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'A somber experience' (copy)

Thousands of Hoosiers turned out Sunday to pay their respects as a procession carried the body of a U.S. Marine, killed in Afghanistan, through Miami County and back to his hometown of Logansport.

Onlookers lined both sides of State Road 218 from Grissom Air Reserve Base to the Cass County line and beyond as the hearse carrying Marine Cpl. Humberto Sanchez made its way to a funeral home in preparation for the Tuesday funeral.

“This reminds me of the sacrifice any of us could be called upon to make,” Senior Master Sgt. Zach Chapin, 434th Air Refueling Wing superintendent of inspections at Grissom, said in a Sunday news release from the base.

That morning the base had entered quiet hours as the body of the Marine was flown on to the base for what the military calls a “dignified transfer” of Sanchez’s casket from the plane to the waiting hearse.

A procession led by Indiana State Police then made its way from the base to Logansport.

“It’s a somber experience,” Tech. Sgt. Josh Weaver, of Grissom public affairs said in the release. “We wanted to put the family first, and pay our respects to the sacrifice that Corporal Sanchez made.”

Onlookers remained quiet, many of them holding American flags, along the highway as the hearse passed into Cass County just after 11 a.m.

Jets flew overhead as the procession approached downtown Logansport where the hearse carrying Sanchez’s body stopped briefly under a garrison flag.

The procession included vehicles carrying Sanchez’s family, followed by thousands of motorcycles.

Sanchez, 22, was among 13 U.S. military members killed in the suicide bombing at Afghanistan’s Kabul airport in late August.

Eleven Marines, one Navy sailor and one Army soldier were among the dead, while 18 other U.S. service members were wounded in the bombing, which also claimed the lives of more than 160 Afghans. Officials have blamed the bombing on Afghanistan’s offshoot of the Islamic State group.

The U.S. military said it was the most lethal day for American forces in Afghanistan since 2011.

Sanchez’s funeral was planned for Tuesday at LifeGate Church in Logansport with the burial to follow at Mount Hope Cemetery.

United Way supports local robotics teams

Over the past few weeks, United Way of Grant County has been presenting each of the five school corporations with a donation to help fund their robotics and STEM programs.

Each corporation received a $3,000 donation from the UnitedIN20 grant program of Indiana United Way.

“We were really excited to help all of our school systems with a little investment for this programming,” Hazelwood said. “It’s a significant investment but at the same time it’ll go very quickly.”

Hazelwood said she wrote the grant in a way that allows the programs to use the funds however they see fit. They could potentially use the money towards transportation, entrance fees, t-shirts, new equipment, snacks and more.

“It oddly worked out on a year where schools are really stressing, obviously under the pressure of COVID and the pandemic, and going into another school year with more strain on the staff,” Hazelwood said. “Here’s some money to keep this great program going on a year where they are probably looking at what they can cut back on.”

Members of the Mississinewa robotics teams expressed their appreciation for the support.

“I really want to be an engineer when I grow up,” said sixth grader Jackson Schurger. “People think when they hear robotics it’s just we build robots and stuff, but there’s a lot more to it. We have to build it. We have to drive it and program it and modify it. It’s fun.”

Schurger said he has used the skills he’s gained in robotics to help fix a golf cart engine and a lawn mower.

Rozilyn Couse, an eighth grader and coach-in-training, said robotics has taught her about creative problem solving and teamwork.

“I like doing hands on activities and going to competitions,” Couse said. “I think we’re a good team and I’ve made a lot of friends in robotics.”

Freshman Lakota Taylor and Sophomore Cadance Ormsby both said they hope their work in robotics gains them a scholarship someday, so they can go to college.

“It’s a big passion of mine and I want to be a mechanical engineer,” Taylor said. “This will help take me a long way.”

Ormsby said he wishes more people were interested in robotics.

Oak Hill superintendent Chad Cripe said the funds will go towards “anything and everything.”

“We love robotics,” Cripe said. “(The grant) is just one more example of the community pulling together. I’m very thankful to have these fund to help our robotics club grow and be successful.”

