June 2009 Department News Bulletin
ALLERGY RELIEF Update 01:
Spring is the time of year when many people complain about seasonal allergy symptoms such as
runny noses, congestion, rashes, itchy and watery eyes, sneezing, coughing--and just generally
feeling miserable. About 16.9 million Americans had allergies in 2007, and there were 12.2 million
doctor's office visits for allergies in 2006, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
Allergies occur when the immune system overreacts to a substance that doesn't bother most people.
In the spring, pollen is what gets to some people. But indoor allergies (to dust mites, dust, or pet
dander, for instance) can cause problems all year round. If your allergy symptoms have you feeling
lousy, this list of six allergy treatments and prevention strategies may help you find some relief. 1. Clean out your nose
. Using a saltwater nose rinse is a natural option that can help clear out
pollen and other irritants in the nose, says Jeremy S. Melker, an ear, nose, and throat doctor in
Gainesville , Fla. , who specializes in allergies. A 2007 study found that irrigating your nose works
better than using commercial saline nasal sprays. 2. Try an over-the-counter allergy medicine.
In recent years, two oral antihistamines that were
previously available only by prescription became available over the counter. That means you can
pick up Claritin (loratadine) or Zyrtec (cetirizine) without a visit to a doctor. These medications are
"good for blocking [a substance called] histamine, which causes sneezing, itching, runny nose, and
watery eyes," says Robert Fisher, the medical director at a Wisconsin-based practice called Allergy
Research & Care. These medications are less likely to make you sleepy than older antihistamines
like Benadryl. If OTC antihistamines don't work for you or your favorite allergy medication disappears
from store shelves, as Drixoral has - seeing a doctor may help. Many people assume that there are
no other options available, but an evaluation by a doctor can start patients on the path toward relief,
Fisher says. For example, a prescription antihistamine, such as Allegra or Xyzal, is an option if
Claritin or Zyrtec don't help you. 3. Consider a prescription nasal spray or eye drops.
Prescription steroid nose sprays, such as
Flonase and Nasonex, work by reducing swelling in the nose, which can provide relief from nasal
allergy symptoms. Antihistamine nasal sprays, on the other hand, work by blocking histamine.
They're like oral antihistamines, except the active ingredient is delivered directly into the nose,
straight to the site of some people's most bothersome allergy symptoms. Some allergists prescribe
them to patients who can't find symptom relief from oral antihistamines. Nasal-spray options include
Astelin, which has been available by prescription since 1996, and Patanase and Asterpro, both
approved by the Food and Drug Administration last year. Eye drops, such as Patanol, Optivar, and
Pataday, can help soothe the itchy, watery eyes that come with allergic conjunctivitis, also known as
eye allergies. All require a doctor's prescription. 4. Decongestants may also help relieve nasal congestion.
A variety of decongestant medications
are available without a prescription. Even if it is OTC, though, you may have to ask for your favorite
medicine at the pharmacy counter if it contains pseudoephedrine, which can be used to make
methamphetamine. A law that took effect in 2006 requires anyone buying a medication containing
pseudoephedrine to show ID when making the purchase. An ingredient called phenylephrine has
replaced pseudoephedrine in many OTC medicines, but some say they don't think it works as well at
clearing congestion. Decongestant nasal sprays are another OTC option, but don't use them for
longer than three days. Overuse can create a rebound effect of narrowing and constricting the blood
vessels of your nose. 5. Close your windows, and turn on the air conditioning.
Sure, with the recession, keeping the
A/C off and just opening your windows might be a tempting move for cost-conscious people. But if
you're allergic to outdoor allergens, it's best to keep the windows shut for the sake of your health. "If
you know that the live oaks are blooming and you're sitting there all night long breathing in the live
oak pollen, you're just worsening the problem," Melker says. "You're letting the fundamental [allergic]
reaction occur, and then you're just trying to mask the symptoms" with medications. 6. If things get bad, try allergy shots, also known as allergy immunotherapy.
