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Opinion

Wednesday, 28 May 2014 14:44

Oklahomans can prepare for storm season with these tips

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In 2013, there were 800 tornadoes and $3 billion in damage nationwide

OKLAHOMA – As our state continues to recover from last year's devastating storms, many Oklahomans want to protect themselves in the future. Total real estate damage due to tornadoes in the United States in 2013 is estimated at $3 billion, according to the Storm Prediction Center. In 2013, there were 800 tornadoes in the nation, 62 of which were reported in Oklahoma.

"Severe weather is a serious threat in this state, and we want to help Oklahomans to be prepared," said John Wiscaver, vice president of public affairs for Oklahoma Farm Bureau Insurance and co-chair of the Oklahoma Insurance Department's Catastrophe Response Task Force. "Not only should they have a plan in place to protect their families, but they should also plan ahead to protect their property with adequate insurance coverage."

Oklahoma Farm Bureau Insurance offers the following tips for Oklahomans to prepare for this year's storm season:

Make a severe weather plan. Every family should have a tornado or severe weather safety plan in place. If you do not have a storm shelter, designate an area in your home that is as far as possible from outside windows or walls. The smallest, lowest and most central location is best; oftentimes the cellar, basement or central bathroom.

Ensure insurance policies are updated. It's important to ensure your property is covered for potential severe weather damages before the storm hits. Policyholders should have an ongoing discussion with their insurance agent and review their policy annually to ensure adequate coverage. Also, remember to add coverage for new personal property on homeowner's insurance or business-related items on business coverage. Keep an updated inventory of possessions in case you need to file a claim. Visit www.knowyourstuff.org for more information.

Have a tornado kit. Oklahomans should prepare a tornado kit that includes essentials such as a weather radio, flashlight, batteries, water bottles, a first-aid kit, important documents, cash and identification, as well as spare care keys for vehicles. Any important documents, such as birth certificates, deeds and other items should also be included in the kit. It should be stored in an easily accessible area of the home or within the storm shelter or designated safe room.

Stay weather-aware. News stations offer weather apps that can be downloaded onto your smartphone, or a weather radio can provide up-to-date information in the event of a loss of power. Do not wait to take action if your area is at risk, and never attempt to outrun a storm. Grab your tornado kit and take shelter immediately.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014 14:05

Emergency Pet Preparedness

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When making plans of what to do in case of an emergency, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry reminds you to include provisions for the family pet. By taking some small steps, pet owners can ensure their animals are prepared for severe weather and natural disasters.

Basic needs like food, water and any necessary medication are essential components in a disaster kit for your pet. It is recommended to keep a three day supply of these items on hand and ready to go.

Means of identification should also be a part of emergency preparedness. Pets should wear a collar or harness with current Rabies tag and ID tag at all time. Speak to your veterinarian about equipping your pet with a microchip as a permanent form of identification. Having an up-to-date photo of you and your pet is also a good idea. Should you and your pet become separated, this will aid in proof of ownership.

If you plan to use a storm shelter, be sure to familiarize your pet with the area ahead of time.

"By having your pet in and around the storm shelter ahead of time, you can minimize their stress when a disaster makes using the shelter necessary," said Dr. Alicia Gorczyca-Southerland, ODAFF Staff Veterinarian. "Including favorite treats, toys and bedding can also ease your pet's stress during and following a disaster."

Should you need to evacuate, collapsible cages are a safe and efficient way to transport your animals with you. Cages should be large enough for your pet to stand, turn around and lie down. Attach your contact information to the cage.

Your plan should also include a predetermined evacuation site for your family and pets. Consider places like pet friendly hotels, boarding facilities and veterinary hospitals. It is extremely important to secure a temporary shelter before a disaster. Many public shelters during a disaster do not allow animals.

"Oklahoma weather can be unpredictable," Gorczyca-Southerland said. "Insure your pets are prepared by including them in your emergency plan."

By: Aaron Graffman
OSU Prevention Programs

Marijuana use and prescription drug abuse are widespread problems in the United States. In 2012, 18.9 million people aged 12 or older used marijuana, and approximately one in four of them used marijuana on a daily or almost daily basis. In addition, an estimated 8.9 million people aged 12 or older used illicit drugs in the past month, most commonly prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes. Use and abuse of illicit and prescription drugs result in short term side effects, including hallucinations, dangerous levels of dehydration and overheating, and feelings of sadness, anxiety and depression. Their use also carries long-term consequences, such as liver and lung disease, heart failure, coma, and death.

A serious concern is that usage trends show some increases, specifically among young adults:
• Since 2006, there has been a 74.2 percent increase in the number of people aged 12 or older who used marijuana on a daily or almost daily basis in the past year.

