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Congress delivered a victory to President Donald Trump by expanding private care for veterans as an alternative to the troubled Veterans Affairs health system.

The Senate cleared the bill on a 92-5 vote Wednesday, also averting a disastrous shutdown of its Choice private-sector program. The program is slated to run out of money as early as next week, causing disruptions in care.

The sweeping measure would allow veterans to see private doctors when they do not receive the treatment they expected, with the approval of a Department of Veterans Affairs health provider. Veterans could access private care when they have endured lengthy wait times or VA medical centers do not offer the services they need.

The bill’s approval comes despite concerns from some Democrats that the effort would prove costly and be used too broadly by veterans in search of top-notch care even when the VA is able to provide treatment deemed sufficient for their needs.

The White House said Trump applauded passage of legislation that would transform VA “into a high-performing and integrated health care system for the 21st century and provide veterans with more choice in their health care options, whether from VA doctors or from the community.”

The VA secretary will have wide leeway in implementing the legislation, which leaves it up to VA to determine what is “quality” care. Trump said last week he will nominate acting VA secretary Robert Wilkie to permanently lead the government’s second largest department serving 9 million veterans. Democrats say they intend to question Wilkie on whether he plans to “privatize” or degrade the VA health system, an issue that former VA Secretary David Shulkin says led to his firing in March.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, the Republican chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, lauded the bill as a big step toward providing veterans with “more choice and fewer barriers to care.”

Sen. Jon Tester, the top Democrat on the veterans panel, said the plan will also boost VA health care by paying off higher amounts of student loan debt for doctors who agree to work in high-need VA positions, requiring improvement plans in communities with few hospitals and creating a pilot program that would send medical personnel to help fill shortages.

“The best defense against any effort to privatize the VA or send veterans in a wholesale fashion to the private sector is to make sure the VA is living up to its promise,” he said.

Trump has made clear he will sign the bill if it reaches his desk before Memorial Day. The House passed it on a 347-70 vote last week.

The Senate supported the bill that would create a presidentially-appointed commission to review the closure of underperforming VA facilities. House Democrats had sought restrictions on the commission but were rebuffed by House Republicans and the White House.

It would also expand a VA caregivers program to cover families of veterans of all eras, not just the families of veterans who were seriously injured in the line of duty since Sept. 11, 2001.

The $51 billion bill provides for a newly combined “community care” program that includes Choice and other VA programs of outside care. It could face escalating costs due to growing demand from veterans seeking the convenience of seeing private physicians. Some House Democrats warn the VA won’t be able to handle a growing price tag, putting the VA at risk of unexpected budget shortfalls next year.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a former chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, criticized the bill as moving the VA “too far in the direction of privatization.” He noted that it would not provide any money to fill more than 30,000 positions at the VA that the Trump administration has left vacant.

“My fear is that this bill will open the door to the draining, year after year, of much needed resources from the VA,” he said.

The measure builds on legislation passed in 2014 in response to a wait-time scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, where some veterans died while waiting months for appointments.

It aims to steer more patients to the private sector to relieve pressure at VA hospitals, thus improving veterans care at VA facilities and with private providers alike. Patients could also access private walk-in clinics, such as MinuteClinics, to treat minor illnesses or injury if they used VA health care in the last two years.

The legislation would loosen Choice’s restrictions that limit outside care only when a veteran must wait 30 days for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a VA facility. Currently, more than 30 percent of VA appointments are in the private sector.

A broad array of veterans’ groups supported the bill. The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans group, says the plan will “strengthen veterans’ health care for future generations while ensuring that veterans’ caregivers of all generations get the support they deserve.”

The conservative Concerned Veterans for America, a long-time advocate of expanding private care for veterans, called the measure a “very big deal.” Still, executive director Dan Caldwell stresses the “top priority for the VA secretary is ensuring it will be implemented properly.”

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Follow Hope Yen on Twitter at //twitter.com/hopeyen1



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Tracy Thomas holds Aliya Union, 3, while watching a band play at the bandshell during the Boulder Creek Festival in 2017. (Jeremy Papasso, Boulder Daily Camera)

Memorial Day may be summer’s unofficial kickoff, but there’s nothing casual about the planning that goes into this weekend.

From half-athletic, half-cultural events such as the Bolder Boulder to free, large-scale music festivals such as the Denver Day of Rock, celebrations abound along the Front Range. Of course, if all you want to do is watch a motorcycle parade or hear some patriotic music, you can do that, too.

Here is a sampling of some of the biggest and best events along the Front Range for this three-day invitation to summer.