There is no reason
anyone should have to suffer from allergies in silence, experts say. "Allergy shots can help a lot of
the symptoms, especially when people have tried all the other stuff and are still having problems,"
Fisher says. These shots involve being regularly injected with a small amount of the substance
you're allergic to. The idea is to stimulate your immune system and help your body become
desensitized to the allergens, according to the Mayo Clinic. A Cochrane Collaboration review updated
in 2003 found that allergy shots help to improve symptoms of asthma, reduce the need for
medications, and lessen the risk of severe asthma attacks when patients are exposed to allergens in
the future. Eventually, the hope is that you'll build up a tolerance and your allergic reactions won't be
so severe. But keep in mind that allergy shots require a time commitment - typically several years of
weekly to monthly shots to completely finish the entire course of treatment. And because patients are
injected with substances that they're allergic to, there is a risk of allergic reactions after the injections.
For this reason, doctors typically require patients to remain in their offices for a few minutes after
each session of immunotherapy. Another option is immunotherapy delivered orally via drops or
tablets, which was found in a 2008 study to be effective in kids with allergic asthma. A review of
earlier evidence, published in 2003 by the Cochrane Collaboration, found that this type of
immunotherapy, delivered under the tongue, helps to relieve allergic rhinitis. It's unclear, however,
whether it's as effective as allergy shots. The availability of this type of therapy is limited because it
has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and research is ongoing.
Annually in May, the National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, campaigns to help educate
asthma sufferers around the world are held. Every day 11 people die from asthma in America and as
many as 40 to 50 million people in the U.S. are affected by allergies. For more information, contact
the Environmental Protection Agency.
[Source: U.S. News & World Report January W. Payne article 11 May 09 ++] FLAG DAY:
Flag Day was first observed in 1877 on the 100th anniversary of the Continental Congress' adoption
of the Stars and Stripes as the official flag of the United States. In that year, Congress asked that all
public buildings fly the flag on June 14. The idea quickly caught on and many people wanted to
participate in waving the flag. One early supporter was B. J. Cigrand, a Wisconsin schoolteacher who
wanted June 14 to be known as "Flag Birthday”. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed
Flag Day as a national celebration. However, the holiday was not officially recognized until 1949
when President Harry Truman signed the National Flag Day Bill. Although Flag Day is not celebrated
as a Federal holiday, Americans everywhere continue to honor the history and heritage it represents.
The longest-running Flag Day parade is held annually in Quincy, Massachusetts, which began 1952
and will celebrate its 59th year in 2009. The largest Flag Day parade is held annually in Troy, New
York, which bases its parade on the Quincy parade and typically draws 50,000 spectators. In 1996,
President Bill Clinton issued the following proclamation: By The President Of The United States Of America A Proclamation
There is no better symbol of our country's values and traditions than the Flag of the United States of
America. Chosen by the Continental Congress in 1777, it continues to exemplify the profound
commitment to freedom, equality, and opportunity made by our founders more than two centuries
ago. Our flag's proud stars and stripes have long inspired our people, and it’s beautiful red, white,
and blue design is known around the world as a beacon of liberty and justice.
Today, America's Flag graces classrooms, statehouses, courtrooms, and churches, serving as a daily
reminder of this Nation's past accomplishments and ongoing dedication to safeguarding individual
rights. The brave members of our Armed Forces carry "Old Glory" with them as they fulfill their
mission to defend the blessings of democracy and peace across the globe; our banner flies from
public buildings as a sign of our national community; and its folds drape the tombs of our
distinguished dead. The Flag is a badge of honor to all - a sign of our citizens' common purpose.
This week and throughout the year let us do all we can to teach younger generations the significance
of our Flag. Its 13 red and white stripes represent not only the original colonies, but also the courage
and purity of our Nation, while its 50 stars stand for the separate but United States of our Union. Let
us pledge allegiance to this Flag to declare our patriotism and raise its colors high to express our
pride and respect for the American way of life.
To commemorate the adoption of our Flag, the Congress, by joint resolution approved August 3, 1949
(63 Stat. 492), designated June 14 of each year as "Flag Day" and requested the President to issue
an annual proclamation calling for its observance and for the display of the Flag of the United States
on all Federal Government buildings. The Congress also requested the President, by joint resolution
approved June 9, 1966 (80 Stat. 194), to issue annually a proclamation designating the week in which
June 14 falls as "National Flag Week" and calling upon all citizens of the United States to display the
Flag during that week.
