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Smoking ban underway at Huntington VA medical center, following national policy

HUNTINGTON — Following nationwide policy changes, a smoking ban was implemented this week at the Hershel “Woody” Williams VA Medical Center in Huntington.

The ban, which took place Oct. 1 at every VA medical center across the country, was made to align the facilities with more than 4,000 health care facilities and four national health care systems in the U.S. that have also implemented smoke-free grounds.

Smoking already had been prohibited inside the facilities, and October’s ban extended the no-smoking policy to include all VA property. Prior to the ban, smoking had been allowed in designated shelters.

The policy includes cigarettes, cigars, pipes and “any other combustion of tobacco, including but not limited to electronic or e-cigarettes, vape pens or e-cigars.”

Dwayne Rider, public affairs officer for the Hershel “Woody” Williams VAMC, said if someone is caught smoking on campus, the VA police will provide a verbal warning to the smoker and advise them of the changes.

“If that’s ineffective, a courtesy violation warning can be issued,” he said. “Ultimately, failure to comply with the signage can result in the issuance of a federal citation.”

Rider said its patients and visitors have so far been accepting of the new policy changes, although the medical center does understand it will take some time for them to get used to it.

“It’s about reducing the harmful effects of smoking (and) vaping, including exposure to second- and third-hand smoke,” he said. “We’re not telling them they can’t smoke at home, but we do have support and programs to reduce or stop smoking.”

Signs in protest of the ban had lined Spring Valley Drive prior to it taking affect, but have since been removed.

According to the Centers for Diseased Control and Prevention, a third of veterans smoke, many who were introduced to the habit while serving.

In messages sent to veterans prior to the ban taking affect, the VA said the policy will “reduce the harmful effects of smoking, including exposure to second- and third-hand smoke, as well as increase safety and reduce fire hazards caused by smoking” and is consistent with its mission to promote a healthy environment for patients, visitors and employees.

The VA also provides smoking and tobacco use cessation programs for veterans who want to stop smoking.

Comparatively, Cabell Huntington Hospital, St. Mary’s Medical Center and Marshall University Medical Center in Huntington started tobacco-free campuses in 2007.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Donated, consigned fine art auctioned to benefit Huntington Museum of Art

HUNTINGTON — Short of a heist, there aren’t many opportunities to leave a museum with a piece of art to take home.

But it’s the Huntington Museum of Art that benefited, to the tune of some tens of thousands of dollars, Sunday afternoon as it hosted its fourth annual fine art auction.

More than 180 works of art, mostly framed paintings, drawings and glassware, went to the highest bidder as around three dozen patrons turned out to pick pieces going for between $25 up to several hundred dollars each.

“It’s not just an event to come buy something nice for your home or office, it’s also a fun thing to do — to see all the bidding and the ferocity sometimes between bidders,” said Geoffrey Fleming, HMA executive director, who organizes the auction.

A hodge-podge of contemporary and older original works by both local folks and well-known national and international artists, all auctioned items were supplied by private donors, living artists and a number of outside galleries doing business with the museum, with the bulk of the sales directly benefiting the museum.

None of the museum’s collection was for sale.

The auction was grown both in the number of works for sale and bidders each year, Fleming said, and is now one of the museum’s most important annual fundraisers. The exact total raised is different each year – based on how aggressive the bidding becomes– but they expect a five-figure net return from the auction every year, Fleming said.

The auction was conducted by Garth’s Auctioneers & Appraisers of Delaware, Ohio.

Fall colors on the way in WV, despite challenges from drought, heat

West Virginia’s fall foliage display is off to a later than normal start, thanks to an exceptionally toasty September.

But leaves have finally begun to take on their autumnal hues in the state’s northern highlands, where they should be nearing their peak later this week, according to the state Division of Forestry.

Meanwhile, in the southern half of the state, where all counties are now classified as experiencing moderate to severe drought, brown is shaping up to become a primary fall color, and many trees are already beginning to shed leaves.

“Color change has two main drivers — moisture and temperature,” said Division of Forestry Director Barry Cook. This year, he said, Southern West Virginia “has been on the wrong end of both. The result has been the browning and dropping of leaves.”

Fall colors will still be evident in the southern half of the state, although “they may not be as brilliant as in some years,” Cook said. “But average or even below average fall colors in West Virginia create a landscape that’s more exciting than what a lot of the world gets to see,” he said.

The area north of U.S. 50 should produce the state’s most vibrant fall colors this year, since “that area has had more moisture and hasn’t been as hot as the rest of the state,” according to Cook.

There, Cook said, colors should peak, or at least be nearing peak stage, this week at elevations 3,500 feet or above, including Spruce Knob, Dolly Sods, Canaan Valley and other locales in the higher mountains of Tucker, Randolph and Pendleton counties.

“Fall color first arrives at higher elevations and works its way to lower elevations throughout the season,” he said. “It comes and goes very quickly.”

To help leaf peepers, both domestic and out-of-state, quickly find the brightest and best fall color displays, the Division of Forestry is expanding its partnership with the West Virginia Tourism Office.

In addition to weekly fall foliage updates, to be released on Wednesdays through the end of the season, Tourism and Forestry have launched a new real-time fall color tracking map. Leaf lovers can post their own recently taken fall color photos with #AlmostHeaven and have them added to the map, which is updated daily.