Army Sgt Camrron Roth, carries the American flag during the Veterans Memorial Day Tribute in downtown Denver in 2012. (Craig F. Walker, Denver Post file)

Veterans Memorial Day Tribute
When: May 26
Where: 1340 Sherman St. in Denver

This formal tribute at POF Hall, a half-block due south of the State Capitol, was founded 18 years ago to honor Colorado’s fallen heroes “in the presence of families, friends, military/political figures and the public,” according to the city. The 2018 event, which runs 10 a.m.-noon, will feature inspirational music, a Reading of Names, the U.S. Navy Bell Toll, a Remembrance Wreath laying for heroes who have died in past wars (placed by veteran representatives), and presentations of signature tribute banners and pins to Gold Star families. denver.org

Youth on Record Block Party
When: May 26
Where: 1301 W. 10th Ave. in Denver

This Denver music nonprofit’s 10th anniversary party and third annual block party is actually several events in one: a musical showcase of Youth on Record (YOR) students and Denver musicians (from noon-5 p.m.); a Health and Wellness Expo from the Denver Housing Authority (10 a.m.-4 p.m.); the grand opening of the Food Bridge International Marketplace at 10th and Navajo Streets (a program of Emily Griffith Technical College; 10 a.m.-5 p.m.); an unveiling of YOR’s new iMac Computer Lab (sponsored by Colorado duo Big Gigantic); and a traditional block party with local food and drinks, a Meow Wolf-sponsored Kids Craft area, tours of the nearby La Mariposa project, album listening stations, and a “silent disco” (headphone-based event; 2-5 p.m.). There are also all-ages activities like sidewalk art and hula hooping and, minus the vendors — including Cool Bunz and Repicci’s Italian Ice & Gelato — it’s all free. youthonrecord.org

James Kurzdorfer dances with his daughter Rosemarie, 2, as Eldren performs during Denver Day of Rock Saturday, May 27, 2017 on Curtis and 16th streets. The free music festival features 25 bands performing on five music stages and benefits AMP The Cause, a nonprofit that supports 50 child-focused health and education organizations. (Daniel Brenner, Special to the Denver Post)

Denver Day of Rock
When:
May 26
Where: 
16th Street Mall in downtown Denver

Centered around its main stages at Skyline Park, Denver Day of Rock returns to commandeer the urban pedestrian thoroughfare of the 16th Street Mall for this annual fundraiser festival and party on behalf of Amp the Cause — which itself benefits more than two dozen children’s charities. The 2018 lineup features 25 pop, rock, folk and indie acts and singer-songwriters on five stages, including headliners Elle King, Delta Rae, Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers, A Thousand Horses, and Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers. The music is free, but Amp the Cause uses the day to raise funds and awareness, so check out the VIP and festival packages (including drink tickets, merchandise and a downtown-centric discount book) ranging from $50 to $250 at denverdayofrock.com.

Denver Arts Festival
When: May 26-27
Where: Stapleton Northfield, 8304 E. 49th Place in Denver

Returning to Conservatory Green at northeast Denver’s Northfield Stapleton development, this sprawling, vendor-driven event is expecting roughly 50,000 attendees over two days to peruse hundreds of artists, from 2-D and 3-D mixed media artworks and photographs to sculptures, jewelry, clay and ceramics to fiber, furniture, leather, glass, metal and wood. A wine and beer garden located in the center of the festival will offer Boulder’s Decadent Saint wine and sangria, while Denver’s Tivoli Brewing Co. will provide beer. The event also offers live music from the Navy Brass Band (May 26), Dotsero (May 26) and Spinphony (May 27) alongside a Kid’s Art Zone and food options. Check out the booth layout, parking information (just like general admission, it’s free) and other details at denverartsfestival.com.

Memorial Day Observance Concert
When: May 27
Where: Bandshell at Boulder Central Park, 1236 Canyon Blvd. in Boulder

This free, 10 a.m. performance from the Boulder Concert Band honors the fallen (and still-fighting) soldiers whose sacrifice provides the occasion for Memorial Day in the first place, along with “special guests” from Seattle, the Navy Band Northwest, and soprano Christiana McMullen. Patriotic tunes will be played under the direction of conductor, composer and U.S. Army Music Officer Silas Nathaniel Huff, as the Boulder Creek Festival gears up around them for its second day. boulderband.org

People take a turn on one of the more challenging rides at the festival on Saturday. The Boulder Creek Festival continues Sunday and Monday in Downtown Boulder.
For more photos, go to www.dailycamera.com.
Cliff Grassmick, Boulder Daily Camera)

Boulder Creek Festival
When: May 26-28
Where: Boulder Central Park, along Canyon Boulevard and Arapahoe Avenue in Boulder

Speaking of the Boulder Creek Festival, the three-day party returns May 26-28 with a little something for everyone. This 31st annual installment features a rotating entertainment lineup on multiple stages (including live music, dance and diverse cultural displays), an artist’s marketplace, hundreds of local vendors, a farmer’s market, kid’s activities and games, food, a beer garden and more. Free admission. bceproductions.com

