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VA encourages support for veterans as suicides increase

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

High rates of veteran suicides across the country, and especially in Alabama, were seen before the COVID-19 pandemic, and have only gotten worse since the public health crisis, but there’s work underway to bring awareness and aid.

The Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System’s Be There campaign aims to remind veterans and their loved ones that small actions can make a big difference. September is Suicide Prevention Month.

“We understand that these unprecedented times can cause additional stress and hardship. And that is just one of the reasons why CAVHCS is committed to being there for Veterans in need,” said Amir Farooqi, CAVHCS interim director, in a statement. “We need everyone to get involved. This September, and all year, I encourage everyone to be there for Veterans and others in need. Suicide is a complex national public health issue that affects us all.”

According to a report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Alabama in 2016, the last year for which data is available, veterans died by suicide at a rate of 34.2 percent per 100,000 people. That’s compared to the national average of veteran suicides of 30.1 percent.

Alabama had the 15th highest rate of veteran suicides in the nation in 2016, according to the report. Nationally, an average of 20 veterans kill themselves every day in the U.S.

A report released in June by the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute projects that a five percent increase in the unemployment rate results in an additional 550 veteran suicides annually. That same five percent increase in unemployment is also projected to add 20,000 additional cases of veterans abusing substances to cope, the report states.

CAVHCS’s Be There campaign suggests several actions that can help make a difference for a Veteran to include:

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  • Learning about the warning signs of suicide, found on the Veterans Crisis Line website.
  • Watching the free S.A.V.E. training video to learn how to respond with care and compassion if someone indicates they are having thoughts of suicide.
  • Contacting VA’s Coaching Into Care program where a licensed psychologist or social worker will provide loved ones with guidance for motivating Veterans to seek support.
  • Sharing stories of hope and recovery from VA’s Make the Connection.
  • Reaching out to the Veterans in your life to show them you care by sending a check-in text, cook them dinner or simply asking, “How are you?”

For more information and resources visit BeThereForVeterans.com.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact the Veterans Crisis Line to receive free, confidential support and crisis intervention available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, text to 838255, or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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Courts

Vestavia doctor sentenced to 30 years for producing child porn

A federal judge sentenced Ronald Tai Young Moon Jr. of Vestavia Hills, 56, to 30 years in prison.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A federal judge sentenced a former Vestavia Hills doctor to 30 years in prison for producing and possessing child pornography, U.S. Attorney Prim Escalona and FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. announced Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Annemarie Axon sentenced Ronald Tai Young Moon Jr. of Vestavia Hills, 56, to 30 years in federal prison.

“Unfortunately, this sentence will not undo the harm suffered by Moon’s victims,” Escalona said. “However, understanding that the consequences of this conduct is severe might discourage other sexual predators from victimizing innocent children in this district.”

Moon worked as a doctor at the Industrial Athlete clinic in Birmingham until his license was revoked earlier this year. Moon went to trial in February. After four days of testimony, a jury convicted Moon of possessing, producing and attempting to produce child pornography.

“I am proud of the effort put forth by my agents in order to ensure this defendant was brought to justice and will no longer be able to harm children,” Sharp said. “Moon serving the next 30 years in federal prison ensures there is one less predator victimizing the most innocent and vulnerable members of our community.”

Federal prosecutors presented evidence at trial proving that between the mid-1990s and 2012, Moon secretly recorded neighbors and guests in his own home including girls as young as 12 years old.

Some of those individuals were filmed naked, dressing and undressing. The footage was located on VHS videotapes found in the defendant’s locked private office with other pornographic VHS tapes, steps away from a TV and VCR set that was working and plugged in.

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Evidence of multiple hidden-camera devices was also found in the defendant’s office.

Moon will also serve five years of supervised release after he gets out and, by law, will also be required to register as a sex offender.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Ward and First Assistant U.S. Attorney Lloyd Peeples III prosecuted the case.

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The United States attorney’s office also thanked members of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General for assisting in the investigation.

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Elections

Breaking down the six amendments on Alabama’s November ballot

What do the six proposed amendments on Alabama’s November ballot do? We answer your questions here.

Eddie Burkhalter

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The Alabama Constitution is believed to be the longest in the world. (STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama voters in the Nov. 3 election will have to decide on whether to add six constitutional amendments to what is already believed to be the longest constitution in the world. 

If approved, three of the amendments won’t actually make substantive changes to state law, however.

To be added to the constitution, the amendments must receive support from a majority of voters.

Amendment 1

Amendment 1 — sponsored by State Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston — would “grant the right to vote to ‘only’ those U.S. citizens who meet the requirements.” 

If approved, the change in the state’s constitution would be to replace wording that the constitution grants the right to vote for “every” U.S. citizen who meets the requirements, to it grants the right to vote for “only” those U.S. citizens who meet the requirements. 

The amendment makes no changes to state voting requirements, and it’s already a federal requirement to be a U.S. citizen to vote. Marsh told WBRC that the amendment “sends a message to Washington.” Opponents to Amendment 1 say it could make it easier for the GOP-controlled Legislature to restrict voting rights.

Amendment 2

Amendment 2 processes numerous changes to the state’s judicial system, including a change that would allow Alabama Supreme Court, rather than the Chief Justice, to appoint the Administrative Director of Courts. 

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The amendment would also increase the Judicial Inquiry Commission from nine members to 11 and would  allow Governor, rather than the Lieutenant Governor, to appoint a member of the Court of the Judiciary. 

If approved, it would also prevent automatic disqualification from holding public offices for a judge solely because a complaint was filed with the Judiciary Inquiry Commission. Additionally, it would provide that a judge can be removed from office only by the Court of the Judiciary.

