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Local United Way loses its largest donor: Intel

As the season of giving comes to a close, one of the area’s dominant charities — United Way of the Columbia-Willamette — is making do without its dominant donor — Intel and its thousands of local employees and retirees.

In September, Intel notified the local United Way it was terminating its fall workplace-giving campaign, says Keith Thomajan, the local United Way president and CEO.

That left a huge hole in local United Way funding. Intel, its staff and retirees contributed $6 million to the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette in 2014-15, 23 percent of its total fundraising, says Tripp Somerville, United Way spokesman.

It also left Intel employees without an easy way to donate money through payroll deductions to charities this year. Last year, about 1,300 Intel employees gave directly to United Way through the workplace campaign, plus a larger number who used United Way as a conduit to donate to other nonprofits of their choosing. Many used the program to tithe to their church.

United Way still hasn’t tabulated what it raised in the fall workplace giving campaign without Intel, Thomajan says, but early indications are it made out OK. The nonprofit laid off five employees who worked on the Intel campaign, he says, but it hasn’t reduced “by one penny” the amount it’s contributing to 70 area nonprofits that are part of its campaign against childhood poverty.

Other companies, including Kaiser, Umpqua Bank, Key Bank and Wells Fargo provided “significant new investments” to help offset the losses from Intel, Thomajan says. “Scores of them said ‘We’ve got your back; we’re going to find a way to do more this year.’ ”

Intel, which had a special commitment to United Way chapters where it has operations across the country, decided to go in a different direction with its charitable giving program, says Jill Eiland, public affairs director for the company’s Oregon operations.

Starting in early 2016, the company will roll out a new Intel Matching Gifts Program, which should result in more giving, Eiland says.

“We decided that we wanted to really provide greater flexibility for our employees and support the nonprofits of their choosing,” she says.

In the past, Intel employees around the country gave money through payroll deductions to their local United Way, with some going to the umbrella nonprofit group and some, where employees so chose, to other nonprofits.

Intel gave $1.5 million directly to the local United Way in 2014-15 and another $500,000 came from employees who selected United Way as their preferred nonprofit, Somerville says. Intel employees and retirees contributed another $4 million through United Way’s workplace giving program that was sent to their preferred nonprofits.

Nationally, Intel allocated $5 million to match donations to local United Way chapters, in proportion to how many local employees donated there. It wasn’t a dollar for dollar match, though.

Starting in 2016, Intel is taking its program in-house. Its foundation will match whatever donations employees choose, dollar for dollar, up to $5,000, Eiland says.

“We think the numbers are going to be higher,” she says. The new plan will allow giving year-round, Eiland says, and not just during one- or two-month United Way campaigns each fall.

Intel won’t be changing its other charity programs, including one that provides donations to educational institutions and one that provides money to organizations where its employees put in significant volunteer time.

Intel hasn’t yet worked out which nonprofits will be eligible for the new matching gifts program, such as religious congregations, Eiland says.

In 2013, the largest targeted nonprofit getting money through United Way of the Columbia-Willamette was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, which got nearly $1.1 million through workplace giving campaigns, according to the United Way’s 990 federal tax filing. Much of that came from Intel employees, Somerville says.

The company offers high salaries, has a high number of Mormon employees in Oregon, and church members are expected to give 10 percent of their income to the church.

The second-highest recipient of local United Way funds was the Oregon Food Bank, which got $156,144 in 2013.

“Our pledge form allows you to designate the nonprofit of your choice, or to designate the United Way,” Somerville says. Churches are, and have always been, the leading recipient of charitable donations in the United States, he says. United Way views that as a service to boost giving, and doesn’t get any money from sending donations to other nonprofits.

Thomajan is hoping the United Way can get some of those 1,300 Intel workers who donated to United Way through workplace giving in 2014-15 to make it their preferred charity in 2016. In those cases, the Intel Foundation will match up to $5,000. However, that will be more difficult, as workplace campaigns focus a lot of attention and peer pressure to give to United Way.

When Thomajan came to his post at United Way four years ago, Intel and its affiliates provided about one-third of its total funding. Since then, the umbrella agency has diversified its funding more, he says.

In 2014-15, Intel provided 23.3 percent of the record $25.7 million raised by United Way, but $12.2 million of that was sent to other nonprofits, including churches. Of the $13.5 million directed to the United Way, Intel supplied 14.8 percent. Most of that went to the Breaking the Cycle of Childhood Poverty campaign, which involves 70 nonprofits that work with children and families.

Under Thomajan’s leadership, United Way has shifted to what some call a “community impact model,” in which donations are targeted to achieve more specific and concrete results. The idea was to target childhood poverty, in hopes that it will help stabilize families in need in the Portland area.

