The Voice of West Virginia
The alarming and highly suspicious deaths of 11 or more aging veterans at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg will finally come before a Congressional committee today. The House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will convene at 2 p.m. for a hearing entitled: “Broken Promises: Assessing VA’s Systems for Protecting Veterans from Clinical Harm.”
However, don’t expect any earth-shattering revelations. A spokesperson for Chairman Chris Pappas (D-New Hampshire) said the Clarksburg VA hospital deaths will be discussed, but the committee does not want to probe too deeply at this point and interfere with the investigation.
Meanwhile, details about the deaths continue to emerge.
Dino Colombo, attorney for deceased Army veteran Archie Edgell, said he has notified the federal government of the intent to sue. The military autopsy on Edgell said his cause of death was “undetermined.” However, the report also said the findings were “strongly suspicious” because of unprescribed insulin administered during his hospitalization in 2018.
Edgell and fellow veterans Felix McDermott, George Shaw, John Hallman and William Holloway all died under nearly identical circumstances on unit 3A. The number of suspicious deaths between 2017 and 2018 may be eleven or more, and three are confirmed homicides.
The Washington Post reported earlier this week that the “person of interest” in the investigation, is “a woman who worked the overnight shift as a nursing assistant and left last year.”
The Post also reported that the paper “is not using the woman’s name because she has not been charged. Through her son, she declined to speak to a reporter who visited her home outside Clarksburg.”
Many of the families of the victims have hired attorneys with the intent of filing lawsuits. However, it is not easy to sue the federal government. Dino Colombo pointed out that by law the federal government cannot be held liable for the negligent actions of its employees. Instead, the families will have to show that the VA hospital failed to follow its own procedures
Colombo argues the hospital did not properly secure insulin. USA Today reported this week, “Yet on Unit 3A, insulin was left unsecured on hallway medication carts, according to two hospital employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.”
Colombo alleges that failure gave the assailant opportunity. “They put the gun in the person’s hand,” he said. A hospital spokesman told USA Today the hospital did properly secure insulin. He added that insulin can be purchased over the counter without a prescription.
Colombo also argues that the hospital was slow to recognize what was happening. “They failed to connect the dots,” he said. “They committed medical negligence and deviated from the standard of care.”
Meanwhile, the Office of the Inspector General of the VA, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of West Virginia continue the criminal investigation. No charges have been filed yet.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Tuesday marked 285 days since U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., introduced the American Miners Act in his respective congressional chamber.
The bill was sent to the Senate Committee on Finance, where it has been since Jan. 3.
“The miners rely on their hard-earned pensions and retirement. They should be secured, even if coal companies file bankruptcy,” Manchin said on the Senate floor. “We must act, and this cannot happen without bipartisan support.”
Manchin previously said 87,000 retired coal miners could lose their pensions if nothing is done by 2022, and 20,000 additional beneficiaries who have yet to draw their pensions would not have funds available when they retire.
The American Miners Act would require the Department of Treasury to transfer funding to the 1974 United Mine Workers of America Pension plan, as well as increase the limit on transfers from $490 million to $750 million, and extend health care access to coal miners whose employers recently entered bankruptcy.
Manchin and Democratic colleagues spoke on the Senate floor in August in favor of the legislation. Manchin was also among the senators who wrote to congressional leaders in September urging the bill’s passage.
West Virginia’s senior senator said Tuesday if the pension fund becomes insolvent, it will affect the pensions of workers in other fields.
“An absolute snowball for the central pensions. If that happens, it’s been said that the recession of 2007 and 2008 will be a blip on the radar screen compared to what this will do to our economy nationwide. And the companies are going to walk away scot-free,” he said.
“It is unacceptable that some of our hardest workers have to beg for the money that they put into the pension fund over years and years of hard work.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., on Tuesday tweeted support for her legislation, the Miners Pension Protection Act. The bill is similar to Manchin’s measure; the American Miners Act would restore the Black Lung Liability Trust Fund excise tax through December 2028.
“These aren’t lavish pensions. The average benefit is $590/month. But for thousands of retired miners, it makes a big difference!” Capito tweeted. “We can make this right. We can fulfill the promise. Let’s get this done!”
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Morgantown Energy Associates plant will be deactivated effective Jan. 1, 2020, according to The Dominion Post newspaper.
The plant on Beechhurst Avenue will go off the power grid but is expected to continue to provide steam heat to West Virginia University’s two Morgantown campuses, according to the newspaper.
