The Day of New London, Jan. 8, 2015
While we recently leveled criticism at U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal for his tendency to shoot from the lip and not let facts get in his way, his announcement this week that he is reintroducing a bill intended to reduce suicides among military veterans deserves a big thumbs up.
Veterans are committing suicide at a rate of 22 per day. In the words of the senator, this is a "crisis that cries out for immediate action." We agree with him as well that "combatting this tragedy must be a national priority."
The bill contains some practical measures. It would require the Pentagon and Veteran Affairs Department to submit to independent review their suicide-prevention programs and mandate the creation and maintenance of a website providing easy access to information about available mental health services. The number of psychiatrists available at VA clinics and hospitals would increase.
The legislation enjoys bipartisan support, including the backing of Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
The Blumenthal bill appeared headed for approval last year, having won passage in the U.S. House of Representatives, but Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn used a procedural maneuver to block it. At the time, the Republican senator said the Department of Veterans Affairs already had responsibility for addressing the suicide crisis. The solution, he argued, was to make the VA do its job, not create more programs at greater cost. Last year, the cost of implementing the bill was estimated at $22 million.
The point Sen. Coburn, a Republican, missed is that the VA programs alone are not enough. It will take more federal investment and a greater effort to assure the programs and services available are utilized and effective. This legislation seeks to do just that. It is why it enjoys broad support among veterans' organizations. With Sen. Coburn retired, Congress should pass this bill in bipartisan fashion.
Called the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, it is named in honor of Clay Hunt, a Marine veteran awarded the Purple Heart after suffering wounds while stationed in Iraq and who was later redeployed to Afghanistan. Honorably discharged in 2009, he suffered from PTSD and committed suicide in March 2011, at age 28.
The Kennebec Journal of Augusta (Maine), Jan. 6, 2015
Unmanned aircraft, once reserved for clandestine military operations, are now everywhere. These drones, fixed with high-definition cameras, are used to record video, survey crops and wind farms, herd livestock and conduct search-and-rescue operations. Someday, drones could be used to deliver goods, everything from pizza and beer to socks and shoes.
But while the technology steadily improves, and falls in price, regulation in the United States lags behind. The Federal Aviation Administration has missed several deadlines for proposing new rules on drones, and now those rules are not likely to be finalized until "2017 or later," according to the Government Accountability Office.
That is much too long a delay for devices that are fast becoming common despite the restrictions now in place, and for which a huge international market exists that is quickly leaving U.S. companies behind.
For now, the commercial use of drones is prohibited by FAA policy, except in the extremely rare cases the FAA has allowed them to be used in filmmaking. Hobbyists who use drones for their own enjoyment are governed by the same regulations that cover model airplanes, which must be kept under 400 feet in altitude, away from aircraft and airports, and within sight of the user.
That hasn't stopped the use of drones, however; it's just pushed it under the radar, so to speak.
The FAA, which is busy regulating manned aircraft, has little time and few resources for tracking commercial use of drones. In fact, in the 13 months preceding July 2013, the FAA conducted just 17 enforcement actions on drone operators and issued just one fine. The operators, even those working unlicensed on large Hollywood productions, have little worry of getting caught.
Hobbyists have even less oversight, despite a few high-profile incidents in which aircraft have been buzzed and people hurt by wayward drones.
What the FAA's commercial ban has done is limit the participation by U.S. companies in what is sure to be a multibillion-dollar industry.
The applications for unmanned aircraft are nearly endless. Amazon and Google want to use drones to deliver consumer goods. Domino's wants to use them to deliver pizza. One German company uses drones to produce 3D models of roads and buildings for engineering purposes, doing in three 10-minute flights what once took two days to make an inferior model.
According to reports, U.S.-based companies, hindered by the regulations that restrict test flights and exporting, are moving operations abroad. The ones staying here are facing funding issues and losing ground quickly to competitors in Europe and China.
U.S. companies will continue to lose ground, and the illicit use of drones will continue to rise, until the FAA sets rules that make sense.
There is, for instance, no reason that commercial users should be limited so much more than hobbyists. The issue is safety, not use, and drone weight limits, strict no-fly areas and hefty fines should keep fliers in line.
Also, surveillance laws already in place may already cover privacy concerns, and if they don't, lawmakers should address the laws' shortcomings.
These rules should be put in place soon, not two years from now. Drones, once prohibitively expensive, are now available for less than a wide-screen TV, and their use will only grow. The FAA — and if not, Congress — needs to get ahead of that growth, and let U.S. companies play a more active role in it.