Now, Therefore, I, William J. Clinton, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim
June 14, 1996, as Flag Day and the week beginning June 9, 1996, as National Flag Week. I direct
the appropriate officials to display the Flag on all Federal Government buildings during that week, and I urge all Americans to observe Flag Day and National Flag Week by flying the Stars and Stripes from their homes and other suitable places. I also call upon the people of the United States to observe with pride and all due ceremony those days from Flag Day through Independence Day, also set aside by Congress (89 Stat. 211), as a time to honor our Nation, to celebrate our heritage in public gatherings and activities, and to publicly recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America. In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this seventh day of June, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and ninety-six, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and twentieth. [Source: Various May 09 ++]
MEDICARE Part B PREMIUMS Update 05:
New Social Security recipients and upper-income seniors could face a steep increase in their monthly
Medicare premiums for the next two years, according to an analysis released 26 May by a nonprofit
health research group. Millions more will see their finances squeezed if their premiums for Medicare
Part D prescription drug coverage go up during that period. Congress could intervene to soften the
blow, but doing so would be costly at a time of ballooning deficits. The study, by the Kaiser Family
Foundation, points out that Social Security and Medicare trustees project no cost-of-living adjustment
(COLA) to Social Security benefits in 2010 and 2011, and only a tiny one in 2012. The COLA is
pegged to an inflation index, and the economic recession has erased increases in the relevant index.
In 2009 seniors received a 5.8% COLA, the largest in more than a quarter-century, but those days
are gone for the near future. Over the next two years, however, monthly premiums for Medicare Part
B coverage will increase sharply under existing law, which requires premiums to cover 25% of
program costs. Part B pays for doctor bills and other outpatient costs, and the monthly premiums that
seniors pay are deducted from their Social Security benefits. The 2009 premium for most
beneficiaries is $96.40 per month. Medicare trustees project Part B premium increases to $104.20
per month in 2010 and $120.20 per month in 2011. A “hold harmless” clause in existing law will
protect about 75% of current Social Security beneficiaries from any increase in their Medicare
premiums in the years when there is no COLA, or when it falls below the increase in the monthly Part
B premium. But many of the remaining seniors, according to Kaiser, could see their Part B premiums
rise, cutting into their monthly Social Security benefits. Three beneficiary groups are impacted as
The first group that will be hit by these increases, without receiving any COLA to offset the pain, are
new enrollees in Social Security, Kaiser said.
The second affected class comprises relatively affluent Medicare beneficiaries - those with adjusted
gross incomes above $85,000 for individuals and $170,000 for married couples, who already must
pay a surcharge for their Medicare coverage.
The final group, the largest of those affected, is composed of low-income seniors. But they will not have to pay the increased Medicare Part B premiums themselves. Instead, the Medicaid program, funded jointly by state and federal governments, will cover the increase. But that means higher Medicaid costs for those governments. All Medicare beneficiaries who pay monthly premiums for the separate Part D prescription drug coverage could face a financial squeeze if those premiums increase over the next two or three years, unless they can find a cheaper plan, Kaiser said. “At a time of great economic uncertainty, with many seniors experiencing a significant decline in their retirement savings and with nearly two-thirds relying on Social Security for at least half their income, the projected absence of a COLA in the coming years could represent an added hardship for many recipients,” the report said. [Source: Congressional Quarterly article 27 May 09 ++]
OBAMA VA OFFICIALS Update 04:
On 20 MAY, Tammy Duckworth took the oath of office as the chief spokesperson for the VA. VA
Secretary Eric K. Shinseki presided over the swearing in ceremony at Walter Reed Army Medical
Center , as Duckworth, a major in the Illinois National Guard, became VA’s Assistant Secretary for
Public and Intergovernmental Affairs. As assistant secretary, Duckworth will direct VA’s public affairs
programs and its intergovernmental efforts. She also will oversee programs for homeless veterans
and consumer affairs. Duckworth was an Army helicopter pilot flying combat missions in Iraq in 2004
and suffered grave injuries when a rocket-propelled grenade struck her helicopter. She lost both legs
and partial use of one arm and spent 13 months at Walter Reed Army Medical Center recovering
from her injuries. Although Walter Reed is not part of the VA’s extensive network of medical facilities,
Duckworth chose the Army site for her swearing in to recognize the facility’s role in her recovery and
to encourage other disabled service members and veterans. “Walter Reed is where I first saw how
effective the DoD-VA partnership in caring for our veterans can be,” she said. “My VA coordinator
had an office at Walter Reed, and I saw her on a weekly basis even before I was discharged to VA
care.” In addition to Mrs. Duckworth, three other VA Assistant Secretaries were sworn in at VA HQ.