United Way is well-positioned to serve as a convener so various groups will collaborate in addressing the issue, Thomajan says. The organization brings money, volunteers and a niche as an umbrella for other nonprofits.

“United Way is really the only organization in the metro region that sits at the intersection of donors and corporations, the social sector — governments and school systems — and philanthropy,” he says.

United Way is in the second year of its 10-year campaign to address childhood poverty.

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@SteveLaw/Trib

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Anti-abortion initiative closer to 2016 ballot

Government — Oregon Life United says it has more than the 1,000 required signatures to obtain a ballot title for the initiative, first hurdle in the process

SALEM — An initiative to ban state funding of abortions has passed the first hurdle toward a place on the 2016 ballot.

Chief sponsor Jeff Jimerson of Corvallis announced Friday that his group, Oregon Life United, had gathered the 1,000 signatures needed to obtain a ballot title for the initiative.

This marks the third time Jimerson has sought to send the initiative to voters. He failed to secure enough signatures in 2012 and 2014.

“Each time we are getting closer and closer,” said Alicia Marks, Oregon Life United spokeswoman. “We really do think we have a strong enough volunteer base this time to get it on the ballot for 2016.

Oregon Life United must obtain 117,578 valid signatures to place the initiative on the ballot.

About 40 percent of the nearly 5,000 abortions performed between January and October were paid for with state funding, according to Oregon Health Authority. The state paid about $1.8 million for a total of 3,556 abortions in 2013-2014, the most recent figures available Friday. Each procedure cost about $500.

Oregon Right to Life supports the initiative but has made no financial commitment to the effort, said spokeswoman Liberty Pike.

The organization has chosen to spend its resources on supporting pro-life candidates in the upcoming election and lobbying lawmakers, Pike said.

“What we have found is the system is set up so that it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a measure on the ballot,” she said. “We have decided to use our resources in areas where we think we can get the best return on our investment.”

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Benefit companies wince over tax exemption

SALEM — Companies that would be exempt from a proposed corporate gross receipts tax say the exemption could undermine the reputation of a movement to encourage environmentally and socially responsible businesses.

The union-backed tax measure planned for the 2016 ballot would require certain corporations to pay a 2.5 percent tax on sales in Oregon greater than $25 million. The measure exempts companies registered with the state as “benefit companies.”

Legislation passed in 2013 allows corporations to register with the state as “benefit companies” in order to put shareholders on notice that the company will not only seek profits, but will also pursue other goals such as sustainability. These companies are supposed to work with a third party, such as the certification nonprofit B Lab, to assess their operations, and then document positive impacts in annual reports. Registering for the corporate status currently does not affect companies’ Oregon tax bills.

The proposed tax exemption generated concern among some proponents of the benefit company model, who said it could damage the program’s reputation if the designation becomes popular as a strategy to avoid taxes.

The tax break would apply to benefit companies, which have special status under state law, not to B corps certified by B Lab, which are part of an international movement of environmental minded companies. Many companies in Oregon seek both designations, which causes some to conflate the two terms.

“The B corporation movement is about having socially responsible companies, not getting tax breaks,” said Tom Kelly, president and owner of the remodeling and custom home construction company Neil Kelly. Neil Kelly is a registered benefit company, and Kelly said the exemption could impact “the B corp brand.”

“It certainly has the potential to attract companies that will become B corporations whose only intention is to get a tax break, which will dilute the value of the B corp movement pretty significantly,” Kelly said.

Nik Blosser, CEO of Celilo Group Media and chair of the board at Sokol Blosser winery, said he is also concerned about the exemption. Both businesses are registered benefit companies.

“We certainly didn’t become a B corp to get tax benefits, and I think that somewhat undermines the point for B corps,” said Blosser, who has not yet taken a position on the corporate sales tax proposal. “If the measure passes, I think we would want to advocate that the Legislature modify that part.”

Blosser said the current lack of enforcement by the Secretary of State’s Business Services Division could make it easy for corporations to register as benefit companies to get the tax exemption, without demonstrating positive social impacts. “There’s no one checking to see if you’ve done that,” Blosser said.

Ben Unger, executive director of Our Oregon and a chief petitioner on the tax initiative, dismissed the idea that the exemption could provide a loophole for corporations looking for ways to avoid the corporate sales tax.

“I don’t think we are,” Unger said. “I guess my point is there’s nothing that’s going to stop large, global corporations from avoiding taxes.”

Unger said Our Oregon included the exemption in the proposed measure to distinguish between huge multinational companies that avoid taxes and companies that are “doing their best to be a good corporate citizen.”

“U.S. corporations are hiding $2.1 trillion overseas that they owe taxes on in the U.S.,” Unger said. “But there’s a difference between those folks, those corporate boardrooms, and the small businesses in Oregon that fuel our economy and hire our employees.”