Those who view the map on WVtourism.com/fall and visit the Live Leaf Map can click on icons placed at map locations corresponding to the sites of posted photos to view the images and see for themselves how far along colors are advancing toward peak.

“This year, we’re calling on all West Virginians to help showcase our state’s beautiful fall colors,” said state Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby. “As the leaves change in your area, take a photo and post it to social media using #AlmostHeaven. Your photos will help travelers from across the country see that West Virginia is the place to be in the fall.”

Also available from WVtourism.com/fall is a free Fall Pocket Passport, which includes a checklist of fall activities across the state, a leaf identification guide and a fall color forecast map.

Lawyer: 2nd Trump whistleblower spoke to inspector general

WASHINGTON — A second whistleblower has spoken to the intelligence community’s internal watchdog and has information that backs the original whistleblower’s complaint about President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, according to the lawyer for the two.

Attorney Mark Zaid told The Associated Press in a text message Sunday that the second whistleblower, who also works in intelligence, hasn’t filed a complaint with the inspector general but does have “firsthand knowledge that supported” the original whistleblower.

The original whistleblower, a CIA officer, filed a formal complaint with the inspector general on Aug. 12 that triggered the impeachment inquiry being led by House Democrats. The complaint alleged Trump was “using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country” in the 2020 election.

The disclosure of a second whistleblower threatens to undermine arguments made by Trump and his allies against the first whistleblower: that the complaint was improperly filed because it was based on secondhand or thirdhand information.

Trump and his supporters have rejected the accusations he did anything improper. But the White House has struggled to come up with a unified response. No administration officials appeared on the Sunday news shows, but several congressional Republicans came to the president’s defense during television interviews.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, two of Trump’s most vocal backers, sharply criticized the way House Democrats are handling the impeachment inquiry.

Graham said there was nothing wrong with Trump’s July phone call during which the president pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. The conversation has raised questions about whether Trump was using near $400 million in critical American military aid to Ukraine as leverage to get help on the Biden issue.

Hunter Biden served on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company, at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Ukraine. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden. Joe Biden is a leading candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

“I think this is a nightmare for the Biden campaign,” Graham said. Biden wrote in The Washington Post that he had a message for Trump and “those who facilitate his abuses of power. ... Please know that I’m not going anywhere. You won’t destroy me, and you won’t destroy my family.”

As for Trump, rather than visiting his nearby golf course in Sterling, Virginia, for a second day, he stayed at White House, where he tweeted and retweeted, with the Bidens a main target.

“The great Scam is being revealed!” Trump wrote at one point, continuing to paint himself as the victim of a “deep state” and hostile Democrats, even after standing on the South Lawn last week and publicly calling on another foreign government, China, to investigate Biden.

As the president often does when he feels under attack, he trumpeted his strong support among Republican voters and kept lashing out at Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, one of the few Republicans who has publicly questioned Trump’s conduct.

“The Democrats are lucky that they don’t have any Mitt Romney types,” Trump wrote, painting the former GOP nominee as a traitor to his party. Romney had said on Twitter that “By all appearances, the President’s brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling.”

A Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Florida Rep. Val Demings, said she believes the original whistleblower is a “patriot” who stepped forward to report wrongdoing despite the potential career risk.

“The reporting that a second whistleblower has come forward or is about to come forward, I believe again would be someone who sees wrongdoing, hears wrongdoing and wants to do something about it,” Demings said.

In response to news of an additional whistleblower, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, another Democratic presidential candidate, said Trump is “acting like a global gangster.”

Additional details about Trump’s July 25 call with Zelenskiy emerged Sunday.

Shaylyn Hynes, a spokeswoman for Energy Secretary Rick Perry, said Perry had encouraged Trump to speak with the Ukrainian leader, but on energy and economic issues. Hynes said Perry’s interest in Ukraine is part of U.S. efforts to boost Western energy ties to Eastern Europe.

Trump, who has repeatedly has described his conversation with Zelenskiy as “perfect,” told House Republicans on Friday night that it was Perry who teed up that call, according to a person familiar with Trump’s comments who was granted anonymity to discuss them. The person said Trump did not suggest that Perry had anything to do with the pressure to investigate the Bidens.

As the furor over Trump’s phone call and the House’s subsequent impeachment inquiry escalates, two Republicans challenging Trump for the GOP presidential nomination engaged in a heated on-air debate over what should happen to the president.

The exchange between former Reps. Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Joe Walsh of Illinois was notable given the refusal of all but three Republican senators to criticize Trump’s conduct.

Walsh said the president deserves to be impeached. Sanford tried to make the case that moving forward with impeachment in the Democratic-run House if the Republican-controlled Senate doesn’t have the votes to convict would be counter-productive and only distract from the election debate.

“This president needs to be impeached, just based on what he himself has said,” Walsh said. “And Republicans better get behind that.”

Demings was on “Fox News Sunday” and Jordan appeared on ABC’s “This Week,” while Klobuchar, Walsh and Sanford were on CNN’s “State of the Union” and Graham spoke on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”


Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Ellen Knickmeyer and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.