BOULDER, CO – MAY 29: Lydia Johnny, left and her friend Johnny Villegas, right, dressed up as matadors and ran with bull balloons during the 39th annual Bolder Boulder road race on May 29, 2017 in Boulder, Colorado. The popular race takes place on Memorial day every year with over 50,000 runners taking part in the event. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Bolder Boulder 10k
When:
May 27
Where: 
Folsom Field, 2400 Colorado Ave. in Boulder

It’s one of the first things that comes to mind when people think of Memorial Day in Colorado, and there’s a reason: This long-running 10k and party is celebrating 40 years of motivating Coloradans to hoof it, often in outlandish costumes. Organizers are once again expecting about 50,000 racers and 70,000 spectators at this year’s event, which ends at the University of Colorado’s Folsom Field with 100 (count ’em, 100) waves of racers. From the first group at 6:50 a.m. to the Memorial Day celebration at noon, featuring an F-16 flyover and sky divers, “spectacle” is the word. Belly dancers, DJs, painters, aerialists and bagpipers will entertain runners and spectators along the course, and plenty of food, drink and family-friendly activities will be available for all. bolderboulder.com

Heritage Amusement Park
When: Opening daily May 25
Where: 18310 W. Colfax Avenue in Golden

Golden’s Heritage Square is no more, but its historic amusement park — originally built in the 1950s as a small-scale, Colorado answer to Disneyland — is preparing for its 18th season under its current incarnation. Like Denver’s Lakeside, it’s both a window into the past and a fine way to spend a day with the kids, particularly if bigger-ticket options such as Elitch Gardens don’t appeal to you (or your pocket book). From May 26-28, the park is offering a Salute to Service deal for military, teachers and union members (including first-responders) that includes a $59 four-pack. However, the $18-$23 cost for unlimited wristbands for rides and attractions isn’t exactly bank-breaking by today’s standards. Classic carnival options, bumper boats, paddle boats, go-karts, miniature golf, an arcade, zip line, and more await. heritageamusementpark.com

Realities Ride and Rally
When: May 26-27
Where: Civic Center Park, 201 Laporte Ave. in Fort Collins

This northern Colorado event, which benefits abused and at-risk children, brings a patriotic rally to Civic Center park in Fort Collins, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. May 26, with a hot rod and classic-car show, trike races, stunt shows, children’s bicycle parade, live music, fireworks, a tattoo contest, kid’s entertainment, food, drink and more. The 3,000-strong motorcycle ride, which honors (and includes plenty of) U.S. military veterans, begins at Thunder Mountain Harley-Davidson at 8 a.m. on May 27 in Loveland before making its way to Civic Center for the after-party, which runs until 5 p.m. realitiesforchildren.com

MeadowGrass Music Festival
When: May 25-27
Where: La Foret Conference & Retreat Center, 6145 Shoup Road in Colorado Springs

MeadowGrass is relatively young by Colorado music-festival standards — only a decade, as of this year — and occasionally reminds us of how small it is (as of press time, it won’t even have an ATM on site this year, which could be a blessing or a curse). But amid the countless summer festivals that will follow with their sprawling lineups and long lines, MeadowGrass is also smartly curated to focus on up-and-coming folk, roots and Americana artists, including The Steel Wheels, The New Orleans Suspects, Ron Pope, Musketeer Gripweed, Wild Rivers, Nicki Bluhm, Banditos and many more. Plus the beer tastings, kid’s activities, workshops, yoga and late-night shows for campers. meadowgrass.org

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Pork tonkatsu sando – fried breaded pork cutlet in a sandwich – is something I love cooking when I get home late at night. It’s a bit naughty, but after serving up pork tomahawk tonkatsu all night at my restaurant, I start to crave it and then nothing else will do. This dish takes me back to Japan, eating the finest breeds of pork at Butagumi in Tokyo – you choose your breed and cut. They manage to make some of the fattiest cuts of pork into the lightest, melt in the mouth, crispy tonkatsu imaginable. Put between two slices of white bread, it reminds me of the sandwiches you get at the 24-hour convenience stores throughout Japan – places you always end up visiting after a night of drinking sake and singing karaoke, to help soak up all the alcohol. For a quick snack or dinner, this is super tasty and so easy. For a more sophisticated dinner, serve the pork with some rice and the shredded cabbage with a light sesame dressing on the side.