Our Oregon is gathering the necessary 88,184 signatures ahead of a July deadline to get the measure on the November ballot.

State Rep. Phil Barnhart, D-Eugene, said he supports the tax measure, even though lawmakers who passed the law to create benefit companies did not intend to create a tax benefit. “Most of the companies I’ve heard from, or we’ve heard from collectively, were not asking for a tax benefit,” Barnhart said. “They were trying to deal with this other issue, which is making sure that stockholders know that when you buy shares in this company, they’re going to be trying to do some other things in addition to trying to make you money.”

Barnhart said it is not yet clear corporations would register as benefit companies to avoid the tax, but “I can assure you that if it matters, we will be acting on it, probably in (2017) is my guess.”

There are currently more than 700 corporations registered as benefit companies in Oregon, according to a state database. However, the state has not tracked the amount of taxes paid by these companies or analyzed whether the benefit company exemption would cut into anticipated tax revenue.

The Legislative Revenue Office has estimated the tax could generate $2.6 billion annually.

Robert Manicke, a lawyer at Stoel Rives LLP who specializes in state and local tax law, said companies that sell high volumes of items with low profit margins such as grocery stores “would be affected strongly” by the tax plan.

Oregon is home to New Seasons Market, the first grocery store chain to be certified as a “B corp” by B Lab. Although the company has already done much of the work necessary to qualify as a “benefit company” in Oregon, the grocer has not registered with the state to become one. Staff were unavailable to comment last Wednesday, due to the Thanksgiving shopping rush.

Many existing benefit companies would avoid the corporate sales tax even without the exemption, either because they are too small or because they are not registered as “C” corporations, the only type obligated to pay the tax.

For example, Kelly said his business would not benefit from a corporate sales tax exemption because Neil Kelly is organized as an “S” corporation.

Shareholders of “S” corporations report profits and losses on their personal tax returns, while profits at “C” corporations are taxed both at the corporate level and when distributed as dividends to shareholders.

Celilo Group Media and Sokol Blosser winery would not have to pay the corporate sales tax because their annual sales are less than $25 million, Blosser said.

Kelly, who said he would probably oppose the tax measure even without the exemption for benefit companies, has been trying to meet with Gov. Kate Brown about options to remove the exemption.

“(Brown) was real instrumental in having this thing happen when she was secretary of state,” Kelly said. “She’s definitely invested in it.”

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Portland adopts paid leave for new parents

City of Portland employees can now get six weeks’ paid parental leave when a new child joins their family, under a new policy adopted Wednesday by the City Council.

Mothers and fathers can take advantage of the paid leave after the birth of a baby, an adoption or taking on a foster child.

“Parental leave has a positive impact on parents bonding with their children,” testified Anna Kanwit, the city human resources director. Some studies show it’s even more important for fathers, to get them more comfortable with their new child and establish a better long-term parental relationship.

Travis Powell, a city firefighter with a new three-month-old at home, was one of several city employees testifying in favor of the new benefit.

The council approved the policy by a 4-0 vote. Mayor Charlie Hales missed the vote but supports the idea, said Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who introduced the proposal.

City employees already were eligible for up to 12 weeks’ family medical leave, but that’s unpaid, unless employees use their sick or vacation pay.

The paid leave policy, which takes effect in January, will cost the city an estimated $413,000 to $502,000 a year.

Paid parental leave is commonplace in Europe but just starting to spread in the United States.

Portland joins Multnomah County, which recently approved six week’s paid leave for its employees. Other local governments, such as San Francisco and King County, Washington, provide 12 weeks’ leave. Some big corporations and European nations often provide leaves for longer periods.

Parental leave “is a necessity in a civilized society,” said Commissioner Steve Novick.

Others said the policy should be make it easier for the city to recruit and retain employees.

Fritz said she hoped that private companies in Portland will now add paid parental leave.

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Navigating the health-insurance marketplace? Help's available

Open Enrollment can be 'terrifying,' but grants, subsidies allow for free advice

With all of the health insurance options available to consumers during the current Open Enrollment period, it’s understandable that folks might appreciate some guidance in finding the plan that’s right for them.

That’s where experts like Victoria Bramley and Greg Osborne come in.

Bramley and Osborne are both local, veteran health insurance consultants who work for agencies that have been blessed by the government to help people who are confused, confounded and even frightened by the process of purchasing health insurance.

“It is terrifying to people, and what can happen is that some people will just shut down,” says Bramley, a planner and insurance consultant for The Insurance Store Inc., a Lake Oswego-based company that helps people choose from a wide array of available health care plans.

The Insurance Store is an authorized and certified entity that works alongside the Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM), encouraging clients to reach out for answers to help navigate the FFM system. It’s one of many “storefront” operations around the state designed to help people who are shopping for a health care plan to narrow their options and guide them to a plan that’s affordable.

