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On the eve of Veterans Day, Texas gubernatorial candidate Tom Schieffer – featured fourth from left – a Democrat from Fort Worth, told South Texans that he "will do everything" he can to persuade the federal government to build a Veterans Affairs Hospital in the Rio Grande Valley. His pledge to work towards bringing a VA Hospital to the Valley came as part of his latest visit to South Texas. Schieffer was in the three-time All-America City for a round of meetings with area political, business, and community leaders before capping off his visit with a fundraiser early Tuesday evening, November 10, at Edwards Abstract and Title Co., located at 3111 W. Freddy González Drive. "Such a facility is long overdue, and I will do everything I can to assure that Washington is listening. Failing to provide proper health care for our veterans makes it more difficult to recruit our next generation of service men and women, and it breaks a sacred trust between our government and those who were willing to put themselves in harm’s way to protect our country," said Schieffer, a former U.S. Ambassador to Australia and Japan. Featured with Schieffer in Edinburg are from left: Rosalie Weisfeld; Hidalgo County District Judge Juan Partida; Justice of the Peace Mary Alice Palacios; Tom Schieffer; Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg; Hidalgo County Democratic Party Chairwoman Dolly Elizondo; former Hidalgo County District Judge Fernando Mancias; former Rep. Cullen Looney, D-Edinburg; and Keely Lewis and her husband, Byron Jay Lewis. See lead story in this posting.  

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President Barack Obama, left, and Army Brig. Gen. Karl Horst, commander of the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, stand during Veterans Day services at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., on Wednesday, November 11.  Earlier that day, the FBI announced that it continues to work closely with the Department of the Army in the joint, ongoing investigation into the tragic events that occurred on Thursday, November 5 at Fort Hood. Twelve U.S. military personnel were killed and 31 other people were injured during a massacre allegedly undertaken by Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who reportedly opened fire at a military processing center at Fort Hood around 1:30 p.m. that afternoon. See story later in this posting. 

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce recently welcomed Cynthia Bocanegra as its chairman, along with the rest of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce’s 2009-2010 Board of Directors. Chairman-elect is Johnny Rodríguez, and immediate past chair is Lee Castro.  The Board of Directors also held their first planning session and board meeting to discuss the Chamber’s program of work. Large events such as Fiesta Edinburg, Night of Lights and Texas Cook’em are currently being strategized to offer the Rio Grande Valley and the City of Edinburg quality of life events fun for the entire family. The organization’s leadership also oversees membership  and tourism events as well the governmental affairs events and luncheons. “I am honored to serve as Chairman of the Board, I feel strongly that if we all work together and strive for the same objectives, we will all benefit from the growth and opportunities that will arise. Your continued support is vital to our success. Help make Edinburg a better city for you and me. Join me in making this our best year yet” said Bocanegra. Board directors featured are, front row, from left: Maggie Kent with General Dentistry Center; Darcy Kelly with Peter Piper Pizza; Johnny Rodríguez with Austin Personnel Services; Cynthia Bocanegra with Chaps Bar & Grill; Edna Peña with Horizon Properties; Flo Prater with Rio Valley Realty. Standing, from left: Lee Castro with Memorial Funeral Home; Toribio “Terry” Palacios, Edinburg Municipal Court Judge, with the Law Offices of García Quintanilla & Palacios; Elias Longoria with Lone Star National Bank; Robert McGurk with Elsa State Bank and Trust Co.; Manny Mantrana with the University of Texas-Pan American Athletics; Naomi Perales with South Texas Gas Service; Dina Araguz with IBC Bank; Marissa Castañeda with Doctors Hospital at Renaissance; and Gus Casas with G&S Glass. (Not pictured: Pamela Dougherty with Security land Title Co.; Thelma García with First National Bank; and Abel Leal with Edward Jones Investments.) For more information on the Chamber of Commerce, please call 956/383-4974 or go online at http://www.edinburg.com or http://www.facebook.com/edinburgchamberofcommerce. 

