September 2, 2014

SC non-profit awarded $1 million to help veterans

In South Carolina, Crisis Ministries, a non-profit that assists homeless veterans, will receive $1 million to help serve approximately 200 families of veterans.

The grant, awarded by the Secretary of Veteran Affairs, will go to Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester counties as part of the VA’s new Supportive Services for Veteran Families program. The program is there to help prevent homelessness among veterans–aiming to get each veteran into a good home. Crisis Ministries is one of 85 non-profits from 40 states and the District of Columbia to get a part of $60 million being awarded nationwide.

Small Columbia bank fails

BankMeridian is headquartered in Columbia

A Columbia bank has failed and its assets have been taken over. 

Federal officials seized the assets of BankMeridian Friday. The small bank has only three branches, although it is headquartered on Main Street in downtown Columbia. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or FDIC, which insures banks across the country, entered into an agreement with South Carolina Bank & Trust to take over BankMeridian’s branches and services.

Depositors of BankMeridian can still access their money over the weekend by writing checks or using ATM or debit cards. Checks drawn on the bank will continue to be processed. Loan customers should continue to make their payments as usual. The bank will reopen Monday as a subsidiary of SCBT.

BankMeridian had about $240 million in total assets and $215.5 million in deposits at the time of its failure. The FDIC and SCBT both entered into a loss-share agreement on about $179 million of those assets.

The three branches are in Columbia, Hilton Head, and Spartanburg.

It is the third bank to fail in South Carolina this year. The first two were CommunitySouth Bank in Easley and Atlantic Bank & Trust in Charleston. 60 banks have failed nationwide.

The FDIC also announced takeovers of banks in Virginia and Indiana Friday.

SC files new legal petition against Yucca Mountain delay

South Carolina has renewed its legal effort against the Obama Administration’s decision to close the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump. The state joined Washington, Aiken County and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners in a petition against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), arguing the agency has missed its deadline to decide whether the Nevada site can open or not.

Yucca Mountain was selected in 2002 as the Energy Department’s spot to store nuclear waste. Some of the waste is currently held at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, along with commercial reactors around the country. The Energy Department canceled the project in 2009, citing environmental concerns. But, in June 2010, a separate panel, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, said the agency lacked the authority to do that, since Congress originally set up the repository.

However, nothing has happened since then. The June deadline for Yucca Mountain’s license passed without any action by the NRC.  Supporters of the project accuse agency head Gregory Jaczko of delaying the project on behalf of Nevada Senator Harry Reid, who Jaczko once worked for.

The lack of action prompted a new petition Friday, which seeks a “writ of mandamus.”  In other words, the states and power companies want the district court to order the NRC to make a decision about Yucca Mountain’s license.

Attorney General Alan Wilson, whose office filed the petition Friday

“We’re petitioning the court to basically tell the NRC to do what it’s statutorily obligated to do,” said South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson.

The groups were unsuccessful in a similar complaint filed last year, as a federal district court ruled in June the claims were not “ripe for judicial determination” because the NRC still had time to make a decision. Wilson said that deadline has now passed.

Part of the contention is that nuclear utilities were required to pay the federal government 0.1 cent for every kilowatt per hour generated by nuclear plants. That fee, which was passed on to ratepayers, was used to construct Yucca Mountain.

“The government has the ratepayers’ money and we still have our nuclear waste,” Wilson said, “Either give us the (Yucca Mountain) repository so the waste can be stored there, or give us our money back.”

National Guard, DPS help vets with post-combat stress

The "Welcome Home" following deployment is only the beginning of re-adapting to family and work environments.

Following any kind of traumatic experience, memories and symptoms can continually haunt a person, especially combat veterans and first responders.

The Post Deployment Seminar (PDS) is a three-day workshop being held this weekend in Columbia to support veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Peer support soldiers, mental health professionals as well as military chaplains are participating in the seminar.

LTC Steve Shugart is a chaplain with the South Carolina Army National Guard and a liaison with South Carolina Law Enforcement Assistance Program (SCLEAP).  He says the overall goal of the program is to facilitate healing and constructive coping,  “We take soldiers who have been in combat, and are back, and we bring them in, and their families … and take them through a time of group processing as well as some individual counseling.”  

Shugart says they basically “stole” an FBI program and began to use it with South Carolina police officers. “Because we had lost a Highway Patrol officer who was also a soldier, many of our reserve component soldiers are police officers, that’s how I became to know about it.  And so I’m sitting there saying, ‘we could use this. This could be part of our model as well,’ ”   he explains.

Shugart says because it’s been so successful in South Carolina other states are beginning to copy the program.

According to Shugart peer leadership is also a big part of the program: “One of the things that’s important to us is that we bring a soldier in and we hook that soldier up with somebody who’s been there.”  Shugart says it’s important to have support for the returning veteran, not only for serving his/her country, but to help them return to a normal routine at home and at work. 

Shugart expects about 40 participants, with various exposure to trauma.

Dr. Roger M. Solomon, psychologist with the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, will assist in the seminar. Dr. Solomon agrees with Shugart that support from other soldiers who have been deployed is important.

Solomon says, “We believe in unit cohesion. They took care of each other over there, they can take care of each other over here. And we have peers, we have soldiers who’ve been in combat who work with us, and they’ll get up and tell their story. Not only what they did, but the emotional impact afterwards.”

Dr. Solomon stresses, “I want to urge you to support the men and women who have served. They’ve been through hell for us and they’re coming back home, many of them hurting very much. Let’s do all we can for them.”

The seminars for the returning veterans are based on programs that have gone on in law enforcement for many years.  As the programs were further developed they became part of South Carolina’s Law Enforcement Assistance Program with the Department of Public Safety.

Shugart says they’ve had much success with the program in South Carolina because, “This isn’t a touchy-feely kind of thing. These are real soldiers doing the real thing. And the peer part is what makes it unique.” 




Hornet Fire contained, SCFC still patrolling

The South Carolina Forestry Commission’s Pee Dee region personnel will continue to monitor the Hornet Fire in Horry County.

The Forestry Commission said in a statement, “This fire is 100 percent contained, not “controlled.” In wildland firefighting, a contained fire has been secured with firebreaks around the perimeter, and is not growing larger. A controlled fire is one which is producing no heat at all. It’s highly likely that the Hornet Fire will re-ignite as weather conditions once again become fire-friendly (hot, dry, with low humidity).”

Crews made great progress during breaks in this week’s rains to prepare the area against future re-ignition, says the commission. 

Local SCFC personnel remain are patrolling the area daily by ground and air to look for changes in area’s fire status. Most of the their personnel have been demobilized and returned to their home regions for regular duty.