• In 2012, young adults aged 18 to 25 years old were more than twice as likely as people aged 12 to 17 and 26 years and older to have used illicit drugs in the past month. The rate of use among 18 to 25 years old (21.3 percent) has also risen over the past ten years.

According to the 2102 Oklahoma Prevention Needs Assessment (OPNA), 10.5 percent of Okmulgee County 10th Graders used prescription drugs without a doctor telling them to take them. The State average for Oklahoma was 6.2 percent.

Okmulgee County Communities can change these numbers. Statistics show that a person's willingness and ability to use illicit drugs is directly impacted by the attitudes and actions of friends and relatives. Over 50 percent of people aged 12 or older in 2011-2012 who used pain relievers nonmedically in the past year got them from a friend or relative. Furthermore, in the past year, youth aged 12 to 17 who believed their parents would strongly disapprove of their specific substances were less likely to use those substances. Even one person's actions can have an important effect on a loved one's health and future.

For more information, please call DFC Coordinator Aaron Graffman or RPC Director Margaret Black at 918-756-1248 or by email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Tuesday, 20 May 2014 21:06

It's Up to All of Us to Prevent Underage Drinking

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By Aaron Graffman
OSU Prevention Programs

Although the legal drinking age in the U.S. is 21, close to one quarter of youth aged 12 to 20 (24.3 percent) drank alcohol in 2012. The consequences of underage drinking can be calamitous; each year, 4, 700 people under age 21 die from homicides, suicides, car crashes, and drowning related to drinking alcohol. Furthermore, underage drinking is a problem shared by all communities. Underage drinking happens, but the good news is that it is also preventable.

Many are familiar with media campaigns, such as the Office of Drug Control Policy's (ONDCP) Above the Influence campaign and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) underage drinking campaign Talk. They Hear You. , that counteract the negative advertising that bombards youth every day. While these campaigns are incredibly important and effective, kids also deserve to hear these messages from people they know and who care about them, rather than just from the media. Just talking to youth about substance use and abuse and being involved in their lives can make a difference:

• Youth aged 12 to 17 who believe their parents would strongly disapprove of their using a substance are less likely to use that substance than a youth who believe their parent would somewhat disapprove or neither approve or disapprove.

• Youth aged 12 to 17 whose parents always or sometimes engage in monitoring behaviors – like helping with homework – binge drink, use illicit drugs, and smoke cigarettes less frequently than those whose parents seldom or never engage in such behaviors.

Every day, parents, caregivers, educators, and community leaders in Okmulgee County can make a difference by having conversations with youth about substance use, and modeling healthy choices. According to the 2012 Oklahoma Prevention Needs Assessment (OPNA), 41percent of Okmulgee County 12th Graders drank alcohol in the past 30 days. As individuals and a community, we can help prevent underage drinking by being involved in young people's lives; identifying resources, support systems, and alternatives for youth in the community; and raising awareness about the importance of prevention.

For more information, please call DFC Coordinator Aaron Graffman or RPC Director Margaret Black at 918-756-1248 or by email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Monday, 11 November 2013 15:29

Social Security serves those who've served

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By Jose M Olivero
Social Security Public Affairs Specialist in Oklahoma City


Today on Nov. 11, we honor our Nation’s veterans for their service to America. What better time than now to tell you — and for you to help spread the word — about the many benefits and wealth of information Social Security has available for veterans and military personnel?

Social Security recognizes those who put their lives on the line for our freedoms. Members of the armed forces receive expedited processing of their Social Security disability applications. The expedited process is available for any military service member who became disabled during active duty on or after October 1, 2001, regardless of where the disability occurs. Some dependent children and spouses of military personnel may also be eligible to receive benefits.

Visit our website designed specifically for our wounded veterans: www.socialsecurity.gov/woundedwarriors. There, you will find answers to a number of commonly asked questions, as well as other useful information about disability benefits available under the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. Please pay special attention to the fact sheet available on that website, Disability Benefits for Wounded Warriors.

You’ll also find a webinar that explains the faster disability process available to wounded warriors. The program covers general information about Social Security disability benefits as well as topics unique to wounded service members. The online video is less than three minutes and a great introduction to disability benefits for veterans and active duty military.

On the same webpage, you’ll also find links to useful Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense websites. The requirements for disability benefits available through Social Security are different than those from the Department of Veterans Affairs and require a separate application.

Military service members are covered for the same Social Security survivors, disability, and retirement benefits as everyone else. Although the expedited service is relatively new, military personnel have been covered under Social Security since 1957, and people who were in the service prior to that may be able to get special credit for some of their service.

To learn more about Social Security for current and former military service members, read Military Service and Social Security. It’s available in our digital library at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs.

But first, take a look at the wounded warrior page at www.socialsecurity.gov/woundedwarriors. The webinar, factsheet, and pertinent links will brief you on everything you need to know to “maneuver” your way through the Social Security process.

