Category: Cronkite News

VA calls for firing of four officials; Phoenix director not on the list

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs has recommended the removal of four senior officials around the country, but missing from that list is the director of the troubled operation in Phoenix. The recommendations, the first under sweeping new personnel powers granted to the department secretary this summer, have come in the last two weeks. The VA said in a statement Friday that it is still reviewing the case of Sharon Helman, director of VA health care facilities in Phoenix who was put on paid leave in May after problems in the Valley sparked a nationwide investigation. Reaction from lawmakers Friday ranged from “puzzled” to “appalled” on the lack of action on Helman’s case. But at least one veterans’ organization said it was glad to see the department is starting to act. “It’s a start,” said Joe Davis, a national spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He said the VFW plans to keep pressure on the VA to act, but that the recent action is a sign things are moving in the right direction. Phoenix became the symbol for problems with VA health care after a whistleblower earlier this year reported workers had doctored patient schedules to make it appear that veterans were getting treatment sooner than they actually did. Or that they got care at all in some cases. Critics said the delays may have played a...

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Arizona foster-care numbers rose over decade, as national numbers fell

WASHINGTON – Arizona saw the number of kids in its foster care system rise significantly from 2002-2012, a time when most other states were posting sharp drops in their foster care rolls, according to new federal data. The report by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families said Arizona was one of 11 states with an increase in foster children and one of only two – along with Texas – with significant increases. Arizona had the second-largest increase in the nation over the decade, adding 7,296 children to Texas’ 8,294. There were 15,751 foster kids in Arizona at the end of March, according to the latest numbers from the state. Advocates said the numbers are more evidence of a state foster care system in crisis, one that has been “overworked and overwhelmed” as budgets have been cut. “There was a perfect storm of things – the recession hit, the budget cuts had to be made and so more kids were coming in to care,” said Russ Funk, director of marketing and family recruitment at Aid to Adoption of Special Kids. State officials said there is no one reason for the increase, but expressed confidence that recent improvements will have an effect. After reports in late 2013 that more than 6,000 foster-care cases had not been investigated, Gov. Jan Brewer created a Child Advocate Response...

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ASU hockey player turns his game around, gets his chance on the ice

PHOENIX – ELLE JOHNS/CRONKITE NEWS: Junior Chris Blessing is a starter this year with ASU’s ice hockey team, which is a stark difference from last year. CHRIS BLESSING/ASU ICE HOCKEY FORWARD: I got chances in the beginning, but I wasn’t in the right shape. ELLE JOHNS/CRONKITE NEWS: Chris worked hard over the summer to improve his game. CHRIS BLESSING/ASU ICE HOCKEY FORWARD: I was in the gym five, six days a week, I didn’t really run that much, but I was lifting constantly and really watching what I ate. GREG POWERS/ASU ICE HOCKEY HEAD COACH: When you have that sort of transformation physically, what it does mentally to your game is off the charts. ELLE JOHNS/CRONKITE NEWS: Chris’ transformation has not only elevated his game, but it has also been an inspiration to the team. GREG POWERS/ASU ICE HOCKEY HEAD COACH: It’s a good example of you know, it’s cliche, but hard work it pays off, and he’s proof of that. ELLE JOHNS/CRONKITE NEWS: The discipline Chris has learned on the ice has helped him off. CHRIS BLESSING/ASU ICE HOCKEY FORWARD: Not getting involved in stuff you shouldn’t be on the ice, like fights and stuff like that, or taking penalties, involved with stuff off the ice like getting into substance abuse or stuff like that. ELLE JOHNS/CRONKITE NEWS: Chris has not only gained life lessons, but he also...

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NASA scientists say climate change will lead to increased wildfire risk

WASHINGTON – BRITTANY BADE/CRONKITE NEWS: Today at the Library of Congress, a NASA scientist spoke about the high-tech imagery they’re using to predict and prevent wildfires. But that data is telling us something most Arizonans already know. DOUGLAS MORTON/NASA RESEARCH SCIENTIST: The Southwestern United States has somewhat of a predictable pattern of dryness. BRITTANY BADE/CRONKITE NEWS: Arizona’s beautiful deserts make for great kindling. DOUGLAS MORTON/NASA RESEARCH SCIENTIST: That measure of dryness is somewhat irrelevant in the Southwest because it’s always hot and dry. BRITTANY BADE/CRONKITE NEWS: NASA scientist Dr. Douglas Morton and his team study fire trends from outer space. DOUGLAS MORTON/NASA RESEARCH SCIENTIST: We have some opportunity to evaluate how fire and climate will drive changes in fire activity across regions. BRITTANY BADE/CRONKITE NEWS: This technology allows forest or park services to learn… DOUGLAS MORTON/NASA RESEARCH SCIENTIST: What their type of landscape risk is. BRITTANY BADE/CRONKITE NEWS: Learning about risks specific to Arizona’s forests or deserts helps fire officials… DOUGLAS MORTON/NASA RESEARCH SCIENTIST: Better understand where are we to expect fire season to lengthen or strengthen in the coming years. BRITTANY BADE/CRONKITE NEWS: NASA’s research shows that while climate change will impact the severity of Arizona wildfires, we won’t see any significant changes until around...

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Johnson: Border is tighter, but ‘new threats’ to homeland security loom

WASHINGTON – The number of immigrants in the U.S. illegally has stopped growing for the first time since the 1980s, another sign of the success of border-security efforts, the head of Homeland Security said Thursday. In a wide-ranging speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said illegal immigration is down, border security is up and the word is getting out to would-be border crossers. “Put simply, it’s now much harder to cross our border and evade capture than it used to be, and people know that,” he said. But Johnson added that the department “can and should do more to invest in the security of our borders.” And he said the agency needs to be vigilant about new threats that could be posed by homegrown extremists, like those who are leaving the U.S. to join foreign militants like ISIS. “People who leave their own country … link up with some extreme elements and then return to this country,” Johnson said of Westerners who join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a militant Islamist army currently waging war in those countries. “In many respects, that’s the terrorist threat that I worry most about because it’s the hardest to detect,” he said. Johnson said he thinks the FBI “does a pretty good job” of tracking such individuals. But, he said, “we need to...

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