Local News

Robert Wilkie will have a full plate

08 news Robert wilkieIf confirmed by the Senate as secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert Wilkie will have to deal with VA hiring practices and the over-prescribing of anxiety drugs. A new report from the nation’s leading veterans group said these issues may be undermining efforts to combat suicide among veterans.

The American Legion just released a 20-page report soon after the VA came out with its own report showing little change in the veterans suicide rate in recent years.

“VA has implemented numerous successful initiatives and programs,” the Legion report stated. “However, as an average of 20 veterans a day continue to take their own lives ... much more must be done.”

“The prime directive is customer service,” Wilkie said. He told a Senate committee the VA should be an industry leader in opioid intervention and suicide prevention. Wilkie grew up in Fayetteville and has held several top positions in government. He has repeatedly stated his opposition to privatization of the VA, whose budget has quadrupled in the last 20 years and stands at more than $188 billion. That makes it the second-largest agency in the federal government behind only the Department of Defense.

Of concern to Legion officials are significant staffing gaps at VA medical facilities across the country. Department officials have acknowledged more than 30,000 full-time vacancies, particularly problematic shortages in specialties such as mental health care.

American Legion leaders blame those shortfalls in large part on “the tedious hiring process” in the federal bureaucracy and urged more outreach and research into ways to improve the recruiting and retention process.

About 74,000 veterans live in the 19-county area of Southeastern North Carolina served by the Fayetteville VA.

“The shortage of employees can lead to overworked staff, poor patient experiences and lower quality of care,” the report stated. Keeping veterans in the VA care network has resulted in a significant decline in suicide, the report added.

Legion officials also sounded alarms over VA physicians’ use of benzodiazepines, a class of antianxiety drugs that includes Xanax and Valium.

“Over 25 percent of veterans newly diagnosed with PTSD are still being prescribed harmful and potentially deadly amounts of medications,” the report stated.

The report also recommended further outreach by the VA to veterans with other-than-honorable discharges. Last year, VA officials offered emergency mental health intervention to those veterans for the first time. It also suggested more exploration of alternative mental health therapies such as “acupuncture, yoga, meditation and martial arts” for struggling veterans.

Wilkie said that if confirmed, he would carry out the mandate of newly passed legislation that calls for expanding private health care for veterans. But, he said, private care would not replace VA, a longstanding fear among Democrats.

At his confirmation hearing, Wilkie cited a raft of “administrative and bureaucratic” issues he said he has seen firsthand during the weeks he served as acting VA secretary. He said he would fix them by modernizing the agency’s cumbersome medical appointment system. Wilkie was appointed to the interim post in March.

To contact the Veteran Crisis Line, dial 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1 for a VA staffer. Veterans, soldiers or their families can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance.

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Help keeping cool

07 new digestThe Salvation Army is accepting applications from individuals and families who are in danger of experiencing a cooling-related crisis this summer. Limited funds are available, and households are served on a first-come, first-served basis.

The program is administered by the Cumberland County Department of Social Services, but applications are made at the Salvation Army at 310 Dick St., Fayetteville, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Benefits cannot exceed $600. Households meet income eligibility if the total household income is equal to or less than 150 percent of the current poverty level. Each household will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine if there is a cooling crisis. Once a crisis is determined, an applicant will be evaluated for assistance through other emergency assistance programs.

Additional information is available at the Salvation Army at 910-483-8119.

Additional Fort Bragg gate is planned

The North Carolina Department of Transportation is seeking public feedback on its proposal to widen and extend Odell Road in Spring Lake to relieve traffic congestion at Fort Bragg.

The Army plans to build an additional access control point on Reilly Road near Odell Road. By extending and widening Odell Road to serve Fort Bragg’s new gate, NCDOT anticipates congestion on Bragg Boulevard will be reduced during commuter times.

Odell Road would be extended from N. Bragg Blvd. (N.C. 24/87) to Reilly Road on post. NCDOT would add lanes in some spots along Odell Road to provide the entire roadway with four travel lanes. A raised median will be added along the road as a safety measure.

Construction is scheduled to start in 2020. The department of transportation will accept comments on the proposal through Aug. 9 at 919-707-6023.