Serves 1
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 6 minutes

For the pork
1 piece of pork loin
Seasoned flour
1 egg, beaten
Handful of panko breadcrumbs
Sea salt
For the sando
2 slices of white bread
White cabbage, shredded
Kewpie mayonnaise
Bulldog sauce
1 tsp togarashi spice mix

Method

Dip the pork in the flour, then the egg wash and then the breadcrumbs. Shallow fry in vegetable oil until golden brown, then place on a cake rack in an oven preheated to 180C/350F/gas mark 4 for 5-6 minutes. Take it out of the oven and let it rest on the cake rack for another 4 minutes. Salt the pork liberally before slapping between the sliced bread. Add the shredded cabbage, kewpie mayo (we make our own in the restaurant, but I always have a bottle of the commercial stuff in my fridge at home for late-night emergencies), Bulldog sauce, a sprinkling of togarashi and voilà … you have the best post-shift meal possible.

Natalie Lee-Joe is co-founder of Jidori.

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When you tell other ultra runners that you are training for the Ultra-Trail du Mont- Blanc (UTMB), they give you a certain look. Oh, you are a serious ultra runner. You can almost feel your trail cred rising.

Not because the UTMB is the toughest race, or the longest, or in the most extreme conditions – although it is fairly extreme, being a 105-mile race around Mont Blanc that traverses a route with a total ascent of 34,000ft (10,300m) and passes through three different countries.

The main reason they give you that subtle nod of kudos is because just qualifying for the UTMB is an epic feat in itself. To even enter the ballot for a place, you have to accumulate points by running three qualifying races. While you do not need to win or do particularly well in any of these races – unless you’re shooting for an elite place at the UTMB – you do need to finish them all within the cut-offs.

That might sound reasonable, but the three races I had to do last year to accumulate my points included a 135-mile run around the Welsh Isle of Anglesey, and a 100-mile slog up and down the slopes of the Pyrenees in the south of France. Both these races have drop-out rates of around 40%. The second one took me almost 40 hours, running non-stop through two nights, hallucinating cocktail parties on candlelit verandas along the way, and leaving my toes feeling numb for months after. And that is just to qualify for the ballot.

But now I have a place. The UTMB is also the most competitive ultra trail in the world, with more of the top elite runners turning up each year, treating it as the grand final, the unofficial world championships of the sport. I have no illusions about being competitive anywhere near the front of this race, but after just over a year of ultra running, when something has gone wrong in every race I have run, I am working on being as good as I can be, for what will be the culmination of my two-year ultra running adventure.

It began last February when I decided to shoot for the UTMB and ran the first qualifying race, and my first ever ultra, a 35-mile jaunt along the coastal path near my home in south Devon. Since then, I have got lost in races, worn the wrong shoes, forgotten to carry water, had extreme lows – clinging to the side of a mountain during a storm in the night –and extreme highs, when I felt like superman, flying up Holyhead mountain 130 miles into the Ring O Fire Anglesey race, unable to believe that these legs that had struggled even to walk a few hours earlier now felt brand new, straight out of the box and filled with rocket fuel.

And so, with my entry to the UTMB confirmed, last weekend I took on one of two final warm-up races before the big one. It was a mere 45-mile race along the Jurassic coast in Dorset. “Just a baby ultra,” I kept telling people beforehand.

Preparing to run the Jurassic Quarter 45-mile UTMB qualifying race.



Preparing to run the Jurassic Quarter 45-mile UTMB qualifying race. Photograph: Marietta d’Erlanger

My latest lesson in this sport is never to underestimate an ultra race. The numbers in ultra running are so big and insane that they start to become meaningless in the space between the races, when you’re talking and thinking about them rather than actually running them. After some of the races I had already done, 45 miles seemed like nothing.

That was until about 20 miles in, when I started cramping while climbing up some steps after running along Lulworth Cove beach. It was a hot day and I hadn’t taken in enough salt. Luckily the cramps went away, but then came three brutal hills in quick succession, cliffs, pure vertical madness, interspersed, of course, by three terrifying descents. By then, I was on the point of dropping out. I had my reasons clearly laid out in my mind. This was only a training race, and so 25 miles was quite far enough for a training run. And it was dangerous to run with cramps – they had come back a few times on those three hills. What if I got stuck on my own somewhere remote and couldn’t even walk. It was irresponsible to carry on.

But something, and it is still hard for me to fathom quite what it is, pushed me on. Every time I resolved to stop, it said no. Go on, go a bit further. After a while, the miles still left to go and the distances already run started to blur, and my mind stopped counting, focused completely on the simple act of moving, even if it was merely shuffling.

The cliff paths and seaside towns were full of holidaymakers enjoying a balmy weekend. I ran through them with my rucksack and the number pinned on my shirt like an oddball. But word of who we were had got out, and people cheered me on, telling me I was amazing, telling me to keep going. I tried to wave or smile back. When did I become the maddest guy in town?

Something pushed me to keep running the 45 miles along the Jurassic coast.