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Joining the other Corporate Partners of the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is Al Treviño, owner of Tico’s Mexican Restaurant, which has locations at 5000 N. 23rd Street in McAllen, 1424 E. Ridge Road in Edinburg, and 519 S. Sugar Road in Edinburg. “My desire to give back to the community is by becoming a Corporate Partner of the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce as this organization helps the community in many ways. It assists the business community by helping businesses get started and/or to expand their business, offers workshops that focus on health, business issues, and government related issues and also concentrates on education," said Treviño. He has been in the restaurant business for 33 years.  Featured, first row, from left: Roxanna Godínez; Albert Treviño; Rubén Garza; and Brenda Lee Huerta. Back row, from left: Dr. John Thomas; Beto Manrique; and Hari Namboodiri. For information on becoming a Corporate Partner or a member of the McAllen Hispanic Chamber,  call 928-0060. 

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Tom Schieffer, Democratic gubernatorial candidate, "will do everything" he can to bring Valley VA Hospital

By DAVID A. DÍAZ   

On the eve of Veterans Day, Texas gubernatorial candidate Tom Schieffer, a Democrat from Fort Worth, told South Texans that he "will do everything" he can to persuade the federal government to build a Veterans Affairs Hospital in the Rio Grande Valley. 

His pledge to work towards bringing a VA Hospital to the Valley came as part of his latest visit to South Texas.  

Schieffer was in the three-time All-America City for a round of meetings with area political, business, and community leaders before capping off his visit with a fundraiser early Tuesday evening, November 10, at Edwards Abstract and Title Co., located at 3111 W. Freddy González Drive. 

Schieffer, a former U.S. Ambassador to Australia and Japan, earlier this fall strongly supported the passage of Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment overwhelmingly approved on Tuesday, November 3, by Texas voters. 

Proposition 8 authorizes Texas to use state financial resources to build and maintain Veterans Administration Hospitals throughout Texas. 

Although the language of the constitutional amendment did not specify where in Texas the state government should invest its resources on VA Hospitals, Schieffer said the Valley would directly benefit under his administration. 

"With Proposition 8, Texans have made it clear to Washington that they want a full-service, in-patient Veterans Hospital to be established in the Rio Grande Valley to provide more accessible health care for thousands of South Texas veterans," said Schieffer. "Now, the federal government needs to do its part. Such a facility is long overdue, and I will do everything I can to assure that Washington is listening. Failing to provide proper health care for our veterans makes it more difficult to recruit our next generation of service men and women, and it breaks a sacred trust between our government and those who were willing to put themselves in harm’s way to protect our country." 

Robert Peña, a Schieffer supporter and member of the Edinburg school board, praised the gubernatorial candidate’s commitment to a Valley VA Hospital. 

"Mr. Schieffer’s promise sends the clear message to the estimated 100,000 veterans who live in the Valley that he will help bring a VA Hospital to our area," said Peña, a former U.S. Marine. "There are no ifs, ands or buts about his strong support for this vital medical facility." 

In addition to Robert Peña, other notable political leaders who showed up for Schieffer’s appearance at Edwards Abstract and Title Co. included 13th Court of Appeals Justice Linda Reyna Yañez, Hidalgo County District Attorney René Guerra, Hidalgo County District Judge Juan Partida, former Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García, Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, Gary Gurwitz of McAllen, who serves on the Board of Trustees for South Texas College, Hidalgo County Democratic Party chairwoman Dolly Elizondo, Justice of the Peace Mary Alice Palacios, former Rep. Cullen Looney, D-Edinburg, and former Hidalgo County District Judge Fernando Mancías. 

Schieffer said that "time and again, Americans have answered the call to duty to protect our freedoms. But it is our government’s duty to provide these men and women with the services and benefits they were promised when they agreed to risk their lives for our freedoms. That’s why I am pleased that Texas voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 8 on the recent constitutional amendments ballot." 

Byron Jay Lewis, president of Edwards Abstract and Title Co., praised Schieffer, the Valley’s state legislative delegation, and South Texas veterans groups and their families for developing and spearheading the passage of Proposition 8. 

"Proposition 8 was born in South Texas as the result of thousands of Valley veterans who have fought for many years to keep alive the vision of a Valley VA Hospital, and Proposition 8 has brought us much closer to that tremendous goal," said Lewis. "At the request of our Valley veterans, our entire Valley legislative delegation successfully pushed the measure last spring through the Texas Legislature that placed Proposition 8 on the statewide ballots. Mr. Schieffer’s public commitment that as governor, he will use those powers to support the construction of a Valley VA Hospital in the Valley, is a tremendous boost to that effort." 