Human trafficking arrest

A collaborative law enforcement investigation has broken up an eastern North Carolina human trafficking ring. Fayetteville Police detectives along with members of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, Durham County Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies executed several warrants at local massage parlors. They included Sunshine Studios on Hope Mills Road, Red Rose Studios on Cliffdale Road and Numi Day Spa Durham.

“The offenses occurred between January of 2017 and July of 2018,” said Fayetteville Police Sgt. Shawn Strepay.

Owner Angel Ming Lin, 46, of Winston Salem, was charged with promotion of prostitution and keeping a place for prostitution. Lin was apprehended in Raleigh and is being held in the Cumberland County Detention Center on a $1 million secured bond.

Strepay asks that anyone with information regarding human trafficking contact Fayetteville Police.

Alcohol consumption is rising in the military

A recent Department of Defense Health Related Behaviors Survey indicates binge drinking has increased among service members. About one-third of service personnel surveyed met the criteria indicating possible alcohol use disorder, with 30 percent reporting that they binge drank in the past month. The figure was higher among Marines, 42 percent. The rates were down from a previously reported survey from 2011.

This report came as beer and wine sales will be authorized at military commissaries. Until now, alcohol has been sold only at post exchanges.

“One of the big success stories has been the emphasis on cigarette smoking,” said Sarah O. Meadows, Rand Corporation co-principal investigator for this report. For the first time, cigarette smoking in the military has declined to the point that it’s now lower than rates in the general population, according to the report. Overall, 13.9 percent of those surveyed indicated they are current cigarette smokers, which is down from the 24 percent in the 2011 survey.

Defense officials have taken a number of steps to reduce smoking in the military, such as increasing the prices of tobacco in military stores, limiting areas where smoking is allowed and launching an extensive education campaign about the dangers of smoking.

Summer Camp Assistance

Fayetteville-Cumberland Parks and Recreation has received funding support from the Cumberland Community Foundation and Florence Rogers Trust to operate summer camps at local parks. The Clark Park Nature Center, Lake Rim Park and Mazarick Park will share $8,000 in grants to help defray the cost of supplies and equipment. The camps are entitled “Outdoor and Summer Adventures,” “Growing Up Wild,” “Tiny Trailblazers” and “Survival Camp.” They are provided each summer by the joint parks and recreation department.

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Sandhills Purple Heart Dinner honors local heroes

01 CoverFort Bragg is home to many of our nation’s veterans. Many of them have sacrificed and shed blood for our country. Often, they have spent their adult lives serving. These heroes and their families deserve our thanks, and the Sandhills Purple Heart Dinner is designed to do just that. The Sandhills Purple Heart Committee presents the second annual Purple Heart Dinner Saturday, Aug. 18, from 5-8 p.m. at the Crown Complex Charlie Rose Agri-Expo Center.

The event is open to the public and offers the rare opportunity to sit among dozens of heroes and hear their stories – and let them know just how much we appreciate their service and sacrifice. The focus of the dinner is to honor and thank Purple Heart recipients as well as Gold Star mothers and families of service members killed in action.

The Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the president to those wounded or killed while serving with the U. S. military. It is a heart-shaped medal within a gold border containing a profile of General George Washington. Above the heart appears a shield of the coat of arms of George Washington (a white shield with two red bars and three red stars in chief) between sprays of green leaves. It was established by George Washington in 1782 as the Badge of Military Merit. The Purple Heart’s order includes the phrase “Let it be known that he who wears the military order of the Purple Heart has given of his blood in the defense of his homeland and shall forever be revered by his fellow countrymen.” It truly is a badge of honor, one most would not set out to earn.

“We want the community that the military lives and works in to honor the sacrifices that the military have made, whether it’s a Purple Heart because you’ve been wounded in action, a Gold Star mother who has lost a child, or if you are a family member of someone killed in action,” said Laura Downing, Gold Star mother liaison and a major with the Fayetteville Police Department. “It’s all military branches – Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force. We recognize all wars and actions taken anywhere.”

The dinner is inclusive, and the inaugural event was well-received. “Last year, we had individuals who fought in World War II, Vietnam, Korea and Operation Enduring Freedom,” Downing said.