Her role is not to sell anything, Bramley says, but rather to offer everything.

“For us, it’s more about learning what a person’s situation is and telling them what’s available to them,” she says. “We get paid by a government entity or by a private carrier, not by the customer.”

Often, Bramley directs customers to consumer tax credits that can save them hundreds of dollars a year in insurance costs. Of the approximately 107,000 Oregonians who enrolled through HealthCare.gov for 2015, for example, more than 77,000 received a premium tax credit averaging $199 per month.

By purchasing a plan, Bramley says, consumers can also avoid the non-enrollment fines required by the national Affordable Care Act.

“It doesn’t matter if you come from extreme poverty or extreme wealth,” Bramley says. “We just give an overview of what to expect in the FFM, so people are not afraid.”

Osborne is an agent with Modern Insurance Marketing Inc. in Wilsonville, one of 24 individual agencies and community organizations authorized by the state Department of Consumer and Business Services to serve as drop-in enrollment centers. The role of the grant-funded program is to help people shop for and enroll in a health insurance plan that’s right for them, Osborne says, and to help them access financial help to pay for it via HealthCare.gov.

“In Clackamas County, nearly 8 percent — or approximately 31,000 — of our residents do not have health insurance coverage,” Osborne says. “A lot of people just don’t really understand insurance, so it helps to have someone face-to-face you can talk to. We’re here to help them through the process.”

During last year’s Open Enrollment period, many consumers waited on the phone for long periods on hold, or faced myriad online obstacles in trying to get answers to questions about available health care plans. Osborne says the state responded by sponsoring agents in brick-and-mortar locations who can schedule appointments and take walk-up customers who are seeking answers to their health care questions.

“Having an actual physical location was one of the criteria,” he says. “We can help people with the options in their local market. That helps narrow the focus for them, because we’re familiar with the hospitals and providers in their network.”

Advisors also are available for seniors seeking answers about Medicare, and for business owners who are finding ways to make it easy for their employees to enroll. A complete list of the state’s agency and community partners is available at OregonHealthcare.gov or by calling the Oregon Health Insurance Marketplace at 1-855-268-3767.

“We’ve heard from Oregonians that free, in-person help can be extremely valuable in finding the right coverage,” says Patrick Allen, director of the Department of Consumer and Business Services. “We are pleased to be partnering with agents and community organizations around the state to offer this important assistance.”

Bramley says she speaks to folks covering all demographics. One segment is seniors who “tend to hide in the community” instead of wading through all the confusing options. Another is young adults who have never had insurance and aren’t sure whether or not they need it.

“They’re saying, ‘I can’t afford it. I’ve never paid for health insurance. Maybe I should just pay the penalty, because the penalty costs less,’” she says. “Well, until you know what all your options are, how do you know?”

Bramley says she welcomes those questions and is always ready to provide the answer that best suits individual situations.

“Tell us your situation and we’ll narrow down your options,” she says. “There’s no pressure. If we can’t help you, we’ll tell you where to go to get help.”

For both Bramley and Osborne, Open Enrollment has meant longer hours in the office. But both say it’s an exciting time to be in the insurance business.

“This is the one time of year when everybody has a chance to move to a different plan,” Osborne says. “It’s changed our business model, but it’s really helped our business because more people are seeking insurance and it’s easier to get enrolled.”

Bramley agrees.

“I’m proud of what we’re doing, and I’m passionate about it,” she says. “This is my community, and my reputation means everything to me. When you love what you do, it’s not work. The gratitude you get? That’s the reward.”

Contact Phil Favorite at [email protected].

Resources

• Victoria Bramley

The Insurance Store Inc.

252 A Street, Suite 2000, Lake Oswego

503-693-1186

[email protected]

• Greg Osborne

Modern Insurance Marketing Inc.

29174 S.W. Town Center Loop West, Suite 102, Wilsonville

503-682-3323

[email protected]

• Insurance Lounge

4859 Meadows Road, Suite 155, Lake Oswego

503-232-9400

insurancelounge.com/retail-location-lake-oswego/

Important dates for Open Enrollment

Nov. 1: Open Enrollment started — the first day you could enroll in a 2016 insurance plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Coverage can start as soon as Jan. 1, 2016.

Dec. 15: Last day to enroll in or change plans for new coverage that would start on Jan. 1, 2016.

Jan. 1, 2016: 2016 coverage starts for those who enrolled or changed plans by Dec. 15.

Jan. 15, 2016: Last day to enroll in or change plans for new coverage that would start on Feb. 1, 2016.

Jan. 31, 2016: 2016 Open Enrollment ends. Enrollments or changes between Jan. 16 and Jan. 31 take effect March 1, 2016.