The coal-fired plant opened in 1992 and generates about 50 megawatts of power. The power is then sold to Monongahela Power, which feeds it into the PJM grid. That’s the regional transmission organization that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity among 13 states and the District of Columbia.
Speculation was that the plant is in line to be converted from coal-fired to gas-fired.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Individuals dealing with drug addiction and former drug users gathered in Charleston to remember friends and loved on who lost their lives to drug overdoses and to protest the city’s needle exchange program being shut down.
Members of the group West Virginia Exchange Union, who gathered at the steps of the state Capitol Monday night, took to Davis Park in downtown Charleston on Tuesday afternoon with the same message.
“West Virginians we are very proud people, we take care of our own,” Shannon Hicks, president of the West Virginia Union Exchange said.
“These people who use drugs are our own. We need to take care of them. You can’t judge somebody by the substance they put in their body, judge them by how they act.”
West Virginia Exchange Union (WVEU) primarily consists up of people dealing with drug addiction. Hicks said it’s the state’s first drug user union and their goal is to fight for drug user’s rights. The group believes that people who are actively using in positions to help make policies about what will help people who use drugs.
The first policy that WVEU protested on Tuesday was the needle exchange program that is no more in Charleston. While the program by the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department was shut down in the Spring of 2018, Hicks believes it can come back and should for the health of the community.
“Doing outreach on the street we meet people, four, five, six people who share the same syringe because they have no access to sterile supplies,” Hicks said. “They will use it until the needle breaks off in their arm. Nobody deserves to live like this. You get better harm reduction in a third world country than you do here in West Virginia.”
With the goal of cutting down on diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C, the exchange program allowed drug users to give their dirty needles for clean ones. Those against the program believed that the program increased danger for the public’s health and safety and not managed properly.
MetroNews previously reported that there have been 16 reported cases of HIV in Kanawha County in 2019, one off the mark a total of 17 in 2018. Cabell County has seen an HIV cluster and has more reported cases of the disease than the rest of the state’s counties combine. The county’s health department has a harm reduction program.
Dr. Sherri Young, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department Executive Director, has told MetroNews she has no plans to bring the program back. Instead, Young has advocated for more testing which has resulted in the increase of reported number of hepatitis cases.
Hicks said the group ultimately wants drug users to be treated like any other person.
“We deserve to be able to be safe, we deserve to be able to be healthy,” she said. “There’s never been a drug-free civilization, there will never be one. All we can do is actively work towards reducing the harms associated with active drug use.”
West Virginia Health Right in Charleston does have a harm reduction program.
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The national fraternity headquarters has revoked the charter of its West Virginia University chapter after violations of alcohol and risk management policies.
Members of Sigma Phi Epsilon will be evicted from its house at the end of the semester as well.
The decision comes after an investigation into violations of alcohol and risk management policies. The chapter was placed under a cease of operations order after national officials learned of plans of an event with alcohol. While under the order, the chapter hosted an unsanctioned event that violated policies.
Matthew Richardson, director of the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life at West Virginia University, said the problem began in 2017 when the national organization instituted a policy of “substance-free” housing.
“There was significant push back from chapter members wanting to adhere to that policy,” he said. “They were talking about disaffiliating from the national organization to create a new group so they didn’t have to follow it.”
Richardson added alumni who moved into the Sigma Phi Epsilon house tried to stop the party,
“The alumni stopped it, but that obviously concerned the national headquarters,” he noted,
The West Virginia Beta Alumni, the Volunteer Corporation of Sigma Phi Epsilon and the university supported the decision to revoke the chapter.
Sigma Phi Epsilon CEO Brian Warren said members “repeatedly and knowingly” violated the law as well as policies on substance abuse and risk management.
“When the cultural issues within a chapter conflict with our values and are too deeply rooted to change, SigEp will act responsibly to ensure the safety of students and other members of the campus community,” he added.
ELEANOR, W.Va. — Jim’s Dream has a new name and it’s starting to become reality.
Office of the Governor
Gov. Jim Justice announced months ago during his State of the State address that he had a vision to intertwine addiction recovery programs with career training to help West Virginians overcome obstacles that might keep them out of the job market.
Justice called it Jim’s Dream. Since then, state officials have been working out the details.
On Tuesday afternoon, under a cloudless blue sky outside Putnam Career and Technical Center, state leaders gave a progress report on the program that is now called Jobs and Hope.
“This started out as Jim’s Dream but it evolved into Jobs and Hope because they couldn’t put my name on it,” Justice explained to the crowd of students and community members. “This started with just a dream. All the good ideas come to me from the good lord.”