Brenda McVicker, Curriculum Director at Eastbrook Community Schools, said they plan to use the funds to purchase necessary equipment to start new robotics teams at both elementary schools. Teachers were trained over the summer and will likely begin the robotics programs this year.

“We’re just very thankful and are looking forward to the opportunity to be able to grow this program,” McVicker said.

Madison-Grant superintendent Scott Deets said the funds will take some pressure off the robotics teams to fundraise for competitions and other necessities like uniforms.

DNR lifts bird feeder, birdbath moratorium statewide

Avian enthusiasts may resume using bird feeders and birdbaths statewide after the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) completely lifted their moratorium Friday.

DNR had recommended a statewide moratorium on bird feeding earlier this summer to slow the spread of a still-undetermined illness that is killing birds across the state. Biologists identified more than 750 possible cases in 76 counties that involved a specific set of clinical signs, including crusty eyes, eye discharge and neurological issues, said DNR director of communications James Brindle.

In August, the DNR cautioned residents of Allen, Carroll, Clark, Floyd, Hamilton, Hancock, Hendricks, Johnson, Lake, Marion, Monroe, Morgan, Porter, St. Joseph, Tippecanoe and Whitley counties to continue the moratorium on bird feeders and birdbaths.

DNR state ornithologist Allisyn-Marie Gillet said these counties were singled out because other counties have had no cases in more recent weeks, while these counties are seeing a few cases in specific areas in their counties over time.

“The actions of many Hoosiers significantly helped the DNR’s work related to the disease outbreak. By taking down their feeders and submitting more than 4,300 reports, residents enabled DNR staff to track the disease, detect regional differences, and provide updated recommendations for feeding birds. The DNR appreciates the efforts and actions of Hoosiers statewide,” said Brindle.

Brindle said residents throughout Indiana may again put out their feeders “if they are comfortable doing so and are not observing sick or dead birds in their yards.”

“DNR strongly encourages residents who do so to clean seed and suet feeders at least once every two weeks by scrubbing feeders with soap and water, followed by a short soak in a 10 percent bleach solution. Cleaning feeders help keep birds healthy and helps prevent the spread of disease. Feeders should be thoroughly rinsed and dried before being filled with birdseed. Hummingbird feeders should be cleaned at least once a week with a 10 percent bleach solution and rinsed thoroughly,” said Brindle.

Brindle said the USGS National Wildlife Health Center’s avian disease experts and other scientists are continuing their investigative work on the unidentified bird disease.

“Indiana DNR has provided samples to the laboratory to aid with its testing,” said Brindle.

Brindle said multiple bird species have been reported as affected, including American robin, blue jay, brown-headed cowbird, common grackle, European starling, various species of sparrows and finches, and northern cardinal.

Brindle said DNR staff collected samples and submitted them to the Indiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory earlier in the summer.

“DNR received final laboratory diagnostic results which ruled out common bird diseases like avian influenza and West Nile virus,” said Brindle. “The cause of this disease is unknown and it is possible it may never be determined. Wildlife disease events are often related to several interacting causes consisting of a pathogen, the environment and the health of the host.”

Brindle said all birds have tested negative for avian influenza, West Nile virus, and other flaviviruses, Salmonella and Chlamydia (bacterial pathogens), Newcastle disease virus and other paramyxoviruses, herpesviruses and poxviruses, and Trichomonas parasites.

“In early September, biologists determined bird deaths associated with the disease outbreak had significantly declined,” said Brindle.

Gillet said they have had no cases of this songbird disease affecting people.

“As we’ve tracked the disease over the past two months, we’ve seen that the disease only affects birds in a handful of specific areas rather than across the entire state and region and the quantity of affected birds is low,” said Gillet. “Tens of thousands of birds are not dying. Instead, only about 500 birds were detected with symptoms, which makes leads me to conjecture that only about a couple thousand were affected this year in Indiana, including the ones we did not find. This is compared to the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of songbirds that Indiana hosts in the state each year. Hence, we don’t expect this disease to negatively affect songbirds at the level of their populations like causing population-wide declines.”