Schieffer is seeking the March 2010 Democratic Party nomination for the state’s highest office. 

The general election will be held in November 2010, and the winner would be sworn into office for a four-year term beginning in mid-January 2011. 

By an overwhelming majority – more than 75 percent – Texas voters on Tuesday, November 3, approved passage of Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment that authorizes the state government to contribute money, property, and other resources for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of veterans hospitals in Texas.  

Proposition 8 was approved by a landslide margin of 785,775 to 264,250, according to unofficial totals from the Texas Secretary of State.  

Locally, Hidalgo County residents favored Proposition 8 by more than 80 percent of the cast ballots, 6,477 to 1,542, according to the secretary of state’s unofficial results on Wednesday, November 4.  

In Cameron County, the margin was about the same, with 5,452 favoring Proposition 8 to 1,339 opposing that measure, the secretary of state’s unofficial results also showed.  

According to House Concurrent Resolution 86, approved last spring by the Texas Legislature, there are more than 100,000 veterans living in the four-county Rio Grande Valley.  

The passage of Proposition 8 clears any legal hurdles that could have been used to delay or block the use of state resources to help bring a VA Hospital to the Valley. 

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs operates only nine in-patient veterans’ hospitals in Texas – in Amarillo, Big Spring, Bonham, Dallas, Houston, Kerville, San Antonio, Temple, and Waco – but none in the Rio Grande Valley, which, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is one of the fastest growing regions in Texas, with more than one million residents (Hidalgo County, 726,200; Cameron County, 392,746; Starr County, 62,249; and Willacy County, 20,600).  

Political advertisement paid by Byron Jay Lewis, 3111 W. Freddy González Drive, Edinburg, Texas 78539. For more on this, and related stories and photographs, please log on to http://www.TomforTexas.com 

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John Sharp, Rep. Gonzáles, Rep. Guillen ask U.S. senators to secure immediate health care money for 115,000 Valley veterans

Applauding Texas voters for their overwhelming support of Proposition 8 on the statewide ballot a week ago, John Sharp, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, on Tuesday, November 11, asked the state’s two U.S. senators to use their influence to secure immediate care for the estimated 115,000 military veterans  in the Rio Grande Valley who lack access to comprehensive local medical treatment.       

Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, and Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, also signed a letter penned by Sharp that was sent to U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, both Republicans. 

“While Proposition 8 is a positive step forward for the future of veterans’ health care, many of our  Valley veterans continue to need specialized care today,” the three wrote in a letter faxed to the  Hutchison’s and Cornyn’s Washington offices. “We ask you to use your influence to find resources within the current  federal budget to help existing South Texas medical facilities get our Valley veterans the immediate care  they deserve.”      

Sharp is a former Texas Comptroller, the state’s chief financial officer. Gonzáles is a member of the  critical House Public Health Committee. Guillen is a veteran lawmaker who has served as vice chair  of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.   

The three joined forces to urge Hutchison and Cornyn to find federal funds for retooling or expanding existing Rio Grande Valley medical facilities so that they can provide immediate medical, surgical, and mental health services.  

The  efforts should supplement existing and recent improvements for Valley veterans health care, they said.      

“Bricks-and-mortar buildings may still be years away,” the three wrote, “and veterans who need care  now should not be put on hold. More brave military men and women coming home from Afghanistan  and Iraq join their ranks every week, and the federal government’s own projections are for additional  outpatient needs over the next two decades.”      

Sharp, Gonzáles, and Guillen noted that the need for a free-standing Veterans Administration in South  Texas has been a long-standing part of the public debate over veterans issues and health care.  They said that passage of Proposition 8 gives the state authority to more aggressively address the crisis of Valley veterans, who are forced to drive hundreds of miles for specialized care.      

To address the urgent need for medical attention in the meantime, however, immediate action is  needed, the three said.      

“Valley veterans answered the call when they were asked to serve, and they have waited patiently for  Washington to do the right thing for them now,” they wrote.  “The time for patience has passed.  The  federal government should guarantee these men and women the health care they deserve — now.”      

Sharp, Gonzáles, and Guillen pledged to help bring together other Valley leaders and medical  professionals to guarantee that the broadest array of specialty care is available as soon as possible.   

