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Centralized location for East Texas veterans expected by November

Nine organizations that serve veterans have committed to moving into a proposed veterans campus in Tyler near the end of the calendar year.

Jim Snow, a board member for the East Texas Veterans Community Council, said the organization plans to move into a shared office building at the front of 3212 Chandler Highway by Nov. 11.

The scheduled move-in is part of a long-term plan by the nonprofit East Texas Veterans Community Council to provide a centralized location in Tyler for the region's veterans services called CampV. The campus is near Jones Elementary School.

The confirmed service providers so far are the Andrews Center, the Green Zone, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Benefits Office, the Texas Veterans Commission, the Texas Workforce Commission, Texas Heroes Animal Assisted Therapies Ranch, Dog University, the National Alliance of Mental Illness and PTSD USA.

Community leaders such as Mayor Martin Heines, Councilman Ed Moore, school board president Fritz Hager and Tyler Economic Development Council CEO Tom Mullins put their support behind the project at a news conference on Wednesday.

"We understand that the suicide rate is unacceptable," Susan Campbell, the

chairwoman of the board of directors of the East Texas Veterans Community Council, told the chairwoman of the board of directors of the East Texas Veterans Community Council crowd. "I lost two friends to suicide, so my heart is sad because of that, and I want to make a difference."

Campbell said she and Snow have been working on the project since 2017, and reached out to subject matter experts to find out what veterans need. Other needs they identified include listening to women veterans and improving the transition from military to civilian life.

Hager, a veteran of Operation Desert Storm, said he sees how post-traumatic stress disorder has impacted veterans when he counsels them as a pastor. He said many veterans throughout history, including those with PTSD, are paying a disproportionate price for war.

"I fought in a war so brief that it hardly qualifies as a war when you take a historical perspective on it," he said. "Desert Storm was a disproportionate and decisive victory, and as a veteran of Desert Storm, I benefited from what I'll call kind of the compensation for the shameful treatment that the Vietnam veterans had received."

Snow said there are more than 16,000 veterans in Smith County, and more than 65,000 in the 14-county area of Anderson, Camp, Cherokee, Gregg, Harrison, Henderson, Marion, Panola, Rains, Rusk, Smith, Upshur, Van Zandt and Wood that they plan to serve.

"Whenever they say the doors are open, we're going to move in," said Waymon Stewart, the CEO of the Andrews Center. He said his organization would offer drop-in services through the Green Zone program, and counseling services through a program it does with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

The Green Zone is a peer networking program offered through the Andrews Center that allows veterans and their families to gather to help one another, according to its website. The program is serving the counties of Smith, Van Zandt, Wood, Henderson and Rains.

The Smith County Veterans Service Office has been asked to rent space on the new veterans campus, but the Smith County Commissioners Court has not yet approved that move. The Canton-based company Honored Warriors Ranch also has been invited to the campus.

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Cornyn in Tyler for roundtable discussion on drug problem


U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said the biggest challenge in America is the demand for opioids. He stressed the urgent need to stanch the demand and provide support for officials and specialty courts that provide supervision to help people break the habit.

"As long as people keep buying these drugs the cartels will continue to get rich," Cornyn, R-Texas, said Wednesday. "They don't care about people. It's part of a larger problem, but anything we can do with the demand side will strike a blow."

Cornyn was in Tyler for a roundtable discussion at the University of Texas at Tyler's Fisch College of Pharmacy, where he heard from local leaders about the work being done in East Texas to combat the opioid addiction, misuse and overdose problems plaguing the area and the country.

Cornyn said the opioid epidemic is a global phenomenon.

"We have to look at all sources whether it's across the border, through the mail through FedEx or DHL or some other source," Cornyn said.

Smith County District Attorney Jacob Putman moderated the discussion with law enforcement officials, medical professionals and drug treatment experts.

Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said he's convinced opioid abuse is not a choice, but an illness. Smith said he would like to see a program like Hope Not Handcuffs, something he said he became familiar with through a woman in Detroit.

Smith said the program allows people to self-identify as having a drug problem at a police station or a sheriff's office.

"Volunteers ... will get them into a treatment program," Smith said. "It's something we need to do. We need to have another outlet to get to those people before they get to the DA, the police department or law enforcement, which will help with the demand for opioids."