The program is meant to be a comprehensive approach to the substance use disorder crisis that has plagued West Virginia.
The programs with Jobs and Hope are weaved together from a variety of state agencies, including the state Department of Health and Human Services and the state Department of Education.
“We’ve got to make it simple,” Justice said, referring to efforts to remove barriers from recovery programs and workplace training.
“If we don’t believe this is a problem that can cannibalize all of us, we’re making a mistake.”
The problems of addiction, educational attainment and workforce participation are intertwined.
During an annual economic outlook conference last week, West Virginia University economist John Deskins noted that West Virginia’s labor force participation rate remains last in the nation. That number includes those who are working or searching for work but not people who are out of the workforce over the long term.
Deskins drew the link with drug addiction, pointing out that West Virginia’s rate of drug-related deaths is far higher than the rest of the nation. He also noted that West Virginia’s college-going rate is far lower than the rest of the country.
“Let’s be the ones to solve this terrible problem,” Justice said.
Talking to reporters after the Tuesday kick off for Jobs and Hope, Justice said he would like to get started right away.
“It’s my hope that training will start immediately,” Justice said. “We have so many areas where we’re looking for people.”
Following the prepared remarks by other officials, Deb Harris, a transition agent for Jobs and Hope, described how people can take part.
Any participant can refer themselves if they feel like they qualify, Harris said. Participants must be West Virginia residents, 18 years or older, with some sort of barrier to employment. Participants also must agree to be drug-tested periodically.
“So someone may come in needing help getting into a treatment facility to start getting help with a substance issue,” she said. “From there, they can meet with a transition agent to work on the barriers they have.”
Transition agents like Harris are assigned to assess participants’ needs and build a personalized plan to outline education and career opportunities.
“Individuals come to us with different kinds of barriers and different stages of their recovery,” Harris said.
The work starts with the most critical areas to employment.
“So someone could come in needing a birth certificate to obtain their driver’s license or a picture ID; someone may come in needing their high school equivalency. We will help connect them to the resources for that,” Harris said.
“Anything along the line such as transportation, child care, referring them to housing, anything like that they need we hope to address that. Once those are eliminated we can work with Workforce to secure training and things that they ultimately want as their end goal.”
Participants may participate either in 30- to 90-day short term training or in long-term training of one to two years.
Expungement of a non-violent criminal record may be a final step for some participants.
Harris said the key to the program is partnerships among state agencies.
“I don’t know of any other state doing that,” she said.
Bob Hansen, the director of West Virginia’s Office of Drug Control Policy, praised the vision of Jobs and Hope.
“We’re headed in the right direction. It will be an important part of giving people hope,” Hansen said during the ceremony. “For some people it will even mean having goals for the first time in their lives.”
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Thousands of students from all over the Kanawha Valley gathered at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center for a popular anti-bullying, anti-drug and teamwork event.
“We’ve been learning anti-bullying, anti-drugs, follow your dreams and how to properly dispose of medication,” Maddy Paxton, an 8th-grade student at Clay Middle School told MetroNews.
There were several activities for the students to take part including meeting superheroes like Bat Girl and Spiderman along with talking with local police officers and firefighters. Demonstrations included Charleston SWAT, K-9 unit, Charleston Fire Department, the Power Team, a rock climbing wall brought by military, and speakers such as former football stars, the DEA and even Batman.
Paxton’s chaperone, Clay Middle Vice Principal Barry Payton, said he enjoys bringing his kids to the event because of the messages.
“It’s about character and teaching them things that we are trying to build every day in our schools,” he said. “Some of the challenges our kids face daily. This is a great place to come and raise awareness of that.”
Payton said students around the state face challenges every day outside of school whether it is economic, medical, transportation or housing. He said it’s about trying to support the students and it starts at an event like Powerama where they can be inspired.
“Our kids meet our real heroes like EMTs, fire departments, our police departments,” he said. “Instead of them being scared of them, they are out there learning that they are here to protect us and to help us.”
Students from nine counties in the state participated at the Coliseum with an estimated total number of kids in the door for Powerama at nearly 4,000.
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — No one is coming out and saying it outright, but the subtext was strong in comments from West Virginia coach Neal Brown and some Mountaineers players indicating a possibility that redshirt freshman quarterback Trey Lowe will get the start at Oklahoma on Saturday.
