Archive for September, 2011

Saving Money

Posted: September 30, 2011 in Uncategorized
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We all know 15 percent is the standard tip for restaurant servers, but what if the service was way above standard? Or way below? Tipping is such a mystery because there aren‘t any ironclad rules. And tipping can be stressful because we‘ve all heard how servers depend on their tips for their livelihood. Here are some facts: Waiters and waitresses can be paid as low as $2.13 an hour, but if their tips don‘t bring them up to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 and hour, the government requires employers to make up the difference. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average restaurant server earns about $8 an hour, with the top 10 percent getting around $14.25 an hour. But that‘s just waiters and waitresses. Who else should you tip? Because there‘s no law or rule or even agreement on a guideline, opinions vary. For example, CNN Money‘s guidelines for tipping suggests a minimum of $2 per night for a hotel housekeeper while The Consumerist suggests only $1. But mostly, those two respected media sources agree. By studying those and other sources, Money Talks News has devised an abbreviated list for the more common encounters. While opinions may vary slightly, you won‘t go wrong following this advice:
Tip a percentage.
 Take-out preparer (the restaurant person who packs up your to-go order): 10 percent
 Taxi driver: 10-15 percent
 Tattoo artists: 10-20 percent
 Barber/stylist: 15-20 percent
 Bartender: 15-20 percent
Tip a flat figure.
 Pizza delivery guy: $2-5 based on distance
 Coffee at mom-and-pop shop: $1 per drink (chain coffee shops? CNN says ―completely optional,‖ Consumerist says, ―25 cents tossed in the tip jar,‖ others say little to nothing)
 Valet parking: $1 or $2
 Furniture delivery: $5
 Housekeeping: $1-5
More advice on tipping.
 On average, you can see it‘s typical to leave 10-20 percent for just about anybody worth tipping. But adjust that based on circumstances: If your delivery guy rushed over in a thunderstorm and is dripping on your doormat, toss him a little extra. Reward people who go out of their way to help. But if your server provides poor service, give a poor tip – but leave something so it‘s obvious you didn‘t just forget.
 Pay attention to what‘s included in a bill and who it‘s going to. At restaurants, a table of six or more is often charged an extra ―gratuity‖ or ―service fee‖ that may (or may not) go directly to the server. A delivery bill may likewise have a service charge for gas that doesn‘t go to the driver, and a tip may already be built into the bill.
 If you have a regular barber or bartender you‘re buddies with, don‘t let that relationship sour over tipping. Treat well those people you‘re likely to deal with often.
 Try to avoid leaving cash lying around. Hand the tip to your server, leave it in the holder the check comes in, or put it on your card. For housekeeping, leave the money in a marked envelope so they know it‘s for them.
 Always calculate tips based on the original bill, not based on any discounts or coupons you used.
 Some people can‘t (or won‘t) accept tips. You can still give them a card, a warm handshake, or a genuine, ―Thank you.‖
[Source: Money Talks Brandon Ballenger 7 Jul 2011 ++]