While this is the second dinner of its kind locally, it is not a new concept. “There are already several Purple Heart dinners that have been held around the state for years,” said Downing. “Wake Forest is in their 10th year, and Charlotte has done it one year.”

Downing added that it is appropriate and especially meaningful to have a dinner in Fayetteville, considering the large military population here. “I think they were tweaking the other one before they brought it here because they knew this was going to be a much bigger event because of our population,” said Downing. “Last year, it was a huge success and there were military servicemen being honored from 20 years old to 80 years old.”

“A lot of our Purple Heart recipients have never been recognized – especially by the community,” said Michael Johnson, chair of the Purple Heart Dinner.

Johnson added that the organization has received requests from other cities like Goldsboro, Winston Salem and others.

“Many Purple Heart recipients don’t make it to the first dinner because they are reluctant and don’t know what it is really about, or they think they have to speak or something like that,” said Johnson. “Once the word gets out about the first one, the second one is generally larger than the first.”

At the event, each Purple Heart recipient – and their families, if they attend – are greeted. Families are escorted to their table. There is a private reception before the dinner just for the Purple Heart recipients. “It gives them a chance to sit and talk with each other about their experiences,” said Downing. “This is a safe environment, and there is a photo op for them to get their picture taken.”

After the reception, the recipients are escorted by Junior ROTC Cadets into the main hall where dinner is served. “We have something called a ‘Walk of Honor,’” said Johnson. “Cadets in full uniform march out, and they have sabers. As each Purple Heart recipient comes out, they walk through the saber salute, and we announce who they are, where they served, what branch (they were in) and where they received their Purple Heart.”

Several attendees have more than one Purple Heart. Some have had as many as five, six and seven Purple Hearts.

“Last year, we had two Medal of Honor recipients present the gift that we have at the end of the saber salute when they come out,” said Johnson. “This year, we will have another Medal of Honor recipient to do that, and that means so much to a Purple Heart recipient.”

Johnson added that this is a big part of the evening. “Instead of having celebrities or politicians come and speak, we chose to make this about the veterans, so we don’t have a keynote speaker.”

Part of that is because not every Purple Heart recipient had a ceremony where they received their Purple Heart Medal. Johnson said, “A Purple Heart recipient who is a friend of mine said that the way he received his medal was he came back from the field in Vietnam and found it on his bunk, because in the fog of war, when you come back to base, you only have a few hours before you go out again. Again, most Purple Heart recipients have never been thanked by the community.”

There are at least 476 Purple Heart recipients in the Fayetteville/Fort Bragg area. Reaching them all and having them all at the dinner may take time, but that is the goal. “Last year we had 160 Purple Heart recipients, and this year we have 69 so far,” said Downing. “We would love to have 200 recipients this year – that would be ideal. … This is the community’s way of saying thank you to Purple Heart recipients, and they do not have to pay for this; it does not cost them anything. Nobody that works on this event makes any money. We are all volunteers.”

What the volunteers hope to see is a big turnout from the general public. You don’t have to know or be related to a Purple Heart recipient to attend. “We really want the community to come and buy a ticket to eat a meal with a hero,” said Downing.

Sponsorships are available. For more information on that, contact Sarah Reid at 910-709-2858 or sandhillsphdinnersponsorships@gmail.com.

There are three RSVP options on the website, www.sandhillsphdinner.com. The “Purchase Tickets” button is for the general public to purchase a ticket that will include a meal. The “PH RSVP” button is for Purple Heart recipients to let the event organizers know they will be attending. There is no cost, but registration is required so the veteran can be honored in the “Walk of Honor.” The “GSM RSVP” button is for Gold Star Mothers to register to attend the event.

Ticket price for the public is $25. For more information, call 910-438-4100.

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FTCC’s Career Development Center helps students secure employment

12FTCC employThe Career Development Center at Fayetteville Technical Community College is a place where curriculum and continuing education students, as well as individuals in the community, receive assistance in searching for and securing employment.

The CDC benefits individuals by offering services such as job searches, career assessments, seminars, job fairs and information sessions with employers. The CDC also refers individuals to the Human Resource Development Employability Lab for additional assistance with services like resume writing, interviewing and improving workplace soft skills.