Something pushed me to keep running the 45 miles along the Jurassic coast. Photograph: Marietta d’Erlanger

There were moments of exquisite beauty, when you would come across an isolated cove that took your breath away. In these ultras, you are so raw, that everything is more extreme. A hug from a loved one at an aid station, or the sudden appearance of nature in full bloom, can bring you close to tears. But you must go on. Perpetual forward motion is the goal. Race positions stop mattering – it ceases to become a race. I had started out with a goal time and position, but six hours on, none of that mattered. All that mattered was to keep moving, one step after another.

The race ended at Old Harry Rocks. It was a setting to lift the spirits, but just finishing was ecstasy. To sit on the warm grass, take off my shoes and stare out to sea after eight and a half hours of running. In that moment, it all made sense.

And so I have one more warm-up race left to go. A 78-mile run through the Dolomites in Italy. It is a scary prospect, lots more big numbers, but for now I am going to bask a little longer in the glory of another ultra completed. Another step along this crazy path I set out on when I decided, last February, to enter the UTMB.

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BOSTON (AP) — The 171-year-old candy maker known for its chalky Necco Wafers and those little inscribed hearts that are everywhere on Valentine’s Day was sold in bankruptcy court Wednesday.

The Ohio-based Spangler Candy Co. had the winning $18.83 million bid for the New England Confectionery Co., or Necco, at a federal bankruptcy auction in Boston.

The deal from the company that makes Dum Dums lollipops will most likely ensure a future, at least in the short term, for some of the nation’s most familiar candies.

‘‘They’re a crowd favorite,’’ said Chris Baker, who sells Necco candies at his Old Country Store & Emporium in Mansfield, Massachusetts. ‘‘I like to see our traditions continue. Any time we lose one, it’s a loss for all of us. And this is something that everybody’s had a million times.’’

Charles Krupa / AP, File

Necco’s court-appointed bankruptcy trustee, Harry Murphy, said the company’s suitors were mainly interested in its ‘‘sugar line’’ — its tubes of wafers, sheets of candy dots, and the conversation hearts popular on Valentine’s Day for phrases such as BE MINE.

The future of Necco’s other products — including the chocolate Sky Bar, the Clark Bar and peanut butter-flavored Mary Jane chews — remains unclear, he said. The company would continue to be run out of its longtime headquarters in Revere, just north of Boston.

Necco, which calls itself the oldest continuously operating candy company in the U.S., couldn’t keep pace with multinational competitors.

In March, it announced it would close its plant and lay off hundreds of workers if it couldn’t find a buyer. Last month, it filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, saying it owed creditors millions.

Complicating matters, the Food and Drug Administration warned Necco on May 16 that its inspectors found rodent excrement ‘‘too numerous to count’’ at its main plant.

Jonathan Wiggs / The Boston Globe, File

The warning that the company might go out of business triggered a run on Necco Wafers and other candies. A Florida woman even offered her 2003 Honda Accord for the entire wafer inventory held by Candystore.com, an online distributor. (The company brushed off what it dubbed ‘‘The Great Necco Wafer Panic’’ and turned down the offer.)

Necco traces its roots to 1847, and it’s an immigration success story. Oliver Chase, a young English newcomer, invented a lozenge cutter. Sales of his candy took off, and he and his brother, Silas, founded Chase and Co., which morphed into Necco.

Union soldiers fighting in the Civil War carried Necco Wafers, the company says. So did GIs during World War II; the War Department bought them by the caseload and sent them to Europe and the Pacific because they didn’t melt and seldom broke during shipping.

In 1913, the Arctic explorer Donald Baxter MacMillan handed them out to Eskimo children. In the 1930s, Adm. Richard Byrd included 2½ tons of wafers on a supply list for a two-year expedition in Antarctica.

And Roman Catholics joke that they’re the communion wafer of candy.

Critics insist they taste like antacid tablets, baby aspirin or chalk. But they have a certain old-school charm: pale, dusty candy discs packaged like a roll of coins and wrapped in wax paper.

‘‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything as beautiful as the production of the Necco Wafer,’’ said Steve Almond, author of ‘‘Candyfreak,’’ a best-selling book about America’s confectionery industry.

‘‘The street smelled like wafers when they were making them. The floors were a mosaic of broken wafers — all eight of those different colors. It was a beautiful thing.’’

Sweethearts, too, have become sentimental favorites since they began being stamped with pithy phrases in 1902. LOVE YOU, OOH LA LA and MARRY ME are classics, and over the decades, they’ve been joined by DIG ME, FAX ME and, more recently, TWEET ME, TEXT ME and BFF.

The 19th-century company has kept pace in other ways: In 2016, a Sweethearts online ad featured two gay men in their 80s, and Clark bars have made cameos in at least three episodes of ‘‘Seinfeld.’’

Even so, Almond takes a fatalistic view of Necco’s future.