Note: If you don’t enroll in a 2016 health insurance plan by Jan. 31, 2016, you can’t enroll unless you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period — 60 days following certain life events that involve a change in family status (for example, marriage or birth of a child) or loss of other health coverage. Job-based plans must provide a special enrollment period of 30 days.

Source: healthcare.gov

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County continues tobacco licensing talks

While hosting public hearings on the prospect of initiating a license structure for tobacco retailers, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners also discussed increasing the minimum age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21.

The board first discussed the concept of retail licensing in late September, with reducing cigarette sales to minors the dominant concern. In Multnomah County, the rate of sale to minors is nearly 32 percent.

Board members had hoped the Oregon Legislature would address the issue.

“Unfortunately, it did not happen, and that is why I believe it is incumbent upon us to do something locally,” board Chair Deboarah Kafoury said in September. “I believe an ordinance we put together will be something the state can and will pick up. This is something that is a big step for our community.”

Oregon is one the few states that does not require retailers to be licensed to sell tobacco products, including cigarettes and chewing tobacco.

To gain public feedback, the commissioners held two public hearings on Tuesday, Oct. 20, one in Portland and one in Gresham.

At the Portland hearing, Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, explained why the licensing did not see approval during the state’s session.

“The issue (is) preemption,” Monnes Anderson said, meaning if the state takes action down the road, it would overrule what the county implemented. “A number of legislators feel preemption at the state level should be required. We had a standoff basically with the stakeholders and opponents to the bill.

“I am very passionate about wanting to (prevent) youth from using tobacco,” she added. “Licensing is also paramount so we can have a good enforcement structure.”

Licensing was considered with a fee somewhere between $350 and $600. Support from the plan emerged from the hearing testimony.

“Oregon is one of only a handful of states that does not have tobacco retail licensing,” noted Charles Tauman, Tobacco Free Coalition of Oregon president. “And it has the largest rate of sales.”

Retail shops should be able to easily pay a licensing fee around $250 to $350, as shops profit that much per day in tobacco sales, he added.

Tia Henderson, research manager for Upstream Public Health, said when they discussed the issue with retailers, three out of four said they would raise their costs to cover the fee. Henderson said this is a positive because youths are typically sensitive to costs. If tobacco products become more expensive, youths will be less likely to purchase them.

Ben Hoffman, a doctor at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, argued for the increased legal tobacco purchase age. Hoffman said amid high schoolers, there will always be 18-year-old students who can purchase cigarettes or other tobacco products.

“At 21, social circles shift to bars,” he said. “If we don’t have tobacco in cohorts under 21, it’s much less likely kids will be able to get it under 21. We know this works because when we raised the legal age to 21, drinking by high school seniors decreased by 50 percent. As we think about developing these common sense policies ... we need to make sure the interests of kids is kept in mind.”

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found three out of four adults favor increasing the minimum age to 21, but currently Hawaii is the only state with the increased purchase age.

During the hearings, Plaid Pantry representatives were the only speakers to oppose county regulations.

“We think that such policies need to be done at a state level,” said Jonathan Polonsky, chief operating officer. “There must be a uniform set of rules and regulations, not a patchwork of different regulations county by county or city by city.”

The commissioners said no decision has been made yet, and the board will continue discussing the issue throughout the county. The next proposals are scheduled during City Council meetings in Fairview on Wednesday, Nov. 4, and Wood Village on Monday, Nov. 9.

If approved, planning would begin in February with the program launching as early as July 2016.

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Food safety concerns at David Douglas High School lead to whistleblower lawsuit

An ailing head cook has led to a whistleblower lawsuit against David Douglas School District, according to documents filed Wednesday, Aug. 12, in Multnomah County Circuit Court.

The lawsuit brings up concerns of food safety at David Douglas High School, where approximately 3,000 kids attend school.

Two food service workers and a special education assistant filed the suit against the small east Portland school district alleging that officials did nothing when they brought up concerns about Head Cook Kim Fragall’s increasingly erratic behavior, which they linked to her worsening health. The workers — second cook Deborah Rowley, cook’s helper Julie Passantino-Symonds and Special Education Instructional Assistant Trisha Williams — further allege that Fragall retaliated against them for bringing up their concerns with management. When they told administrators of the retaliation, including Superintendent Don Grotting, “there was no further response from DDSD,” reads the complaint.

The plaintiffs, represented by Portland attorney Mark Morrell, are asking the court for $250,000 each in non-economic damages, plus attorney’s fees.

The plaintiffs say the retaliation started after an April 2012 meeting of kitchen staff in which they told district nutritionist Jody Taylor and an unidentified union representative about their concerns of Fragall’s worsening condition and its effects on food safety. They say the head cook frequently complained of pain, would take long breaks, and would not work full days “obviously exhausted and in pain,” the suit reads. The complaint alleges Fragall’s mental state was such that she would forget how long food had been cooking and at what temperature; forget to order ingredients or order too much; fail to notice health and sanitation violations in food preparation and storage; and make uncharacteristically demeaning comments to staff.