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Vet Toxic Exposure TCE

Posted: September 29, 2011 in Uncategorized
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As early as WWII, United States Air Force and other Military bases used and disposed of chemical degreasers and other toxic substances that were later determined to contaminate drinking water and pose multiple health risks including: Cancers, Reproductive disorders, Birth defects, and Multiple other serious difficulties. Countless military personnel, their families, and private individuals living and working in the near vicinity of the bases may have been affected by these contaminates, through drinking water, general water usage and exposure through vapor seepage. The four most alarming contaminants are: Trichloroethylene (TCE), Tetrachloroethylene (PCE), Vinyl Chloride, and Benzene. Scientific studies show that some or all of these chemical compounds have breached the ground water supply on several of our US Military Bases and in some instances, have affected civilian properties adjacent to the bases including churches, schools and private wells. Currently, on-going research is being conducted on military bases around the country and on properties directly adjacent to these bases to identify just how wide spread this contamination may be.
Marines take great pride "in taking care of their own." Marine and Navy veterans who were stationed at the former (decommissioned) MCAS El Toro in Irvine CA are at risk for exposure to toxic chemicals as a result of the contamination of the soil and groundwater. Very few know of their exposure. Marines have been exposed to trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE), suffered serious health consequences, and have no idea of what hit them. A number of Marines report serious illnesses linked to toxic exposure. Some of the emails are posted at http://www.mwsg37.com . Others have asked to withhold their names. Neither the Navy nor the Marine Corps made any attempts to notify El Toro veterans.
MCAS El Toro was commissioned in 1943 and for many years the base obtained drinking water from fresh water wells on station. EPA in 1997 confirmed that the aquifers are "not currently a source of municipal water." After 56 years, El Toro was officially closed in July 1999, the 3rd MAW transferred to Miramar, and thousands of acres sold at a public auction to Lennar Corp. for $650 million. A TCE plume was discovered off base in 1985. MWSG-37 was ground zero for the TCE plume, spreading miles into Orange County. In 1997 EPA reported that the MWSG-37 area was the source of the toxic plume. EPA found that: "approximately 1,500 pounds of TCE are estimated to be present in soil gas; an additional 4,000 pounds of TCE would be present in the soil moisture. The mass of TCE in groundwater beneath Site 24 is estimated to be approximately 8,000 pounds."
EPA traced the "hot spot" to MWSG-37's maintenance hangars: "the primary VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) source is present beneath Buildings 296 and 297, extending to the south with decreasing concentrations to the southern Station boundary. Several smaller source areas exist in the soil beneath Site 24, including a PCE soil gas plume located west of Building 297. The VOC concentrations in soil gas generally increase with depth, and the highest concentrations occur near the water table. VOCs in the area of Buildings 296 and 297 extend to groundwater directly beneath those buildings." How much TCE/PCE was used at El Toro? It's anybody's guess. El Toro kept no TCE usage records. Six of the base wells were in the path of the TCE plume. With the possible exception of one well (#4, 1947), the actual dates the wells were abandoned are unknown. Well water may have been used for years after the purchase of municipal water for swimming pools, irrigation, fire service, and washing of aircraft and vehicles. Contaminated well water would have exposed Marines, dependents, and civilian workers to these carcinogens.
The Navy purchased municipal water for El Toro and the Santa Ana Air Facility as early as 1951. There‘s no explanation for the reasons for the purchase, but the high salt content (total dissolved solids) in the groundwater may have corroded the wells. The base wells were constructed in 1942 so something had to be seriously wrong with the wells for the Navy to purchase municipal water. The early purchase was not enough to replace the maximum daily output from the base wells. In late 1969, the Navy entered into another contract which exceeded the maximum output from the base wells. The 1969 contract required the contractor to supply water to El Toro from the Santa Ana Air Facility‘s wells in the event of disruption in municipal water services. El Toro‘s wells were obviously off-limits.
The Navy contends that corrosion was not a factor in the decision to purchase municipal water for El Toro despite the high levels of TDS ("salts") in the shallow aquifer (> 1,000 mg/ug). The only thing that is certain is that the Navy did not purchase municipal water without cause, especially when there was good quality water in the principal aquifer under the base.
All of El Toro‘s wells are now destroyed. The consulting engineers‘ well destruction reports show extensive well casing corrosion, at least one well screen in the contaminated shallow aquifer, broken discharge pipes, and one well failure (#4). The risk of serious illness for those who worked in MWSG-37 in or near the maintenance hangars was high because of exposure to toxic vapors from open containers and from vapor intrusion. Others on the base were at some risk for exposure from vapor intrusion from the contaminated soil and groundwater. If contaminated well water was used in swimming pools and for irrigation, the risk for exposure to these carcinogens through dermal contact is evident. In the words of one toxicologist El Toro ―was a toxic waste dump.‖ At least one national law firm has taken an interest in injuries from toxic exposure at El Toro. [Source: http://www.militarycontamination.com Jul 2011 ++]

Following is the current schedule of Congressional hearings and markups pertaining to the veteran community. Congressional hearings are the principal formal method by which committees collect and analyze information in the early stages of legislative policymaking. Hearings usually include oral testimony from witnesses, and questioning of the witnesses by members of Congress. When a U.S. congressional committee meets to put a legislative bill into final form it is referred to as a mark-up. Veterans are encouraged to contact members of these committees prior to the event listed and provide input on what they want their legislator to do at the event. Membership of each committee and their contact info can be found at
http://www.congress.org/congressorg/directory/committees.tt?commid=svete:
 August 30, 2011. SAC-MILCON/VA will hold a field hearing on VA's collaboration with Indian Health Service (IHS) titled: Improving Access to Care for Native American Veterans by Maximizing the Use of Federal Funds and Services. (10:00 A.M.; Rapid City, South Dakota)
 September 8, 2011. HVAC will hold a full Committee mark-up on pending legislation. (10:00 A.M; 334 Cannon).
 September 21, 2011. SVAC and HVAC will hold a full committee joint hearing on the legislative agenda of the American Legion. (8:00 A.M.; G-50 Dirksen)
 September (Date TBD). The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will conduct a hearing on "Is This Any Way to Treat Our Troops? Part IV: Lack of Progress and Accountability."