Dr. Emmanuel "Manny" Elueze, vice president of medical education and professional development at UT Health Northeast, said a local committee called East Texas Opioid and Substance Abuse Coalition has come up with three ways to combat the issues in the area.

Elueze said the committee wants to increase awareness and education to combat the misinformation about the drugs and to reduce misuse and overdose by educating physicians and pharmacists about how the drugs are prescribed.

"We want resources to help us treat in a physician's office," Elueze said.

Cornyn praised Smith and Elueze's efforts and motivation about their work.

Linda Oyer, chief executive officer of East Texas Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, said funding is needed to expand recovery services, medication and therapy for those who have gone through treatment.

She also told Cornyn about the challenges the area faces with the lack of state-funded bed space in residential treatment programs. She said there are 10.

Dr. Lane Brunner, dean of UT Tyler's Fisch College of Pharmacy, told the senator about the college's role in training new pharmacists and how pharmacists are on the front lines of opioid issues."They are the experts in medication in the community," Brunner said. "They are in every community, every hospital and on every corner. That means we have the initial touch with people who have difficulty with opioids."

Brunner said the college spends a lot of time teaching students about opioid addiction including pharmacology, the therapeutic use of opioids and what to do when therapy stops so patients don't go through withdrawals.

"When a prescription comes to the pharmacy, it's not about dispensing it," Brunner said. "It's about looking at the total patient to determine if it's the right drug and the right dose for that patient for the right period of time."

Brunner said it's a challenge to get people to spend more time talking with a pharmacist."It's one of the ways we find out if a patient has fears about taking a particular medication," Brunner said.

Ngoc Nguyen, 2019 valedictorian of the UT Tyler's Fisch College of Pharmacy, told Cornyn she is making it her mission to ensure that every patient understands their disease and understands what medications they are taking, especially when it comes to opioids.

Cornyn said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 70,000 people died from overdoses (in 2017) and there are synthetic opioids like fentanyl that are more deadly.

He stressed the need for law enforcement to intervene if physicians are overprescribing prescriptions.

Cornyn said the Support for Patients and Communities Act, signed into law in October 2018, is working to enhance the ability to scan boxes going through the U.S. Postal Service.

The law, which includes language authored by Cornyn, reauthorized critical programs to reduce demand for narcotics, provides tools to pharmacists, prescribers and law enforcement so they can better combat opioid addiction, and supports those recovering from substance use disorders.

Putman said he is grateful to see in the legislation that all the stakeholders have a part in fixing the problem.

Cornyn also stressed the need for physicians to prescribe non-steroidal medications for pain.

"You don't need a 10-pound hammer when a fly swatter will do the job," Cornyn said. "I think this has to do with educating physicians and I think this is where pharmacists play an important role. It's harder and harder to get focus on getting patients to interface with pharmacists. "

Cornyn said patients should be willing to talk to pharmacists and ask questions about their prescriptions.

He said drug courts also have an important role to play. Through them, judges and probation officers have to monitor an individual's compliance with a recovery regimen.

Cornyn also toured the Fisch College of Pharmacy while he was on the campus.

Others who attended the roundtable were:

• 321st District Court Judge Robert Wilson

• Tyler Police Chief Jimmy Toler

• Dr. Brittany Parmentier, clinical assistant professor at UT Tyler's Fisch College of Pharmacy

• Dr. Yagnesh Desai, medical director at UT East Texas Emergency Medical System

• President/CEO of Northeast Texas Public Health District Dr. George Roberts

• Abigail Riley, NETX opioid nurse coordinator at Christus Trinity Mother Frances Hospital

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Mueller: Charging Trump 'not an option'

WASHINGTON — Special counsel Robert Mueller said Wednesday that charging President Donald Trump with a crime was "not an option" because of federal rules, but he used his first public remarks on the Russia investigation to emphasize that he did not exonerate the president.

"If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so," Mueller declared.

The special counsel's remarks stood as a pointed rebuttal to Trump's repeated claims that he was cleared and that the two-year inquiry was merely a "witch hunt." They also marked a counter to criticism, including by Attorney General William Barr, that Mueller should have reached a determination on whether the president illegally tried to obstruct the probe by taking actions such as firing his FBI director.