Missile Defense: An Old Idea Uniquely Suited for Today's Global Threats

By Claude Berube

Recent satellite imagery suggests that North Korea has greatly expanded its uranium enrichment capabilities. The nation just promised to launch more long-range rockets "soon." And, reportedly, labs in Pyongyang are hard at work developing nuclear-armed missiles capable of striking the U.S. mainland.

With the North Korean threat apparently mounting, it's essential for the United States to continue investing in missile defense.

Missile shield technologies first gained attention in 1983, when President Ronald Reagan proposed a bold endeavor called the Strategic Defense Initiative. At the time, critics famously dismissed the prospect of intercepting incoming missiles as a "Star Wars" fantasy.

Although the technology didn't exist, Reagan's concept was sound, therefore it quickly spawned a wave of development projects.

During the first Gulf War, the United States unveiled one of these technologies with the Patriot missile system. With Patriot batteries in Israel and Saudi Arabia, the U.S. military was able to eliminate 70 percent of the scud missiles fired by Saddam Hussein.

Today, American missile defense systems continue to keep America safe, reassure our allies, and calm global tensions.

This past spring, for instance, when North Korea announced its decision to unilaterally nullify the 1953 armistice and threatened to attack its southern neighbor, the United States deployed a Navy destroyer equipped with the advanced "Aegis" anti-missile system. The move helped quiet the region, stifling further provocations by the North and preventing the South from taking any action of its own.

Recent tests have shown that technological progress continues apace. In May, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency and sailors aboard the U.S. Navy's USS Lake Erie engaged and destroyed a short-range ballistic missile that was launched from Hawaii over the Pacific Ocean. This was the Missile Defense Agency's 59th successful intercept in 74 tests since it debuted the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense in 2001.

Despite these strides -- and the growing threats we face -- missile defense is on the chopping block. In its 2014 budget request, the Obama Administration proposed cutting the Pentagon's missile defense budget by about 6 percent.

These planned cuts are particularly surprising given that the Obama administration has also just announced a new joint anti-missile initiative with key allies across the Atlantic. The European Phased Adaptive Approach is expected to incorporate new detection and destruction techniques to keep our European allies safe from rogue missile threats.

These cuts will undermine the development of this system. Indeed, just this March, American defense officials canceled the final phase of another Europe-based missile defense initiative citing budget constraints.

We've made tremendous progress since Ronald Reagan first announced the Strategic Defense Initiative. Now is no time to choke off funding for these promising technologies. America must continue to invest in these systems to counter the growth missile threat presented by North Korea and other dangerous regimes.

Claude Berube, the author of "The Aden Effect" (Naval Institute Press, October 2012), teaches at the U.S. Naval Academy. He was a 2004 Brookings Institution LEGIS Fellow and a 2010 Maritime Security Studies Fellow at The Heritage Foundation. The views are his own and not those of the Department of the Navy.

Friday, 13 September 2013 13:23

You’ve Just Stepped Into … The Retirement Zone

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You’ve Just Stepped Into … The Retirement Zone

 


By Jose M Olivero
Social Security Public Affairs Specialist in Oklahoma City

 

You are about to enter another dimension. A dimension not only of work and earnings, but of pension and leisure. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. You unlock this door with Social Security’s Retirement Estimator and online benefit application. Next stop … the retirement zone.

 

That’s not exactly sticking to the original script, but some television viewers may be hearing the voice of Rod Serling ringing in their heads right now. The Twilight Zone television program first aired in 1959 and ran for five seasons — and continues to live on in reruns. The series took viewers through amazing journeys with each episode featuring characters who faced unusual or extraordinary circumstances.

 

If you’re nearing retirement now, it may seem an extraordinary circumstance that these days you really can do it all from the comfort of your home or office computer. Amazing but true: you can do so much online, including getting an estimate of future benefits, testing out different retirement scenarios, completing and submitting your retirement application online, and much more!

 

Picture a man. A man sitting at his home computer. He isn’t sure whether he should apply now, wait until he reaches full retirement age, or work a little longer and begin receiving benefits at age 70. He’s about to find out … with a visit to the Retirement Estimator. The Estimator uses his past earnings and allows him to enter variable future earnings and retirement dates to complete the picture of a retirement he’d like to live.

 

Imagine a woman. A woman with a laptop enjoying a hot cup of java at her favorite coffee house. She’s done with planning and has decided it’s time to take the plunge and retire. Before going to a local Social Security office as her parents and older siblings did, she visits www.socialsecurity.gov and discovers she can complete the entire application online and submit it in about 15 minutes. As in most cases, there are no papers to sign and no documents to provide. She ventures from www.socialsecurity.gov to an audio book and closes her eyes to begin enjoying her retirement.