Starter Austin Kendall is still considered questionable, and Brown said the junior won’t start unless he is “100 percent” by Saturday. Kendall injured a muscle in his chest when he was hit on a blitz against Iowa State, missing the majority of the game.
Jack Allison played the rest of the way against the Cyclones, but Brown didn’t fully commit to him as the starter against the Sooners.
“We felt Jack gave us the best chance a week ago,” Brown said. “We have a plan with the quarterback position if Austin can’t go. It’s not something I want to sit up here and talk about. If Austin can’t go, we’ll go through with that plan. Trey is getting better. But we thought Jack gave us the best opportunity on Saturday.”
Receiver Sam James noted that it was difficult to get timing down last week when Allison took over for Kendall in the middle of the game.
“Not getting repetition with Jack all week, it was weird,” James said. “Our timing was a little off.”
James says this week will be better because there will be a full week to work out the kinks with the starting quarterback — whomever it may be.
“Whoever is starting, it will be a lot better than the showing in last week’s game,” James said.
He also said the receivers have a responsibility to step up for this week’s unnamed starter.
“Whoever the starting quarterback is, he hasn’t had a lot of game time,” James said. “He’s going to be a little shaken going in, he’s not going to be very confident. We have to make sure he’s confident with his passes and all that.”
When talking about the importance of communication in a venue as loud as Oklahoma’s Memorial Stadium, senior left tackle Colton McKivitz mentioned working with Allison and Lowe’s cadences.
“I’ve talked to Jack and Trey Lowe. We don’t know who it’s going to be yet,” McKivitz said. “We’re just making sure their cadences are kind of similar and what we’re going to be getting out of them. We’re communicating with them on calls and relaying it and making sure they’re loud enough, because it is going to be a loud environment. We’re making sure they know they’ll need to overcommunicate along with the offensive line.”
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PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — The WVSSAC playoff ratings are calculated using a points-based system, factoring in each team’s record and strength of schedule. The top 16 teams in each classification qualify for the postseason.
|22||ROBERT C. BYRD||6||3||3||0||158||179||30||6|
|6||WHEELING CENTRAL CATHOLIC||7||4||2||0||160||132||24||18|
Not Eligible for Playoffs
SHADY SPRING, W.Va. — How important was Shady Spring’s 27-20 win at previously unbeaten Wyoming East last Friday?
Look no further than the thoughts offered from Tigers’ head coach Vince Culicerto in the moments after the thrilling victory over the Warriors.
“The boys played hard and they play hard all the time, but they really wanted this win big time and we were ready,” Culicerto said.
Although the Tigers won eight games en route to earning a No. 11 seed in the Class AA playoffs a year ago, last week’s win at the War Zone was among the bigger victories Shady Spring has notched in the last decade.
In the process, the Tigers (6-1) displayed traits that have put a nine-win regular season well within reach, which would almost certainly allow Shady Spring to host at least one playoff game.
The hard-hitting defense, which entered the game with the third fewest points allowed of any AA team at 44, held the Warriors to a season-low point total. Wyoming East came into the contest averaging more than 39 points per game, but the Tigers’ defense answered every challenge thrown their way down the stretch.
For a unit with three shutouts already on its resume this season, last week’s effort may have been the finest performance yet and was critical in the team’s fifth straight win.
“They beat the brakes off us in the first half,” Wyoming East coach Larry Thompson said. “We came out (better) in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to get us over the hump.”
Offensively, Shady Spring relied heavily on quarterback Drew Clark and running backs Haven Chapman and Isaiah Valentine.
Chapman rushed for the Tigers’ first two touchdowns and Valentine accounted for the final two — one on the ground, the other on a 65-yard pass from Clark.
“We were running misdirection,” Culicerto said. “We saw on film that would work pretty good, so we stuck to it. We thought we could move the ball running.”
While the bulk of the Tigers’ damage came on the ground, the long TD pass came at the perfect time as it immediately answered the Warriors’ lone second-half touchdown, which had brought them to within one point.
The question moving forward becomes how Shady Spring, No. 11 in the latest WVSSAC playoff ratings, will handle a potential season-altering win and what the Tigers will do to prevent becoming complacent.
Shady Spring welcomes Oak Hill (2-5) on Friday, before battling Braxton County (0-7) in Week 9. The Tigers finish their regular season in Week 10 at Liberty Raleigh (4-2) and will have their bye before what will likely be a first-round playoff game.
“We knew it was going to be a wild one, but boy I’m proud of my team,” Culicerto said. “It’s a great win for us and we’re excited. Let’s see if we can keep it going.”
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