Mueller made clear that his team never considered indicting Trump because the Justice Department prohibits the prosecution of a sitting president.

"Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider," Mueller said during a televised statement . He said he believed such an action would be unconstitutional.

Mueller did not use the word 'impeachment," but said it was the job of Congress — not the criminal justice system — to hold the president accountable for any wrongdoing.

The special counsel's statement largely echoed the central points of his lengthy report, which was released last month with some redactions. But his remarks, just under 10 minutes long and delivered from a Justice Department podium, were extraordinary given that he had never before discussed or characterized his findings and had stayed mute during two years of feverish public speculation.

Mueller, a former FBI director, said Wednesday that his work was complete and he was resigning to return to private life. Under pressure to testify before Congress, Mueller did not rule it out. But he seemed to warn lawmakers that they would not be pulling more detail out of him. His report is his testimony, he said.

"So beyond what I have said here today and what is contained in our written work," Mueller said, "I do not believe it is appropriate for me to speak further about the investigation or to comment on the actions of the Justice Department or Congress."

His remarks underscored the unsettled resolution, and revelations of behind-the-scenes discontent, that accompanied the end of his investigation. His refusal to reach a conclusion on criminal obstruction opened the door for Barr to clear the president, who in turn has cited the attorney

general's finding as proof of his innocence. Mueller has privately vented to Barr about the attorney general's handling of the report, while Barr has publicly said he was taken aback by the special counsel's decision to neither exonerate nor incriminate the president.

Trump, given notice Tuesday evening that Mueller would speak the next morning, watched on television. For weeks, he had been nervous about the possibility about the special counsel testifying before Congress, worried about the visual power of such a public appearance.

Shortly after Mueller concluded, the president, who has repeatedly and falsely claimed that the report cleared him of obstruction of justice, tweeted a subdued yet still somewhat inaccurate reaction: "Nothing changes from the Mueller Report. There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed! Thank you"

While claiming victory, the tone of the president's tweet was a far cry from the refrain of "total exoneration" that has dominated his declarations.

Mueller's comments, one month after the public release of his report on Russian efforts to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton, appeared intended to both justify the legitimacy of his investigation against complaints by the president and to explain his decision to not reach a conclusion on whether Trump had obstructed justice in the probe.

He described wide-ranging and criminal Russian efforts to interfere in the election, including by hacking and spreading disinformation — interference that Trump has said Putin rejected to his face in an "extremely strong and powerful" denial. And Mueller called the question of later obstruction by Trump and his campaign a matter of "paramount importance."

The special counsel said the absence of a conclusion on obstruction should not be mistaken for exoneration.

A long-standing Justice Department legal opinion "says the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing," Mueller said. That would shift the next move, if any, to Congress, and the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which would investigate further or begin any impeachment effort, commented quickly.

New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler said it falls to Congress to respond to the "crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump — and we will do so." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has so far discouraged members of her caucus from demanding impeachment, believing it would only help Trump win re-election and arguing that Democrats need to follow a methodical, step by step approach to investigating the president. But she hasn't ruled it out.

On the Republican side, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that Mueller "has decided to move on and let the report speak for itself. Congress should follow his lead."

Trump has blocked House committees' subpoenas and other efforts to dig into the Trump-Russia issue, insisting Mueller's report has settled everything.

The report found no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to tip the outcome of the 2016 presidential election in Trump's favor. But it also did not reach a conclusion on whether the president had obstructed justice.

Barr has said he was surprised Mueller did not reach a conclusion, though Mueller in his report and again in his statement Wednesday said he had no choice. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein then stepped into the void, deciding on their own that the evidence was not sufficient to support a criminal charge.

"Under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office," Mueller said. "That is unconstitutional. Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view that, too, is prohibited."

Barr, in Alaska for work and briefed ahead of time on Mueller's statement, did not answer a question about the Mueller probe Wednesday at the end of a roundtable discussion with Alaska native leaders. He has said that he asked Mueller during a March conversation if he would have recommended charging Trump "but for" the Office of Legal Counsel opinion, and that Mueller said "no."

Mueller, for his part, earlier complained privately to Barr that he believed a four-page letter from the attorney general summarizing the report's main conclusions did not adequately represent his findings. Barr has said he considered Mueller's criticism to be a bit "snitty."