Food Expiration

Posted: September 27, 2011 in Uncategorized
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Every house has food in the pantry that has been there for weeks if not months, but according to food experts, you may want to think twice before throwing those items out. Many common food products last far longer than you might think. "We throw out tons of food each year in this country because people don't understand how long they can keep things," said Jo-Ann Heslin, a certified nutritionist and author of The Complete Food Counter. As Heslin and other nutritionists explain, consumers generally assume that foods should not be eaten after the use-by date on the package, but in reality, this date simply indicates the period of time when the food tastes best, not the date when it will suddenly make you sick. It's true that fresh foods like fruits and vegetables should not be consumed much after the use-by date has passed, as these products generally spoil quickly (unless frozen), but for countless packaged products, the consumption window can last for years. "For connoisseurs who have a real taste for a certain food, it's probably a good idea to use it by the best by date, but nothing bad will happen to you if you don't," said Keri Gans, a registered dietician and author of The Small Change Diet. The general recipe for longevity, according to these experts, is for the food to be low in liquids, sugar and oil, all of which have the potential to mold and spoil the food, or to have "lots and lots" of preservatives, which keep the food fresh longer. So if you're looking for groceries to buy in bulk and store in your pantry, these products are your best bet:
 Canned Beans and Vegetables. Canned food, by definition, lasts longer than most products in the grocery store because it has been specially processed in air-tight cans. In general, canned items can stay good for 12-18 months, according to Gans, but some last even longer. Canned products like beans and vegetables, which are low in acid, can actually last for as long as two to five years. The only exception is if the can is dented or rusty, as that indicates the can has been punctured at some point, which speeds up the spoilage process.
 Spices. You may want to think twice before replacing the containers in your spice rack. In general, most common spices like salt, pepper and oregano don't actually expire in the traditional sense, they just become less and less flavorful. "Salt occurs naturally in nature, it has no expiration date," Heslin said. "There is no difference in 10-year-old salt at all, as long as it hasn't been exposed to moisture." But over time, the potency and taste of the spice begins to decline, which is why Gans recommends using these spices within two to four years to be safe. Keep in mind too by that point, you'll probably have to use more of each spice in order to compensate for the loss in flavor.
 Cereal and Crackers. You might as well start stocking up on crackers and cereal for the winter. According to Heslin, these products are essentially just "edible cardboard" that don't have enough moisture to grow bacteria or mold, so they can last for a very long time. Cereals like Cheerios and Puff Wheat, which have little to no sugar, can last for 18-24 months if unopened, while crackers like saltines can generally last for about two years. "The safety and nutrient quality of these products doesn't change, but the taste and texture might deteriorate somewhat," Heslin said. In other words, your body will be fine eating these things after more than a year, but you may find them a bit too stale to make it worthwhile.
 Dried Pasta and White Rice. as with cereal and crackers, dried pasta and white rice do not contain enough moisture to spoil, and can therefore last for at least two years unopened. Consumers should be mindful though of what kind of pasta and rice they intend to store, though. Brown rice and whole wheat pasta may seem the same, but in reality each of these products contains more oil than their traditional counterparts, and can therefore go rancid much quicker.
 Popcorn. Unmade popcorn kernels can last for up to two years, according to Gans, once again because they lack the oils and moisture that would lead to spoilage.
 Condiments. All those condiments you have left over from July Fourth festivities may just barely survive until Independence Day weekend next year. Ketchup, mustard, horseradish and salad dressings generally contain no ingredients that can go bad, and according to Gans, they will last for a solid 12 months unopened before they completely lose their taste.
 Coca Cola. Old fashioned Coca-Cola is the ultimate bomb shelter beverage. If left unopened, Heslin says a can of coke will take "an extraordinarily long time" to expire. Diet sodas, on the other hand, expire much more quickly because they contain artificial sweeteners that degrade with heat and time.
 Honey. Honey can take years to expire, but according to Gans, one can conservatively hold onto it for about a year before its consistency begins to change, hardening and losing its sweet taste. Interestingly, Gans says that honey stays good for 12 months whether it's opened or unopened, making it one of the only foods where that is the case.
 Twinkies. Despite all the claims in pop culture to the contrary, Twinkies don't actually last forever. In fact, you'd be lucky to have a Twinkie that is still edible after a few months.
[Source: http://financiallyfit.yahoo.com/finance/index Seth Fiegerman article27 Jul 2011 ++]