‘‘The story of Necco is in some ways the story of American commerce and American culture,’’ he said. ‘‘As sentimental as we might be about Necco Wafers, unless tons of people buy them, they’re going to struggle. This is how capitalism works.’’

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress delivered a victory to President Donald Trump by expanding private care for veterans as an alternative to the troubled Veterans Affairs health system.

The Senate cleared the bill on a 92-5 vote on Wednesday, also averting a disastrous shutdown of its Choice private-sector program. The program is slated to run out of money as early as next week, causing disruptions in care.

The sweeping measure would allow veterans to see private doctors when they do not receive the treatment they expected, with the approval of a Department of Veterans Affairs health provider. Veterans could access private care when they have endured lengthy wait times or VA medical centers do not offer the services they need.

The bill’s approval comes despite concerns from some Democrats that the effort would prove costly and be used too broadly by veterans in search of top-notch care even when the VA is able to provide treatment deemed sufficient for their needs.

The VA secretary will have wide leeway in implementing the legislation, which leaves it up to VA to determine what is “quality” care. Trump said last week he will nominate acting VA secretary Robert Wilkie to permanently lead the government’s second largest department serving 9 million veterans. Democrats say they intend to question Wilkie on whether he plans to “privatize” or degrade the VA health system, an issue that former VA Secretary David Shulkin says led to his firing in March.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, the Republican chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, lauded the bill as a big step toward providing veterans with “more choice and fewer barriers to care.”

Sen. Jon Tester, the top Democrat on the veterans panel, said the plan will also boost VA health care by paying off higher amounts of student loan debt for doctors who agree to work in high-need VA positions, requiring improvement plans in communities with few hospitals and creating a pilot program that would send medical personnel to help fill shortages.

“The best defense against any effort to privatize the VA or send veterans in a wholesale fashion to the private sector is to make sure the VA is living up to its promise,” he said.

Trump has made clear he will sign the bill if it reaches his desk before Memorial Day. The House passed it on a 347-70 vote last week.

The Senate supported the bill that would create a presidentially-appointed commission to review the closure of underperforming VA facilities. House Democrats had sought restrictions on the commission but were rebuffed by House Republicans and the White House.

It would also expand a VA caregivers program to cover families of veterans of all eras, not just the families of veterans who were seriously injured in the line of duty since Sept. 11, 2001.

The $51 billion bill provides for a newly combined “community care” program that includes Choice and other VA programs of outside care. It could face escalating costs due to growing demand from veterans seeking the convenience of seeing private physicians. Some House Democrats warn the VA won’t be able to handle a growing price tag, putting the VA at risk of unexpected budget shortfalls next year.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a former chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, criticized the bill as moving the VA “too far in the direction of privatization.” He noted that it would not provide any money to fill more than 30,000 positions at the VA that the Trump administration has left vacant.

“My fear is that this bill will open the door to the draining, year after year, of much needed resources from the VA,” he said.

The measure builds on legislation passed in 2014 in response to a wait-time scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, where some veterans died while waiting months for appointments.

It aims to steer more patients to the private sector to relieve pressure at VA hospitals, thus improving veterans care at VA facilities and with private providers alike. Patients could also access private walk-in clinics, such as MinuteClinics, to treat minor illnesses or injury if they used VA health care in the last two years.

The legislation would loosen Choice’s restrictions that limit outside care only when a veteran must wait 30 days for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a VA facility. Currently, more than 30 percent of VA appointments are in the private sector.

A broad array of veterans’ groups supported the bill. The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans group, says the plan will “strengthen veterans’ health care for future generations while ensuring that veterans’ caregivers of all generations get the support they deserve.”

The conservative Concerned Veterans for America, a long-time advocate of expanding private care for veterans, called the measure a “very big deal.” Still, executive director Dan Caldwell stresses the “top priority for the VA secretary is ensuring it will be implemented properly.”

___

Follow Hope Yen on Twitter at //twitter.com/hopeyen1

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Wearing sunscreen is important on a daily basis, but it is even more imperative that you apply (and reapply!) sunscreen while swimming or playing sports outdoors.

As a dermatologist, I often get asked questions like, “Which sunscreen is the best for outdoor activities and swimming?” While there is no single best answer to this question, there are a few guidelines you can follow when choosing a sunscreen for outdoor fun this summer.

Choose Physical Sunscreen When Possible

In previous columns, I have touched on the differences between physical and chemical sunscreens, as well as the potential for allergic reactions and absorption into the bloodstream with chemical SPFs. Try to choose a physical sunscreen that contains zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide, rather than chemical ingredients like oxybenzone and octyl methoxycinnamate.

