA funding fee would magnify the negative impacts of rising interest rates on loan originations,” the report said.
If mortgage rates were to rise by 1.5%, as they could over the next six years, the number of military families culled from the market by a 25 basis point hike increases to 243,374, according to the report.