Acording to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, prescription drugs are the second-most commonly abused category of drugs, behind marijuana and ahead of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and other substances. In 2009, nearly 7 million people in the United States were nonmedical psychotherapeutic drug users. And opiate overdoses, once almost exclusive to heroin use, are now increasingly caused by misuse of prescription painkillers. While prescription drug abuse is not a new problem, it deserves renewed attention because of its prevalence and how often it affects children. After tobacco and alcohol, prescription and over-the-counter medications are the most frequently abused substances by high-school seniors. Nearly one in 12 high-school seniors reported nonmedical use of Vicodin and one in 20 reported abuse of OxyContin. Fifty-nine percent of 12th graders said the drugs were given to them by a friend or relative. Prescription drug abuse is correlated with other risky behaviors including abuse of other drugs and alcohol.
There are many health concerns associated with prescription drug abuse. These risks include overdose, drug interactions and the possibility of the drugs falling into the hands of children with allergies, to name just a few. While opioids, such as codeine, oxycodone and morphine, have improved pain management, they have also become popular drugs for misuse. Central-nervous system depressants, such as barbiturates and benzodiazepines, can lead to overdose and dangerous withdrawal, including seizures. Abuse of stimulants like dextroamphetamine and methylphenidate (commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy) can cause psychosis, seizures and cardiovascular complications. Because prescription drugs are legal when properly used, they can often be found in our own medicine cabinets. If you have leftover medications that are not needed, do not flush them down the toilet or drain unless the label or patient information instructs you to do so. For information on drugs that can be flushed, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration‘s website at http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/default.htm and click on ―Resources for You.‖
To dispose of non-flushable prescription drugs, you may be able to participate in community drug take-back programs or household hazardous waste-collection events, which collect drugs at central locations for proper disposal. Contact your city or county household trash and recycling service and ask if a drug take-back program is available in your community. If a take-back program is not available, the Office of National Drug Control Policy recommends these simple steps to ensure your no-longer-needed prescription drugs are not improperly used:
 Take the medication out of its original container.
 Mix the drug with an undesirable substance such as cat litter or used coffee grounds.
 Put the mixture into a disposable container with a lid such as an empty margarine tub or sealable bag.
 Conceal or remove all personal information, including the Rx number, with permanent marker, duct tape or by scratching it off.
 Place the sealed container with the mixture and the empty drug container in the trash.
Advances in medicine allow for management of acute and chronic pain and have improved the lives of many. But some of these medications are potentially addicting. If someone you know is struggling with prescription drug use, discuss it with your health care provider or use one of the many resources the Department of Defense makes available to service members, retirees and their families. Today, more than ever, health care providers are sensitive to the needs of those struggling with substance use and dependence. TRICARE is there to help! For information about TRICARE‘s substance use treatment coverage, refer to http://www.tricare.mil/mentalhealth. [Source: TRICARE Health Matters Fall 2011 ++]