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Gov. Perry announces initiatives to expand and improve mental health programs for veterans

Gov. Rick Perry on Monday, November 9, announced initiatives to expand and improve mental health support programs for veterans and their families utilizing state funds marked for veterans mental health. 

“The men and women of the military make the ultimate sacrifice to leave their families and loved ones and serve our country fighting in distant lands,” Perry said. “While observing Veterans’ Day this week, we cannot forget to support these brave Americans and their families when they return home by ensuring they have access to the health care and benefits promised when they made their own promise to defend this nation, and by ensuring a seamless transition to civilian life and providing any support they need.” 

The governor is working with the Legislature and the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to secure an additional $5 million to supplement the $1.2 million from the state budget to expand mental health treatment and support programs for veterans and their families. 

To address the challenges faced by veterans seeking mental health treatment, the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) will expand their existing programs to cater to veterans’ immediate needs. Family education and support programs will be modeled after Operation Enduring Families and the SAFE (Support And Family Education) Program, both of which have proven successful in other parts of the country. 

“Our veterans have sacrificed to protect our nation,” DSHS Commissioner David Lakey said. “The mental health challenges some veterans face after combat are serious, and can be life threatening. Our agency is honored to be part of an expanding effort to better meet those needs. Our veterans deserve nothing less.” 

Perry has also directed the Texas Veterans Commission (TVC) and DSHS to establish veteran-to-veteran (V2V) support groups across the state. These V2V groups help veterans by allowing them to share their experiences with fellow veterans. 

“No one is better suited to give support to our veterans than other veterans,” said Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio. “Their unique experiences are a valuable resource which will help us in our efforts to serve the needs of those who have so willingly served us.” 

V2V groups will focus on the Texas National Guard and will be led by veterans trained as facilitators or mental health professionals. Senate Bill 1325, by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and Corte, requires DSHS to create a mental health program for veterans that includes V2V groups. 

"Veterans struggling with the psychological wounds of war are more likely to seek assistance if that support comes from another veteran,” said Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Plano. “Our legislation sets up a framework for former military personnel to volunteer their time to help ease the burden of those facing emotional challenges. We have outstanding, service-minded veterans in Texas who, with the right training, can make a positive impact in the lives of their peers and help them readjust." 

Perry has also directed DSHS to recruit and train volunteers and practitioners to provide mental health support to veterans. The state will partner with organizations such as Give an Hour, a nonprofit organization that develops volunteer networks to meet the mental health needs of troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families. DSHS and TVC will support the expansion of this program into Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Rio Grande Valley (Brownsville), Fort Bliss in El Paso and Fort Hood in Killeen in the next year. 

"Our men and women in the military have given much for us, now we must do all we can for them," Van de Putte said. "In this troubled time, our soldiers have served repeated deployments around the globe, placing an incredible amount of emotional strain on military families. This effort will help both those who serve and those who wait and pray for their loved ones return." 

DSHS will also provide funds to the Texas A&M Health Science Center for improving the TexVet Web site, http://www.texvet.com/, which will provide veterans with screening resources and information regarding potential eligibility for federal, state and local benefits. DSHS will ensure coordination between 2-1-1, TexVet, and other state agencies such as TVC, and will expand the availability of veteran information through 2-1-1. 

Summary of initiatives: 

  • $6.2 million expansion of existing mental health programs for veterans;
  • Expansion of the number of programs available to meet the needs of families of veterans in addition to programs for veterans;
  • Establishment of veteran-to-veteran support groups across the state coordinated by TVC and DSHS;
  • Recruiting and training volunteers and practitioners for veterans’ mental health support; and
  • Upgrading http://www.texvet.com/ to include resources and information on veterans’ benefits and coordination between agencies that provide veterans’ services.   

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New $2 Texas lottery ticket will provide much needed funding for veterans’ programs

By EMILY AMPS 

Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, and Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, on Monday, November 9, were joined by fellow legislators and veterans’ leaders at a press conference in Arlington as they purchased some of the first Veterans Cash Texas Lottery scratch-off tickets to go on sale.  

Stores across the state began selling the ticket Monday, November 9, and the game was scheduled to be in full circulation by Wednesday, November 11, Veterans’ Day. The proceeds from the ticket will benefit the Permanent Fund for Veterans’ Assistance (FVA). 