The issues appear to have come to a head for the plaintiffs during the spring when “rumors were” that they would be permanently reassigned to North kitchen from their post at South kitchen.

Finally, the lawsuit claims that staff “have noticed a marked reduction in the number of students eating at the cafeteria. Many students have simply refused to eat the food served at South.”

A David Douglas spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment on the allegations.


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541-285-3614

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Agent Orange likely culprit in man's health saga

Forest Grove veteran blames chemical defoliant used in Vietnam War

War has many casualties, and the Vietnam War was no exception. But many years beyond the fighting in Southeast Asia, a chemical defoliant used by the U.S. military to clear jungles for warfare is killing veterans from the inside out.

And as a 63-year-old Forest Grove man will tell you, the government has few answers for the questions of those allegedly exposed to Agent Orange.

In 1997, Louis Lines was a relatively fit, happily married father in his 16th year working for Southern Pacific Railroad. Five years later, he was 100 pounds heavier and suffering from Crohn’s disease and an enlarged heart. Lines was also preparing for a bout of chemotherapy to combat hairy cell leukemia.

“I’m a firm believer in karma. From high school, to the U.S. Army, through the railroad, I’ve never been in trouble for anything in my life. So I’m lying there in the hospital thinking to myself, ‘what in the heck did I do to deserve this?’”

To understand where he was, it’s important to learn how he got there.

Lines was born in Hillsboro on June 17, 1952. He grew up in Forest Grove and graduated from Forest Grove High School in 1971. At a time when many were either going to or returning from Vietnam, Lines was drafted into the army, sent to Fort Lewis military facility in Washington state and became part of the 3rd Armored Calvary.

From there he went to train at an army base in White Sands, N.M., where — thousands of miles removed from the horrors of the Vietnam War — he was exposed to a chemical he believes has led to a personal war with a variety of health problems five decades later.

Chemical moved through air, water

Agent Orange is one of many herbicides known to have been used in Vietnam. In November 1961, President John F. Kennedy authorized the start of Operation Ranch Hand — the code name for the U.S. Air Force’s herbicide program there — and subsequently kick-started a program whose effects continue to be felt by soldiers who were in the field, troops that remained stateside and even the children of both groups.

Paul Sutton, a Vietnam veteran, past chairman of the Veterans Administration’s National Agent Orange Committee and a nationally recognized expert in the subject, has advocated for veterans and their families since 1977. Based on his research and studies, and contrary to the limited knowledge of exposure by most soldiers in the war itself, “anyone who spent 30 days minimum on the ground in Vietnam was exposed to Agent Orange.”

“As soldiers we didn’t know,” Sutton said. “Guys assumed that if they weren’t around during the application they were fine, but what we’ve learned since is that the chemical moved through the air and water, and also lived well beyond the terrain where it was applied.”

Sutton tells stories of soldiers who spent the entirety of their service in Vietnam at a desk on a military base, but who years later suffered the effects of poisoning traced back to contaminated water dumped from planes during aborted herbicide missions. Some unwitting soldiers used Agent Orange to clean tools. And more recently, tales of woe have involved veterans who never set foot “in country.”

“It’s proving very tough for these reservists, even with a well-rounded [medical] claim, to get it through the system,” Sutton said. “Unfortunately, that’s common for any veteran trying to deal with the VA regarding these types of issues.”

Episodes of blindness

Louis Lines never stepped foot in Vietnam, but in 1997, after building and moving into his dream home in Grants Pass — 23 years after his discharge from the army and two decades into a career with the railroad — he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease affecting the gastrointestinal tract. He spent the next five years coping with pain and discomfort, but in 2002 was forced to have his large intestine removed.

While in the hospital for that operation, doctors informed Lines he had hairy cell leukemia and an enlarged heart. He underwent micro-valve surgery to repair his heart and chemotherapy to address his leukemia. Doctors estimated he likely had no more than six months to live, and told Lines his best course of action was to stay in the hospital and keep as comfortable as possible while awaiting his inevitable demise.

“They wanted me to just sit in bed and push this button until I died, but I was like, ‘no way — if I’m going to die it’s going to be in my house on the mountain.’”

He spent the next three years in a wheelchair due to complications from chemotherapy, packed on weight, suffered occasional episodes of blindness and lost his wife to divorce — a result, he said, of the strain his medical issues put on their relationship. Lines sold his house, moved to LaPine to be near family and began receiving epidural pain medication every 90 days to help him walk.

Eventually the epidurals stopped working and Lines had neuro-stimulators implanted that allowed him to walk. But even as things were looking up, he still dealt with digestive issues. Some doctors couldn’t explain it, Lines said, and others chose not to engage with his situation.