Jose D. Riojas, a West Point graduate and former executive with the University of Texas at El Paso ,
was sworn in as Assistant Secretary for Operations, Security and Preparedness.
John U. Sepúlveda, a former executive with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, was sworn in
as the Assistant Secretary for Human Resources.
Roger Baker, a former chief executive officer in the information technology industry, was sworn in as
Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology.
[Source: NAUS Weekly Update 22 May 09 ++]
MEMORIAL DAY REMEMBRANCE Update 03:
Most people are aware of the famous American military cemetery at Omaha Beach, Normandy, site
of one of the D-Day landings in 1944. But few know there are twenty one other American military
cemeteries in eight different countries memorializing those who were not brought back to the United
States after World War I and World War II. Each of these commemorative places is powerful and unique, and has is own stories to tell. These cemeteries, created and maintained by the U.S. government through the American Battle Monuments Commission, are permanent memorial sites, built to stand the test of time. Collectively they contain the remains of 125,000 Americans. There are 94,000 more names commemorated on Walls of the Missing. Dignified and serene, they were created to honor America s fallen, but they are also intended to inspire and teach the living. There are American World War I and World War II cemeteries in England, France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, Italy, Tunisia and the Philippines. Most of the cemeteries are located on or near the major battlefields. All are places of astonishing natural beauty, embellished with great architecture and powerful works of art. It is the contrast of these remarkable burial grounds with the horrors of war that gives them their profound impact. A major documentary made about these remarkable shrines is now available. Titled "Hallow Grounds", it brings them all to life with stunning visuals and powerful storytelling. The program weaves elements of a historical documentary with contemporary scenes of the cemeteries. The documentary moves chronologically through both world wars of the 20th century. The narrative provides a general history of the wars, and briefly recounts the battles and operations that took place in the areas where the cemeteries are located. Each cemetery contains tales of courage and unselfish service to comrades and country. Some of the fallen profiled in the program are well known: the poet Joyce Kilmer, the bandleader Glenn Miller, the five Sullivan Brothers, General George S. Patton. But most were ordinary men and women caught up in the calamity of war. These military cemeteries also personify American diversity, and the program includes portraits of some of the many African-American, Hispanic-American, Japanese-American, Native-American, and Anglo-Americans who are buried in them. Included are numerous interviews with formal and informal historians, visiting relatives, and foreign nationals who act and speak their appreciation on-camera. Hallowed Grounds allows Americans to see for the first time some of their great national treasures. It seeks to heighten respect for those who lost and continue to lose their lives for America, and reminds viewers of the great and tragic cost of war in the pursuit of liberty. It is a hour long production of New Voyage Communications in Washington, DC., directed by national Emmy Award winner Robert Uth, and produced and written by Robert Uth and Glenn Marcus. Peter Thomas, a veteran of both the Normandy landings and the Battle of the Bulge, provides the narration. Hallowed Grounds premiered on PBS 25 MAY 09. You can check Local Listings to see when it is will air on your local PBS station A DVD is available of this presentation for $24.49 which can be purchased online at. Also listed and available are numerous other DVDs on American and World History. All profits go toward support of the Public Broadcasting system. [Source: VA Secretary Vet Group Liaison Officer input 20 May 09 ++]
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