The CDC also hosts employer seminars. The seminars consist of specific employers coming onsite at FTCC and talking with students about what it is that they are looking for in job candidates for their companies. The employers discuss the different skills, training and/or education needed in order for candidates to be ideal for a specific position within a company. Employers also often set up a Q&A forum where students can ask their own questions to employers.

A great tool that the CDC uses to assist employers as well as individuals is the College Central Network. Employers utilize the CCN database to post company information and available positions as well as recruit candidates for employment. Students utilize the database to post their profiles and resumes and view available positions posted by employers. The ultimate goal of this database is to meet the needs of students and employers by housing helpful information.

Another function of the CDC is collaborating with the different departmental areas and assisting with job fairs throughout the semester. Job fairs are an excellent way for students to meet with employers in their field of study. Students benefit from attending job fairs through opportunities to network, gain exposure and, in some cases, conduct on-the-spot interviewing.

The CDC is located inside the Center for Business and Industry building at the Fayetteville campus, Room 135, and the hours of operation are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

FTCC is currently registering students for fall classes in both curriculum (transfer) and corporate and continuing education (non-transfer) programs of study. Curriculum fall classes begin Aug. 20, and the class schedule for fall programs of study in corporate and continuing education is available at www.faytechcc.edu.

The class schedule lists all the available programs and classes along with information about class start dates, cost, course description, location and more. From the home page of FTCC’s website, click “Corporate and Continuing Education” and then “Class Schedule” to see the broad range of programs available this fall.

Visit with FTCC staff members face to face at our Fayetteville, Spring Lake or Fort Bragg campus locations for assistance with class registration, program selection, counseling and more.

We look forward to opportunities to welcome new students, and we always enjoy seeing students return to FTCC for new learning experiences. Enroll in a class this fall and experience for yourself why FTCC truly is the smart choice for education.

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Downtown baseball stadium parking a work in progress

09baseballStadium rendering 1 12The city of Fayetteville has begun collecting data and seeking public opinions during a downtown parking study. Input is being collected through stakeholder committee meetings, public forum opportunities and an electronic survey. The survey is available online at www.surveymonkey.com/r/Parking_Fayetteville.

The parking study will evaluate current and future parking demands, especially those prompted by baseball games at the new Hay Street stadium. Regulations and performance comparisons to other cities in North Carolina will also be considered. The city received a revitalization and economic development grant to conduct the downtown parking study.

At this point, city officials believe there are enough existing and planned future parking spaces downtown to accommodate baseball fans. Officials believe 1,500 to 2,000 additional vehicles will go downtown for a typical ballgame. One question is whether the city is running a risk of expecting some people to walk three or four blocks to the stadium. City traffic engineer Lee Jernigan said that is not the case, and that parking studies should confirm that.

Park and ride opportunities are a possibility, said Jernigan. “FAST or a private company could provide mini-bus shuttle service,” he added. That’s another one of the things the parking study may determine as to need.

Currently, on-street parking restrictions vary from two to three hours, but they only apply during business hours, Jernigan noted. The city doesn’t use parking meters, but parking enforcement officers patrol the downtown area.

Finding a parking spot for a ballgame will be on a first-come, first-served basis. Downtown parking lots should fill up rapidly, at least those owned by the city. They include the Airborne & Special Operations Museum and Festival Park lots, among others.

Owners of private lots near the stadium have not yet been asked by the city to make them available after business hours, according to Jernigan. Limited spaces at the parking garage, which is now under construction next to the train station, will be for disabled and handicapped parking. Most of those spaces will be for tenants of the new hotel and Prince Charles apartments.

Chances are that city-operated parking lots and the Franklin Street parking deck will be paid parking for special events. Jernigan noted that during the recent Dogwood Festival, people did not object to paying fees. He said motorists will also be charged parking fees during the upcoming International Folk Festival in the fall. “This is a dynamic process for us, which will be tweaked as we go,” he said.

City officials hope the parking study will be ready for review by the end of the year. The new stadium is scheduled to open for ballgames by April 2019.

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