“When you walk into a doctor’s office with an insurance card and cash and they still won’t treat you because they say you’re too high-risk, that really stinks,” he said.

Those issues, along with the price of his medications, led Lines to the VA, where his initial doctor theorized he was a victim of herbicidal poisoning connected to his military training during the Vietnam era.

“He said, ‘this has to be Agent Orange poisoning,’” Lines said, “but VA doctors aren’t the same as VA lawyers, and they sent me a letter that said ‘we don’t owe you anything for anything because you can’t prove it.’”

The truth is, he can’t.

Lines spent the bulk of his time in the Army living and training in tanks in White Sands. There is no documented evidence that Agent Orange was stored or tested there, and while the tanks he worked with were used in Vietnam, he was told they were cleansed of potential Agent Orange contamination prior to their return.

While his physical condition makes a strong case, the burden of proof the government demands when it comes to Operation Ranch Hand simply isn’t there.

‘I wasn’t looking for benefits’

Jennifer Walters, a Texas resident whose husband, John, died in 2000 as a result of apparent Agent Orange poisoning, is an example of one of the many people caught in the wake of the Agent Orange tidal wave.

She spent 10 years trying to get answers from government officials.

Her husband — who in his early 50s was stricken with a kidney disease normally found in small children, a colon issue and a rare form of sarcoma — died less than a year after his initial diagnosis but was never declared a victim of herbicide poisoning in spite of overwhelming evidence.

“I wasn’t looking for benefits. I simply wanted answers and a recognition of his cause of death,” Jennifer Walters said. “It’s very difficult [for veterans and their families] to get help, and when they do, it’s with an understanding that it will only go so far.”

Paul Sutton says that’s commonplace — and suggests answers, if they come, won’t come soon. “It will be long after Vietnam veterans are gone before our government acknowledges this,” he said.

For his part, Lines says he only wants accountability from the government — and maybe a little help for veterans still struggling to cope with something beyond their control.

“I had my large intestine taken out, had a bad heart and got leukemia,” he said. “I went blind and lost the use of my legs. But they said there was no correlation between one and the other.

“I just want them to call it what it is, and maybe give me someone I can talk to about what I’ve gone through.”

Despite his health travails and his stalemate with the VA, things haven’t been all bad for Lines in recent years. Lines moved back to Forest Grove in 2010 and got remarried in 2010 to a woman he’d originally met in 1970 at the now-defunct Hudson House Cannery, which used to operate in Forest Grove.

Louis and Lynette Lines had shared a relationship until she went off to college, and he to the army, in 1971. They reunited at a small church in Gaston nearly 50 years later.

“I look back at my tough times and sometimes wonder why. But I look at meeting my wife, and the 13 years since they told me I’d be dead, and I say ‘that’s my karma,” Lines said.

He insists he’ll face the future with a smile on his face.

“That’s just who I am,” Lines said. “That’s just who I’ve always been.”

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Journalist turned activist promotes changes in health insurance coverage

A journalist turned activist says that it’s more likely that Colorado, not Oregon, will be the first to lead the United States in providing health coverage for everyone.

“We beat you to marijuana and we will beat you to universal health care,” says T.R. Reid, the one-time Washington Post reporter who is now leading a campaign to qualify a financing measure for the 2016 ballot in Colorado.

Reid spoke Saturday at Salem Hospital during a presentation sponsored by the Salem City Club. He also spoke at Linn-Benton Community College in Albany. He also made several appearances in Portland.

Reid is chairman of the Colorado Foundation for Universal Health Care, which proposes a payroll tax on employers and employees to supplement existing funds for health coverage.

Oregon lawmakers have just budgeted $300,000 for a study, which they authorized two years ago, of better ways to pay for health care.

While the national health care overhaul signed by President Barack Obama in 2010 and known as “Obamacare” has taken some steps toward putting the United States on a par with other democracies with advanced economies, Reid says it’s still far short of the ideal of universal coverage for everyone.

“We are not going to get to that destination on a national basis,” he says. “The U.S. Congress is gridlocked and cannot do anything big. The way we are going to get there is state by state.”

He mentioned Canada’s program, which started with government-paid hospital care in 1961 and evolved into universal coverage in 1984. It originated in the province of Saskatchewan after World War II.

Under the 2010 law, any state that offers universal coverage may opt out of the federal requirements. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., authored the provision as a way to encourage state experimentation.

Personal interest

Reid is the author of “The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper and Fairer Health Care.” It was published in 2009, the year after the documentary “Sick Around the World,” made for PBS Frontline. He also took part in a 2012 documentary, “U.S. Health Care: The Good News.”

Reid acknowledges he is not an expert in the field.