Dr. Leslie Baumann.jpg

Oxybenzone has been found to be bad for coral and was recently banned in Hawaii. Many people have an allergy to octyl methoxycinnamate. Another popular chemical sunscreen, avobenzone, is known to cause eye irritation and burning.

Instead of a chemical sunscreen, look for a physical sunscreen such as EltaMD Physical SPF, PCA Weightless Protection Broad Spectrum SPF, Obagi Sunshield, or Neutrogena Sheer Zinc that use zinc as the sun protection ingredient. If you play golf, tennis or other sports where you don’t want your hands to become greasy and slippery from reapplying your sunscreen, use a spray SPF. However, you might want to have a lotion or stick on hand for your face, since a spray can get in your eyes.

If you sweat a lot or plan to be in the water, choose a “water-resistant” sunscreen. It will say “water-resistant 40 minutes” or “water-resistant 80 minutes” on the bottle. This means that it has been tested according to FDA standards and shown to keep your skin protected for either 40 or 80 minutes of swimming or excessive sweating. You still need to reapply water-resistant sunscreens after getting in the water. It is better to pat the skin dry than rub with a towel because rubbing removes most of the sunscreen from the skin.

Try an Antioxidant Supplement

If you spend a lot of time outdoors, especially in sunny summer months, you can take an antioxidant supplement like Heliocare for added UV protection. It contains a fern extract called polypodium leucotomos, which has been shown to reduce skin inflammation and redness caused by sun exposure. However, you still need to apply SPF to your skin, even if you add an antioxidant supplement to your diet.

Don’t Forget Your Lips

Unlike the rest of your skin, your lips do not produce sebum (oil), which naturally contains vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant. Therefore, your lips need all the sun protection they can get, so don’t forget to apply a lip balm that contains SPF. Again, it is best to choose a physical SPF for your lips, because we end up ingesting as much as 70 percent of the products we put on our lips, especially when swimming or sweating from sports. I love the lip sunscreens by Fresh, Coola, Burt’s Bees and Paula’s Choice.

Bottom line

There is no single best sunscreen for water sports and outdoor activities. However, it is important to choose your sunscreen based on what you’ll be doing that day. For example, you wouldn’t necessarily use the same 80-minute water-resistant sunscreen with a high SPF for daily use when you don’t plan to be outside for more than 30 minutes. In the same regard, you shouldn’t use your daily SPF15 when you plan to be out on the golf course for 18 holes.

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Is peanut butter healthy? Nutrition experts have long debated the question, given peanut butter’s high fat content. But when its full nutritional profile is considered, to many, the answer is yes.

“It really is a healthy food,” says registered dietitian Lisa Sasson, a clinical professor in the department of nutrition and food studies at New York University. “There are so many reasons to keep it in your pantry or bring it to work, if you like the taste.”

One major reason is that peanut butter has “a great nutritional package” with protein, fiber and many minerals and vitamins, says Dr. Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Two tablespoons have about 7 grams of protein, 16 grams of fat and 2 grams of fiber. Thanks to these three components, “it’s very satisfying,” says Sasson.

Here’s what else you should know about peanut butter.

Is peanut butter a ‘good’ fat?

Peanut butter’s high fat content is what gave the spread a reputation for being unhealthy, says Willett. But researchers and experts now distinguish between different types of fats, and peanut butter is a prime example of a “mostly healthy unsaturated fat,” Willett explains. Eating more of this kind of fat “will reduce blood cholesterol and risk of heart disease,” he says,especially if this replaces butter or processed meats.”

If you don’t like the taste of peanuts (or if you’re allergic to them), other nut and seed butters abound, from almond butter to cashew to sunflower seed butters. “I put them all in the healthy category,” says Willett.

What’s the healthiest kind of peanut butter to buy?

Not all peanut butters are equally good for you. The healthiest kinds contain just one or two ingredients: peanuts and salt (but not too much). Peanut butter is often a sneaky source of added sugar, so make sure there’s none listed in the ingredients. And scan the nutrition labels and avoid peanut butters that have hydrogenated oils, which are unhealthy fats that are added to keep peanut butter from separating or going bad quickly, Sasson says.

And skip jars labeled “low fat,” Sasson says; these are misleading, since they often contain “the same amount of calories and more added sugar.” While natural peanut butters may require a little stirring without the added emulsifiers and may have a bit of a shorter shelf life than versions with hydrogenated oil, keep them in a cool, dark cabinet or the refrigerator to make them last longer, Sasson says.

How much peanut butter should you eat?

A standard serving of peanut butter is just two tablespoons, so you’ll need to exercise portion control. Two tablespoons of peanut butter have about 200 calories, so it’s best to stick to a two-tablespoon portion size for a meal like a peanut butter sandwich, and a few teaspoons to a tablespoon for a snack, says Sasson.

What’s the best way to eat peanut butter?

