- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:


Nov. 23

The News & Observer of Raleigh on the North Carolina crime lab:

Director John Byrd of the state crime lab is due credit for what he says are dramatic improvements in the turnaround time for processing cases, now reduced by an average of 150 days, to under a year. Byrd says the lab, which does DNA analysis and other work on evidence, is almost fully staffed.

The lab has come under serious fire since 2009, when testimony by one analyst at an innocence hearing spurred an independent review that came to the conclusion that analysts had frequently misstated or falsely reported on blood evidence over a 16-year period that ended in 2003. Obviously, that problem undermined the justice system.

Attorney Fred Whitehurst of Bethel, who criticized the lab work at the Federal Bureau of Investigation from his work there in the 1990s, is among those pleased by Byrd’s work. Whitehurst said the lab “should be used as a national model of how to get it right.”

This is all to the good, but other attorneys have a valid question as to whether the lab can be truly objective since it remains under the state Attorney General’s Office. One noted that prosecutors can access the lab’s results on its website, but the information is available to defense attorneys only by court order. Thus the process, not just the numbers cited by Byrd, is still problematic.

Byrd thinks the lab has been a scapegoat, and he’s due credit for what he’s done, a tough job to be sure. But there remains room for improvement in how the system works in order to ensure fairness for defendants.




Nov. 23

The Winston-Salem Journal on UNC system board salary increases:

We’re glad that the acting chairman of the UNC system board acknowledges error in his board’s approving salary increases for 12 chancellors in the system behind closed doors last month. Now the board of governors should walk the talk and immediately release minutes of that meeting.

Ironically, it was state legislative leaders, who often lack transparency in their dealings, who called the system board it appoints on the carpet last week for its secrecy.

“I think we made an error,” acting chairman W. Louis Bissette told the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations last week, the Journal’s John Hinton reported. “I apologize.”

“My bad” doesn’t get it. Release the minutes, now.

The question at hand was whether the board complied with the state’s open meetings law when it voted for the salary increases. We contend that the board was not in compliance. That law generally allows public bodies to discuss personnel matters behind closed doors, but requires votes in open session, the Journal and The News & Observer of Raleigh reported.

Board officials indicate they have to wait until their next meeting, on Dec. 10, to approve the minutes before releasing any parts of the salary discussions.

The wait is unacceptable, considering that the closed meeting in question was held last month and media outlets have been requesting the minutes for some time now. The board can and should find a way to release those minutes sooner. They pushed the bounds of the open meetings law at their leisure, and now they must make amends in a timely fashion.

All we know now is that the board voted, apparently by a show of hands, to authorize UNC system president Tom Ross to implement the raises. As far as we know, there was no roll call vote.

The chancellors receiving raises include Elwood Robinson of Winston-Salem State University, Lindsay Bierman of the UNC School of the Arts and Sheri Everts of Appalachian State University. Certainly, some, if not many, of the 12 chancellors in question deserved some salary increase. But the increases of 8- to 19 percent from public funds, in a time when the legislature and board are cutting back on the system in other ways, demanded a full public airing that was not given.

Amazingly, Bissette said that, “We’ve got a lot of important things to do on this board to have so much controversy over the question of whether or not we did something in closed session or open session.”

Apparently, he hasn’t dropped into any of the journalism classes at the system’s schools, especially at its flagship university in Chapel Hill.

State Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, rightly noted that the board’s vote on the pay raises should have been done in open session. “I believe in openness,” McKissick said. “I believe in transparency.”

So do we. The board must release those minutes now.




Nov. 24

The Daily Reflector of Greenville on providing therapy for veterans:

Congressman Walter B. Jones Jr. has been working, without success, to gain approval for military doctors to prescribe hyperbaric oxygen therapy for mild traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Although the Defense Department refutes claims of successful treatment, based on its own clinical trials, veterans who have received the therapy through a physician in Louisiana tell a different story.

Their stories should convince the Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense to give closer consideration to the value this therapy could have for treating veterans who suffer from combat injuries.

As reported in The Daily Reflector last week, The Defense Department and the VA have for about a decade resisted the efforts of medical researchers and some members of Congress who believe the benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is proven. The therapy replaces the air inside a chamber with pure oxygen under controlled pressure monitored by trained technicians under a doctor’s supervision.

Dr. Paul Harch, an emergency medicine physician and professor at Louisiana State University, is a major proponent of HBOT. He published research studies this year and in 2012 focused on low-pressure HBOT for blast-induced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Although HBOT is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and accepted by the military for use in wound care, decompression sickness and carbon monoxide poisoning, the military and VA have not approved its use for mild traumatic brain injury or PTSD.

Greenville resident and former Army Ranger James Reddick is among veterans who insist that HBOT has helped them recover from combat injuries more so than medications prescribed by VA doctors. He is among several veterans Congressman Jones has helped into a therapy program at LSU.

Jones twice has inserted legislation into the House Armed Services bill seeking to authorize military doctors to prescribe hyperbaric treatment. He said those measures have been removed from the bill by the Senate.

“We’re fighting like hell to get this treatment approved,” Jones said.

Harch believes the military’s non-support for HBOT for treating brain injuries and PTSD is rooted in fear of losing it for other uses, and the military’s heavy investment in pharmaceutical treatments.

With the support of a reputable research institution and members of Congress, HBOT should be headed for approval in these expanded treatment areas. If the therapy can provide a more favorable treatment option for combat wounded veterans suffering brain injuries or PTSD, it most definitely should be an option available to them.



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