 

Back when The Twilight Zone first hit television screens, the idea of testing out retirement scenarios or even completing and submitting a retirement application online would have been science fiction fodder fit for an episode of the program. Today, it is reality.

 

Try it out for yourself. Visit www.socialsecurity.gov and take a visit into … the retirement zone.

 

 


Health Insurance Marketplace won’t affect Medicare, but …

Medicare Okmulgee Op-Ed

By Bob Moos/Southwest public affairs officer for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

If you haven’t already, you’re going to hear a lot over the next few months about the Health Insurance Marketplace, a new and convenient way to shop for health care coverage.

The initial enrollment period kicks off on Oct. 1 and runs through March 31, 2014. During that time, the Marketplace is likely to turn into a household word, as health insurance becomes the topic of TV and radio shows, newspaper articles, Internet messages and everyday conversations.

If you’re enrolled in Medicare, you may think that you’re affected by this new program and that you need to do something in response to everything you’re hearing and reading.

Relax.

The Marketplace is designed to help people without health insurance. You have insurance through Medicare. No matter how you get Medicare, whether through the traditional fee-for-service program or a private Medicare Advantage plan, you won’t have to make any changes.

But you also won’t want to turn a deaf ear to all the talk about the Marketplace because you may have family members and friends without health insurance who could benefit.

A few words from you could alert them to this new way of buying insurance and, especially with those who think they can get by without it, persuade them to sign up for health care coverage.

Your spouse, for example, may need coverage because he or she isn’t 65 yet and can’t qualify for Medicare. Maybe your spouse has even tried to buy insurance but been turned down because of some pre-existing medical condition. The Marketplace can help.

People will have guaranteed coverage regardless of a medical issue. Insurers won’t be able to deny them coverage or charge them more because they have, say, diabetes or high blood pressure.

The Health Insurance Marketplace will give people access to affordable, comprehensive coverage. They’ll be able to go to one website to learn about insurance plans available to them, check on their benefits and out-of-pocket costs and then comparison shop.

Maybe your grown children or grandchildren aren’t insured because they just don’t see the need. Many young adults tend to think of themselves as invincible. They don’t realize that a broken leg from an accident could end up costing them thousands of dollars in hospital and doctor bills.

The private, individual health plans sold through the Marketplace will provide a package of 10 essential benefits, including emergency services, hospital care, doctor visits, prescription drugs and preventive care. The benefits are similar to what’s typically covered in an employer-provided plan.

Maybe your adult children or grandchildren do understand the importance of health insurance but can’t fit the monthly premiums into their already stretched budget. As much as they’d like to have the peace of mind that comes with health care coverage, there are other demands on their pocketbook.

Again, the Marketplace can help.

People with incomes up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($45,960 for individuals and $94,200 for families of four) may qualify for tax credits they can use right away to lower their premiums. Some may also qualify for help with co-payments, deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs.

If you’re on Medicare, you know that health insurance can make a big difference in the quality of life. Just as your family and friends have watched out for you, now you can return the love and affection by suggesting they look into this new health care coverage option.

The best places for the latest and most accurate information on the Marketplace are the government’s website, www.healthcare.gov , and its new call center, at 1-800-318-2596. People can visit the website or call the toll-free number to get answers to their questions. Beginning Oct. 1, they can use www.healthcare.gov to shop for the health plan that best fits their budget and needs.

If family members or friends are uninsured, sit down and have a conversation with them today and then remind them to sign up for coverage this fall.

Monday, 22 July 2013 20:55

Profits that kill

Philip Morris International (PMI) proudly announced its 2nd quarter earnings Thursday morning. For most companies, a positive earnings report is a day to celebrate. For PMI, it should be a day of shame, because PMI is in the business of selling the only consumer product that, when used exactly as intended, kills.

Let's get some perspective on PMI's numbers for 2012:

  • PMI's Share of the Global Market = 16.3%
  • Total Number of Deaths from Tobacco in 2012 = 6 million
  •              (more than 2x the population of Chicago, IL)
  • PMI's 2012 Death Toll = 978,000
  •              (more than the population of Austin, TX)
  • PMI's 2012 Earnings = $14.2 billion
  •              (more than 100x what the U.S. FDA spent on anti-tobacco campaigns in 2011)
  • PMI's Earnings per Death = $14,519.00
  • PMI spends billions on marketing, influencing politics, and hiring lobbyists to maintain this death rate.

Action on Smoking & Health (ASH), on the other hand, relies on the generosity of its donors to fight PMI, to stand up for health, and to save lives.

By working around the world for strong tobacco control laws and to expose the tactics of the tobacco industry, ASH is helping to change the fate of 100s of millions of people. We have already seen much progress, but the fight is far from fair...and far from won.

PMI announced no anticipated global profit losses, but with your help, that can change!

Please support ASH's life-saving work.