Amendment 3

Amendment 3 would extend the time appointed district and circuit court judges serve. State law now mandates appointed judges serve one year, or until the end of the term of the judge whom they were appointed to replace, whichever is longer.  

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The amendment would allow the appointed judge to serve two years before running to keep their judgeship in an election. 

Amendment 4

Amendment 4 would allow “a rearranged version of the state constitution” to be drafted to “remove racist language,” “remove language that is repeated or no longer applies,”  “combine language related to economic development”  and “combine language that relates to the same county.”

 The rearranged version of the state constitution would have to be drafted by the state Legislature in 2022, according to the amendment, and the new draft wouldn’t become law until approved by a majority of voters.

Amendments 5 and 6

Amendments 5 and 6 relate to Franklin and Lauderdale counties only, and if approved, would add to the state constitution that “a person is not liable for using deadly physical force in self-defense or in the defense of another person on the premises of a church under certain conditions” in both of those counties. 

Alabama already has a “stand your ground” that applies to the use of deadly force in churches, however. 

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall in a Jan. 2 statement, following the West Freeway Church of Christ shooting in White Settlement, Texas, wrote that Alabama law “does not impose a duty to retreat from an attacker in any place in which one is lawfully present.”

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Elections

State is prepared for heavy increase in mail-in absentee ballots, Merrill says

The final tally of absentee ballots returned is expected to be between 150,000 and 175,000, Merrill said.

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said the state is on track to far exceed its record for highest number of absentee ballots in an election, but he’s confident that his office is prepared for it.

“There’s no reason to be worried about it because, see, I don’t wait ‘til the last minute to make sure that we’re prepared,” Merrill said. 

As of Tuesday, there were 101,092 absentee ballots requested. Of those, 35,184 have been successfully returned. The final tally of absentee ballots returned is expected to be between 150,000 and 175,000, Merrill said.

The highest number on record was roughly 89,000 in the 2012 general election, when President Barack Obama was re-elected, but Republican nominee Mitt Romney won Alabama. The second-highest was about 88,000 in 2016, when President Donald Trump was elected, winning Alabama.

Additional election workers have been hired and more are available should they be needed, Merrill said. His office has provided extra ballot tabulators to ensure that the state’s 68 jurisdictions are able to do a full count on Election Day. Merrill said that all ballots in the state’s possession on Nov. 3 will be counted that day.

He didn’t say whether there are indications that slowdowns in the operations of the U.S. Postal Service might affect voters, but he encouraged anyone planning to vote absentee to request their ballot as soon as possible to avoid last-minute problems.

Voters who plan to cast absentee ballots or who have started that process can check the status of their ballot online

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“Through using our online portal, Alabama voters can check when their absentee ballot was sent out by the county, when their absentee ballot was returned to the county, and whether the ballot was accepted or rejected,” Merrill said.

He stressed that his office is the only authoritative source for accurate and current information about the election. His office has identified issues with mailers from both conservative and liberal groups that include information about voting by mail, Merrill said. In the case of one distributed by the national Democratic Party, he said his office reached out to the Alabama Democratic Party to address erroneous information it had on it.

All voters should be cautious about third-party information, he said, and carefully follow instructions issued by his office.

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For those voting absentee, it’s especially important that they check the boxes on both the ballot application and the ballot that indicates they are voting by mail because they are “ill or infirmed” and can’t make it to their polling place. That option is available to anyone who wants to vote absentee due to concerns about COVID-19.

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National

Shelby meets with Barrett, is “confident” she is the right choice to serve on Supreme Court

“I have no doubt that Judge Amy Coney Barrett will be an excellent addition to the Supreme Court,” Shelby said.

Brandon Moseley

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Sen. Richard Shelby, right, meets with Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett, left.

United States Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, met with President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, on Thursday. Following the meeting, Shelby said he strongly supports Barrett’s nomination, adding that Barrett “will be an excellent addition to the Supreme Court.”

“After speaking with Judge Barrett, I am confident that she is the right choice to serve on the Supreme Court,” Shelby said. “Judge Barrett is exceptionally qualified for this role and maintains strong conservative values and a deep commitment to our Constitution. I have no doubt that Judge Amy Coney Barrett will be an excellent addition to the Supreme Court.”

“I look forward to supporting Judge Barrett’s nomination to serve on our nation’s highest court, and I urge my colleagues to do the same,” Shelby continued.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has announced that Barrett will get a vote on the Senate floor. Senate Democrats have objected to the nomination and say it should not happen before the results of the Nov. 3 general election have been decided.

Trump defended his decision to nominate Barrett to the Supreme Court during Tuesday’s presidential debate with Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden.

“Elections have consequences, we have the Senate, and we have the White House,” Trump said. “She is outstanding. … We won the election, and we have the right to do it.”

Since her nomination by Trump, Barrett has been making routine visits to Capitol Hill to meet with senators. Many Democratic Senators, following the lead of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, are refusing to meet with Barrett much like Republicans refused to meet with President Barack Obama’s 2016 nominee to the court, Judge Merrick Garland.

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Barrett, if confirmed, will fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Barrett currently serves as a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. She clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as well as Judge Laurence Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Before and while serving on the federal bench, she was a professor of law at Notre Dame Law School. Barrett is a devout Catholic and mother of seven.

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Shelby said that Barrett’s excellent academic achievements, legal expertise and judicial record prove that she is eminently qualified to serve on the Supreme Court.

It is the constitutional responsibility of the U.S. Senate to provide “advice and consent” to the president on all executive nominations, including judges to federal courts, appeals courts and the Supreme Court.

Shelby has served in the Senate since 1987. All current Supreme Court justices and Ginsburg who just died were appointed and confirmed during Shelby’s tenure.

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