Gil Kerlikowske, director of National Drug Control Policy for the Obama administration, met 28 JUL with federal, state and local law enforcement officials and pharmacy industry representatives to discuss ways to curb what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is calling a prescription drug epidemic.
The problem is prevalent among both active-duty service members and veterans, Kerlikowske says. In February, the New York Times reported the military's medical system is "awash in prescription drugs" after 10 years of treating troops injured in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. What may prove indicative of the problem locally was a recent warrant issued to search the Carlsbad apartment of a Camp Pendleton Marine suspected of illegally obtaining and selling prescription drugs. One way the administration aims to curb prescription drug use among veterans is to include the Department of Veterans Affairs in a national system that monitors the flow of prescription pills in this country. Kerlikowske also reaffirmed the administration's plan to reduce prescription drug abuse by 15 percent over the next five years. He responded to several related questions put to him by Camp Pendleton Patch:
Camp Pendleton Patch: What can you say about prescription drug use among active-duty service members and veterans as a result of what they’ve been exposed to while at war?
Gil Kerlikowske: We can tell you without fear of being incorrect that the survey instruments on active-duty military show that they have been abusing or self-medicating with prescription drugs. That issue is also quite true with our veterans. … Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense both have published, through their survey work and information, quite a bit. Admiral Michael Mullins [chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] has spoken about the prescription drug issue a year ago when he testified on the DOD budget. … So there is a lot of information coming from this. Also, if you go back a few months ago, USA Today did a piece with a lieutenant general [David Fridovich] … who was on the front page of USA Today talking about his own battle with prescription drugs, and I was really moved by that piece.
Camp Pendleton Patch: What is the Obama administration doing to try and curb this epidemic?
Kerlikowske: Well, first of all, there is a program—a piece of technology called prescription drug monitoring programs—these are electronic databases. Forty-eight of the 50 states have passed laws that … probably about 35 now have active technology programs, which are these monitoring programs. What they do is allow a doctor to search a database and they can detect if a patient is doctor shopping. The doctors call it a real patient safety tool. The other thing that it does is it helps medical boards detect whether or not a doctor may be over just prescribing. … So if you had a VA hospital in a state with one of these programs, they were not allowed to participate because of a decision that had come from the VA General Counsel. So it wasn't a question that they didn't want to participate. But you don't want to see a veteran go into a VA hospital and get a prescription drug filled for painkillers and then go down the street to a private doctor or private pharmacy and get another prescription pill when there's a database that could actually help prevent that. So Sen. [Richard] Blumenthal from Connecticut, who is very active in the issue involving veterans, has moved forward with legislation to allow the VA hospitals to participate in these technology programs that would actually help to improve the safety of our veterans.
Camp Pendleton Patch: (Regarding doctor shopping and pharmacy robberies) Is this something new that’s being targeted by the Obama administration?
Kerlikowske: No one has really captured, until within the last couple years, the extent of this prescription drug epidemic, as the CDC has called it. Part of that epidemic—and within the last year in particular—we have seen this increase in robberies and burglaries of pharmacies. Now it‘s hard to figure out what the data, what the information shows, but if you listen to police departments and pharmacists and the groups that represent the drug stores, they‘ve been very concerned.
Camp Pendleton Patch: Are service members' criminal cases—as they pertain to prescription pills—handled differently than civilians'?
Kerlikowske: What I've seen and what I've visited—I went to the veterans court—there are now about 72 veterans courts in the country; they‘re very new. Robert Russell in Buffalo, NY, started the first veterans court a few years ago when he was coming across cases in which veterans were coming forward with charges maybe involving drugs, could involve domestic violence, that involved domestic dispute issues. So he started a special court for veterans involving the VA, the criminal justice system and also those veterans service organizations. Gen. [Eric] Shinseki visited that court to take a look at how it's working, and we've seen that expand from one in Buffalo to now I believe over 70. … You really see how everyone is concerned and kind of wraps their arm around that veteran to get him or her back on the right track.
Camp Pendleton Patch: Which pills are most sought after?
Kerlikowske: In the past, you would often read, and quite often talk about, OxyContin but the opioids, painkillers, generally are the most abused. Hydrocodone, oxycodone, on and on. So it can be a variety of these very powerful, very addictive and—unfortunately, at times—very deadly painkillers. We‘re seeing more people die as a result of drug overdoses than are dying of gunshot wounds in this country today. And in 17 states we're seeing more people die from drug overdoses than from car crashes. This is driven mostly, by the way, by prescription drugs. Prescription drug overdoses are taking more lives than heroin and cocaine overdoses combined.
[Source: Camp Pendleton Press Jared Morgan article30 Jul 2011 ++]

After an investigation, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found major problems with small businesses claiming to be owned by veterans, according to the Navy Times. The news source said VA officials found 76 percent of businesses did not meet eligibility requirements for funding, meaning a minimum of 1,400 small businesses are falsely receiving money. VA values this funding at more than $500 million. To be eligible to receive funding, the Navy Times said that businesses must be owned and operated by a veteran, but some companies are run day-to-day by non veterans. This leaves the owner as a figurehead, according to investigators, and therefore not eligible to receive benefits. The Times report said one company, which received $340,000 in contracts, was run by a "disabled veteran" who was in the Marine Corps for five weeks before being discharged because of an injury in an off-duty football game. He would not have qualified for the money. Actual veterans who run small businesses will be able to network in August at the first National Veterans Small Business Conference and Expo in New Orleans hosted by VA. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said the goal is to help veterans grow and start their own businesses. He said he hopes this offers veteran-owned businesses tools and access needed to thrive in the market. [Source: Small Business News DEREK MCALLISTER article 29 Jul 2011 ++]