The FVA was created by Legislature in 2007 to aid those who served our nation in uniform, as well as their families. Since its creation, the fund has received very little financial assistance and as a result, organizations that aid veterans in need are having to look elsewhere for grants and funding sources. 

"With the launch of this game today, we are saying ‘thank you’ to the men and women of our state who have risked so much in service to our nation," said Turner, who pushed the Veterans Cash legislation through the House earlier this year. "The revenue from this game will provide meaningful funding for the Fund for Veterans’ Assistance to help provide grants for job placement services, health care costs and PTSD and TBI treatment for Texas veterans." 

"Texas is currently home to more than 1.7 million veterans who dedicated their lives and service in order to protect our freedoms," said Harris. "We, as Texans, owe these men and women as well as their families a great debt of gratitude. Veterans Cash will set up the stream of revenue enabling the Texas Veterans Commission, and all Texans, a way to say thank you for a job well done and welcome home. 

"I am thrilled to take part in the release of Veterans Cash which will create the greatly needed revenue source allowing Texas the ability to give back and take care of our returning veterans and their families, who have so selflessly given their service for our protection," continued Harris. 

"On behalf of veterans across the state, I cannot thank Sen. Harris, Senator Leticia Van De Putte (D-San Antonio) and Rep. Turner enough for their hard work to pass the measure creating the Veterans Cash scratch-off and being tireless advocates for veterans and their families." said John Miterko, Legislative Liaison, Texas Coalition of Veterans Organizations. 

The Legislative Budget Board projects that the single scratch-off game will mean an economic impact for the Permanent Fund for Veterans’ Assistance in the amount of approximately $9 million during the first full year it is in circulation. 

During the 81st Legislative Session, HB 1299 by Turner and its Senate companion, SB 421 by Van De Putte and Harris, were filed to create the lottery scratch-off game. HB 1299 passed the House with only minutes to spare and was eventually added to Van De Putte’s SB 1655. The passage of legislation to create this scratch-off ticket has been a top priority for veterans’ organizations across the State of Texas. 

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Law authorizes flag be lowered at Texas State Cemetery whenever a Texan dies in combat

The Texas State Cemetery has installed a flagpole in its monument section to serve as an ongoing reminder that Texans are serving in combat zones around the world. Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, asked that the flagpole be installed and the flag lowered to half staff whenever a Texan dies in combat. 

Lucio, author of Senate Bill 2135 authorizing the flagpole, said it will be a solemn reminder of the ongoing sacrifice of Texans in service to their country. 

“As Veterans Day approaches, it is important to remember those who fought for our freedom and paid the ultimate price,” Lucio said. “The flagpole is a small, but significant acknowledgement of what each of these men and women fight for every day.” 

The Texas State Cemetery is home to a number of monuments acknowledging the service of Texans in war. The most recent monument, dedicated last year, is meant to honor all Texas Vietnam veterans. In addition to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, there are memorials to Texans who fought in World War II, Texan Purple Heart Recipients, Texan Medal of Honor Recipients and Texas Gold Star Mothers. 

According to Cemetery Superintendent Harry Bradley, the flagpole is an important addition to the monument section. 

“The new veteran’s flagpole is a reminder that Texans have always served their country and still do today,” Bradley said. 

The Texas State Cemetery is located at 909 Navasota Street in Austin and is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.  

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Robert S. Nelsen named president of UT-Pan American, begins duties on January 1

By MATT FLORES 

The University of Texas System Board of Regents on Thursday, November 11, appointed Robert S. Nelsen president of The University of Texas – Pan American. 

The board had named Nelsen, currently the associate vice president for academic affairs at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi, as the sole finalist on October 12. 

Nelsen will assume the president’s position effective January 1. He succeeds Dr. Blandina Cárdenas, who stepped down from the position last January. Charles A. Sorber has been serving as interim president since February 16, and will work closely with Nelsen as he transitions into the presidency.   

"Dr. Nelsen possesses the administrative skills and experience necessary for this position and we are confident he will advance excellence at this important institution," said Regents’ Chairman James R. Huffines. "We would also like to thank Charles Sorber, a veteran academician and administrator who has now successfully served as the chief administrative officer of three University of Texas System academic institutions, for his service to UTPA and the UT System.” 