“Very few foods are so versatile,” says Sasson: put peanut butter on apples, crackers, in baked goods, in a sandwich, or use it as a dip for bananas or other fruits. Sasson says she prefers peanut butter simply spread on whole grain toast or whole wheat cracker, while Willett’s favorite way to enjoy it is with carrot sticks as a dip or in a “flavorful and nutritious” West African peanut soup.

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An NHL prospect has revealed that a 25-inch tapeworm was hindering his performance on the ice during the winter, and detailed how he discovered the parasite.

Carson Meyer, a Columbus Blue Jackets prospect who played for Miami University last season, told The Athletic he was suffering from loss of appetite, weight loss and lack of energy. He said it wasn’t until he went to the bathroom in February that he discovered what was plaguing him.

“I was freaking out. Absolutely freaking out.”

– Carson Meyer

Meyer told the news outlet the tapeworm and all of its parts came out of him. He said it looked orange.

“I Face-timed my mom and was like, ‘What the hell is this thing?’” Meyer said. “I was freaking out. Absolutely freaking out.”

Carson’s mother, Holly, told The Athletic she had never been so horrified.

RARE BAT VIRUS KILLS AT LEAST 10 IN INDIA

“I was trying to be calm,” she said. “He showed me everything and I remember saying, you have to get that to the trainer and figure out what it is so they can get you fixed.”

Doctors believe the parasite was diphyllobothrium latum, which comes from eating undercooked fish. Meyer said he has since lost his appetite for fish. 

BABY DIAGNOSED WITH ‘MERMAID SYNDROME’ DIES 15 MINUTES AFTER BIRTH

Meyer, who hopes to transfer from Miami to Ohio State, might be forced to blame the school for the parasite if the NCAA keeps him off the ice for the 2018-19 season over its transfer rules.

The Blue Jackets drafted Meyer in the sixth round of the 2017 NHL Draft.

Ryan Gaydos is an editor for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @RyanGaydos.



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BEIJING (AP) – A U.S. government employee in southern China reported abnormal sensations of sound and pressure, the State Department said Wednesday, recalling similar experiences among American diplomats in Cuba who later fell ill.

In an emailed notice to American citizens in China, the department said it wasn’t currently known what caused the symptoms in the city of Guangzhou, where an American consulate is located.

A U.S. government employee in China recently reported subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure,” the notice said. “The U.S. government is taking these reports seriously and has informed its official staff in China of this event.”

The department said it wasn’t aware of any similar situations in China, either within the diplomatic community or among others. It didn’t further identify the person with the symptoms or say when they had been detected.

China’s foreign ministry and National Health Commission did not immediately respond to faxed questions about the report.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking in Washington to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the medical indications of the incident in Guangzhou “are very similar and entirely consistent with the medical indications of the Americans working in Havana.”

He said a medical team was being sent to Guangzhou and “we are working to figure out what took place both in Havana and Guangzhou.”

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. Embassy learned on Friday that the Guangzhou employee had shown clinical findings during medical testing similar to patients with mild traumatic brain injury, known commonly as a concussion. That is the same clinical finding that doctors treating the Cuba patients at the University of Philadelphia have found in those patients.

The Guangzhou worker started experiencing “a variety of symptoms” starting in late 2017, Nauert said, adding that the symptoms continued through April. The worker was sent to the U.S. for additional testing.

On Monday, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and all five of the U.S. consulates in China held town hall meetings so that diplomats and embassy workers could ask questions or voice concerns. Ambassador Terry Branstad led the session in Beijing.

Despite hundreds of billions of dollars in annual trade between them, China and the U.S. are considered strategic rivals for influence in Asia. Tensions in the relationship frequently flare over accusations of cheating at trade, stealing of secrets, human rights and arms sales to Taiwan, a U.S. partner that China claims as its own territory.

In Cuba, the U.S. reported that some of its personnel and family members experienced a range of ailments, often after hearing an unusual sound. For most, the symptoms occurred around May 2017.

The still-unexplained incidents sparked a rift in U.S.-Cuban relations, while investigators have chased theories including a sonic attack, electromagnetic weapon or a flawed spying device.

Pompeo said Wednesday that he expects the results of an independent investigation into the Cuban incidents by the middle of next week.

Last October, the State Department ordered non-essential embassy personnel and the families of all staff to leave Havana, arguing the U.S. could not protect them from unexplained illnesses that have harmed at least 24 Americans.

Symptoms, sounds and sensations reportedly varied dramatically from person to person. Some have permanent hearing loss or concussions, while others suffered nausea, headaches and ear-ringing. Some are struggling with concentration or common word recall, The Associated Press has reported.

Some felt vibrations or heard loud sounds mysteriously audible in only parts of rooms, and others heard nothing.

___

Associated Press writers Matthew Lee and Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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