“I’m just an ink-stained reporter who got interested in this topic,” he says.

He did so when he was the Washington Post’s bureau chief in Tokyo, where he was initially worried when he had to take his children for medical care. He need not have worried.

“It was an American standard of care; the facilities were fine,” he said. “We did not wait very long. But the really striking thing was the bills — one-20th or one-tenth what you would pay in the United States for the same treatment.”

Japan relies on private doctors and hospitals. Great Britain, where Reid was London bureau chief for the Post, has a National Health Service established in 1948 that provides most care.

As Reid investigated health care in other nations, he spotlighted his quest for relief for an ailing right shoulder he injured in the early 1970s while a seaman in the Navy.

His conclusion: “We are paying vastly more and getting much less than all the other countries like us when it comes to health care. The main answer I get in those other countries is that they see it as a moral obligation. The United States has never seen this obligation like all the other rich countries.”

According to a July 20 compilation by the World Health Organization, based on 2013 data, the United States led with 17.1 percent of its gross domestic product on health spending. Of five other advanced democracies, the range was from 9.1 percent in Great Britain to 11.7 percent in France.

On Obamacare

Reid spent most of his talk about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the official name of the 2010 congressional overhaul, in terms of expanding coverage, restraining costs and other factors.

“It is working better than before,” he said. “But it doesn’t get us to where I think we ought to be. It has expanded coverage much more broadly than what opponents say, but much less than what the White House promised.”

Although some provisions took effect earlier, the law kicked in on Jan. 1, 2014.

While the law has expanded coverage to more than 16 million people, Reid said that’s still about half the intended target of 32 million people. By 2020, an estimated 31 million will still be without coverage, counting 11 million in the nation without immigration documents, who also had been excluded from the initial target.

Some are covered through plans under health insurance exchanges, for which there are federal tax subsidies.

Others are covered through an expansion of Medicaid, the joint federal-state program of health insurance for low-income people. Oregon is among the 30 states that have some form of expansion, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation; 19 states do not, mostly in the South, Great Plains and Mountain West. Exceptions are Maine and Wisconsin. Utah is considering its options.

States will have to share costs of that expansion beginning in 2017, but Reid said it is a fallacy for critics to say that states will have to assume 100 percent. “Congress does not take away entitlements,” he said.

Health care costs, which had been rising annually by two to three times the rate of the Consumer Price Index, have moderated. While costs have still grown, Reid said they rose by just 2 percent in 2014, matching the CPI, and actually fell by just under 1 percent in the first quarter of his year.

However, drug prices are increasing much faster.

“If cost increases level off, I think we have to give some credit to Obamacare,” even if there are other factors involved, Reid said.

Reid said the 2010 law also did some good things, such as put an end to insurance company exclusions for pre-existing medical conditions and arbitrary policy cancellations known as “rescissions.”

It also put an outside limit of 20 percent for administrative costs from premium dollars, down from 30 to 35 percent. But Reid said that’s still far more than the international average of 5 percent, or the 3.8 percent paid by Medicare, the federal program of insurance for those 65 and older and for some people with disabilities.

“Those of us who have looked at other countries believe the (2010) limit is not enough,” he said.

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Silverton Health CEO arrested for public indecency

Woodburn police arrested the president and chief executive officer of Silverton Health Thursday for allegedly masturbating inside his car in the parking lot of the Woodburn Bi-Mart.

Rick Cagen, 64, was charged with one count of public indecency, a class A misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $6,250 fine.

He was taken into custody and transported to the Marion County Correctional Facility in Salem.

According to Jason Horton, a spokesman for the city of Woodburn, police received a call at approximately 9:30 a.m. May 14 from a witness who reported seeing a man masturbating in his car at the Bi-Mart located at 1550 Mount Hood Ave.

Horton said the witness confronted the man and told him he was calling the police. The suspect drove away after the confrontation, but Horton said the witness provided police a license plate number and description of the vehicle.

Horton said police located the vehicle and identified it as being owned by Cagen. Investigators questioned Cagen about the incident in the parkting lot outside the Woodburn Health Center, where he has an office, and took him into custody.

The Woodburn hospital is located at 1475 Mount Hood Ave, across the street from the Bi-Mart.

Horton would not elaborate on what Cagen said during the interview. However, he did say Cagen has no criminal history or record of previous incidents with Woodburn police.

Reached Thursday afternoon, Silverton Health Marketing Communications Director Rita Kester declined to comment on the matter.

"We don't have any information," she said.

Cagen started at Silverton Health in 2010, after a long career in health care administration. He announced his retirement earlier this year, which was to be effective July 1.

Cagen's bail was initially set at $5,000, according to online jail records. His first court appearance was scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday.

Anyone with information on this case is asked to call the Woodburn Police Department at 503-982-2345.

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