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Veteran Affairs head discusses mental health aid in NC visit
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (AP) – The secretary of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs says the government is making changes to improve mental health services, which he called “the last great medical frontier.”
The Fayetteville Observer reports Secretary Robert Wilkie spoke earlier this week about veterans’ mental health during the North Carolina Business Trade Show in Fayetteville. He pointed to the new mental health center being built at the Fayetteville Veterans Affairs Medical Center as evidence of the VA’s commitment to veterans.
Officials say the two-story, 15,400 square-foot building is more than 75% complete.
Wilkie also says the VA’s same-day mental health services are now available to veterans who received “other than honorable” discharges.
Wilkie says about $9.5 billion – or about 10% – of the VA’s budget goes toward mental health services.
STATE HEALTH PLAN
Folwell stopping fight for now with hospitals over pricing
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – North Carolina’s state treasurer is cutting bait for now on efforts to bring on board dozens of additional hospitals to accept a new payment model for medical services incurred by state employees, teachers and retirees.
Treasurer Dale Folwell said Thursday that the 725,000 participants in the state employee insurance health plan will still receive in-network hospital coverage through the current provider network offered through Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
But they’ll also have similar preferred benefits with providers who agreed to the new pricing model Folwell pushed for the past year. He says that model would lead to lower and more transparent plan expenses.
A second deadline passed this week with only five hospitals agreeing to the new model. Time was running out to act with fall open enrollment approaching.
DRUG DISTRIBUTION SENTENCING
Men sentenced in separate North Carolina drug cases
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Federal prosecutors say two men were sentenced in separate cases to seven years or more in prison for distributing drugs.
The Raleigh-based U.S. Attorney’s Office said Miguel Angel Gierbolini was sentenced Thursday to seven years in prison after previously pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine and heroin. Authorities say he was part of a group of traffickers that shipped cocaine worth approximately $3.5 million to Cumberland and Sampson counties. They say he kept drugs, guns and money at his home in Fayetteville.
In a separate case, Stanley Jamar Ragin was sentenced to eight years after previously pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute heroin. Authorities say he was a supplier in the Fayetteville area.
Attorneys for the two men didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment Thursday.
MILITARY PROPERTY THEFT
Ex-Fort Bragg soldier charged with stealing military goods
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Federal authorities have charged a soldier formerly stationed at Fort Bragg with stealing military property.
Bryan Craig Allen of Anacoco, Louisiana, was indicted Tuesday on charges of theft of military property, conspiracy and aggravated identity theft.
Prosecutors say Allen used his position as a chief warrant officer and property book officer for the 4th Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group to delete items from inventory lists, stealing more than $2 million in property from December 2016 through June 2018.
The stolen property included 43 enhanced night vision goggles. Court documents suggest that Allen sold the goggles to the owner of a military surplus store in Fayetteville.
Three other men have been charged in the investigation, which dates to 2013. Authorities said in court papers that additional targets will be charged.
As impasse continues, speaker to keep working on override
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – The Republican North Carolina House speaker says he won’t stop trying to cobble together enough votes to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget veto, even after the chamber’s Democrats told him again that he won’t get the support to do it.
Rep. Tim Moore told reporters on Thursday that he’ll keep working to persuade more Democrats to approve the budget over Cooper’s objections. Moore and other Republicans have been promoting initiatives in the two-year spending plan by traveling to members’ districts.
A budget was supposed to be enacted by the time the current fiscal year began July 1.
A Wednesday letter signed with the names of 51 House Democrats tells Moore and GOP Senate leader Phil Berger to stop trying for an override and start negotiating with Cooper.
Changes to reading program Senate leader backs gets final OK
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – North Carolina lawmakers have given final approval to provisions aimed at improving a public school literacy program that’s yet to meet expectations.
The House approved a compromise measure Thursday, the day after a favorable Senate vote.
The bill adjusts the 2013 “Read to Achieve” program, which is championed by Republican Senate leader Phil Berger and is aimed at ensuring that students are reading-proficient by third grade.
The measure directs teachers to create tailored individual reading plans for at-risk children. It also seeks more training for teachers and gives them incentives to work in summer reading camps.
Gov. Roy Cooper must now sign the bill to make it law. Some fellow Democrats were unhappy that an amendment allowing local school boards to decide on reading diagnostic tools was omitted.
COLD CASE MURDER-ARREST
Man arrested in 1980 rape, murder of N Carolina teenager
DOBSON, N.C. (AP) – North Carolina authorities say a man arrested for the 1980 rape and murder of a teenager had been questioned several times over the course of the investigation.
Media outlets report 62-year-old Robert James Adkins of Dobson was arrested Aug. 2 on charges of raping and killing 14-year-old Ronda Blaylock. Her body was found in Surry County on Aug. 29, 1980, three days after she and a friend voluntarily got into a truck for a ride.
Surry County sheriff’s Capt. Scott Hudson declined to say at a news conference Wednesday what led to Adkins’ arrest but said authorities spoke with him several times during the investigation. A task force was formed in 2015 to investigate new leads.
It wasn’t clear Thursday if Adkins has an attorney to speak on his behalf.
IMMIGRATION-FOOD PLANT RAIDS
Immigration raids to have long-term effects on poultry towns
MORTON, Miss. (AP) – The largest immigration raid in at least a decade is likely to ripple for years through six Mississippi small towns that host poultry plants.
A store owner who caters to Latino poultry plant workers fears he’ll have to close. A school superintendent is trying to rebuild trust with the Spanish-speaking community. And the CEO of a local bank says the effects are likely to touch every business in town.
People are beginning to think about those consequences after Wednesday’s raids, in which 680 people were initially detained.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Bryan Cox says ICE sent more than 300 of those people home Thursday, with notices to appear before immigration judges.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant tweeted that anyone in the country illegally has to “bear the responsibility of that federal violation.”
Associated Press Elliot Spagat in San Diego and Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi, contributed to this report.