Brindle said DNR biologists are still encouraging Hoosiers to continue reporting any sick or dead birds they find by visiting on.IN.gov/sickwildlife.

“Reports help DNR staff continue to track this outbreak and identify new disease events and re-occurrences,” said Brindle.

For more information, visit on.IN.gov/songbirddeaths.

Indiana Supreme Court establishes Eviction Task Force

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A nine-member task force created by the Indiana Supreme Court will help landlords and tenants resolve their disputes and access federal rental assistance resources.

The Indiana Eviction Task Force will review the state’s eviction process and make recommendations for implementing a pre-eviction diversion program, including ways to more quickly and effectively distribute federal emergency rental assistance funds to landlords and tenants.

Members of the task force, which include local judges and representatives from non-profits, will submit recommendations to the high court on how the program should work by Jan. 17.

“Our courts are both the front line in providing parties a fair chance to resolve their disputes and the last line of defense in getting resources ... to the people who need them,” Chief Justice Loretta H. Rush wrote in her Monday order. “And that money must move quickly.”

Since the federal COVID-19 eviction moratorium ended Aug. 26, Indiana has seen a surge of residential evictions.

An estimated 93,000 Indiana households are behind on rent and at risk of eviction, according to National Equity Atlas’ Rent Debt Dashboard. Eighty-three percent of those Hoosiers haven’t applied for assistance, however.

Since early September, Indiana’s eviction filings have risen 22 percent above the pre-pandemic average, according to state data. Statewide, over 22,000 eviction cases have been filed in civil courts this year.

State officials said local eviction diversion programs like this one are necessary to prevent secondary problems driven by evictions, including homelessness, criminal justice issues and child welfare matters.

Marion VA reduces urgent care clinic hours

Veterans will no longer be able to get 24/7 urgent care at the Marion Veterans Affairs (VA) campus starting Oct. 1, according to a recent announcement.

The office will begin operating seven days a week, including holidays, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. VA officials say the change in office hours will be permanent.

“Veterans enrolled in VA Healthcare and seen within the last 24 months are eligible to seek an urgent care provider in the VA’s contracted network of community providers,” Veterans Affairs Northern Indiana Health Systems (VAHNHCS) officials said in a statement to the Chronicle-Tribune. “Veterans can receive covered services without prior authorization from the VA.”

The VA Mission Act allows up to three free urgent care visits per year, according to VA reports, as long as eligibility requirements are met.

Those who are eligible include anyone who has received care in or through the VA within the last 24 months, and those veterans are allowed to receive urgent care at any in-network facility or retail clinic within the limitations outlined by the law.

Benefits for the VA Mission Act include diagnostic services (x-rays), a 14-day supply of prescription medication through a local non-VA in-network pharmacy, diagnostic lab testing and preventative vaccines provided for treatment or to mitigate complications from illness like tetanus vaccines, according to recent VA reports.

Officials say there will be no charge for filling a 14 days of less supply of medications at an in-network pharmacy. However, using an out of network pharmacy requires the veteran to pay for the prescription and file a reimbursement claim with the local VA.

Routine prescriptions greater than 14 days must be submitted to the VA to be filled, according to a VA press release regarding the topic.

Priority Group 1-5 can receive up to three visits with a zero dollar copay, with each additional visit requiring a $30 copay per visit. Priority Group 6 can receive up to three free visits, but subsequent visits will not require a $30 copay if the visit is related to combat experience, according to the release. Priority Group 7-8 will be charged a $30 copay per visit, officials say.

“When arriving at an in-network urgent care provider, Veterans must inform the provider they would like to use their VA urgent care benefit to receive care,” VA officials stated. “To check eligibility, Veterans can contact their local VA medical facility by phone or in person.”

If veterans need medical care for an emergency after 7 p.m., officials urge them to “go straight to Marion General Hospital or the nearest emergency room.”

Regarding emergency room visits, the VA says veterans have to call the after-hours triage number for assessment prior since there will need to be documentation in the record. The triage number is 800-360-8387 Ext. 75113.

For anyone experiencing a mental health crisis, company leaders say veterans can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 or go to the nearest emergency room.