“UTPA plays a critical role in providing higher education opportunities and economic vitality to the Rio Grande Valley. I am confident that Dr. Nelsen has the strong leadership skills necessary to make this institution an even more vibrant resource for the region and state," UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., said. 

Before becoming associate vice president at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Nelsen served as associate provost and vice provost at UT Dallas. He has held numerous faculty appointments in literature at UT Dallas and at the University of Illinois at Chicago. 

“I am humbled and honored to be chosen to serve the students, staff, and faculty at the University of Texas – Pan American and the citizens of the Rio Grande Valley,” Nelsen said. “I firmly believe a saying that I have heard several times in my recent trips to the Valley: ‘As South Texas goes, so goes Texas and the nation.’ 

"UT Pan American has become and will continue to be a leading force for growth, economic development, and progress in the Valley. The university’s students are superb as are the faculty and staff. Together, we will work hand in hand with industry and business leaders, educators both at the community college and independent school district levels, and local, state, and national elected officials to ensure the future of the Valley and especially the future of our youth,” Nelsen added. 

Nelsen earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah and his doctoral degree from the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. 

Nelsen said he is looking forward to his move to the Edinburg campus, which has an enrollment of more than 18,000 students. 

“In this age of homogenization, to be successful, a university must be unique. The vision for The University of Texas-Pan American must fit its unique location — the Rio Grande Valley. I am excited about moving to the Valley and embracing the wonderful culture there. As I said when I visited, I feel as though I am returning to where I belong,” he recalled. 

As president of UTPA, Nelsen said partnerships — with the local community, local and statewide educational institutions, parents and students, and with faculty and staff — will be the hallmark of his leadership. 

“Our task will be to leverage the opportunities that surround us and to make the dreams of our students, faculty and staff reality,” Nelsen said. “I believe that a crucial task for a president, maybe the most crucial task, is building bridges, bridges that our students, faculty and the community will pass over as they create our future. 

“Prepare. Discover. Transform. — the words that I see over and over on the University’s Web site will guide us as we take each step forward,” Nelsen said. 

Melissa Vásquez contributed to this article. 

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Texas Border Coalition to seek solutions to "looming crisis" at U.S. ports of entry

By ELIZABETH LIPPINCOT 

As border security and trade continue to grab state and national headlines, a group of distinguished local, state and federal elected, administrative, academic and business leaders will convene at Laredo Community College on Friday, November 13, to seek solutions to the looming crisis that threatens inspection capabilities and cross-border traffic at U.S. ports of entry. 

The conference entitled, “Balancing Security, Trade and Travel: A Looming Crisis at U.S. Ports of Entry,” will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Room 101 of the De La Garza Building, Laredo Community College (Fort McIntosh Campus), West End Washington Street. 

The conference is sponsored by the Texas Border Coalition (TBC), which is comprised of mayors, county officials and economic development associations along the Texas-Mexico border. TBC is dedicated to organizing a national coalition and working with the Obama Administration and members of Congress to support improvements at U.S. ports to help each achieve its trade and security mandate. 

Featured speakers will be U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas; U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas; and J.D. Salinas, Region 7 administrator for the General Services Administration and former Hidalgo County Judge.

Other speakers include: 

  • Richard Stana, director of Homeland Security and Justice for the U.S. Government Accountability Office;
  • Jim King, director of the Southern Border Station Center for the U.S. General Services Administration;
  • Mike Clardy, Land Port of Entry program manager for the U.S. General Services Administration;
  • Robert Harris, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol’s Laredo sector;
  • Dean Sinclair, deputy chief patrol agent of U.S. Border Patrol’s Del Rio Sector;
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection Field Operations Directors Ana Hinojosa (El Paso) and Leticia Moran (Laredo);
  • Sam Vale, president of the Starr-Camargo Bridge Co. in Rio Grande City;
  • Eddie Aldrete, senior vice president of IBC Bank;
  • Larry Levine, president of Levcor, Inc. in Houston;
  • John McClung, president and CEO of the Texas Produce Association;
  • Kathy Neal, incoming chairwoman of the Border Trade Alliance; and
  • Craig Regelbrugge of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform. 

Additional information about TBC can be found on the coalition Web site at:

http://www.texasbordercoalition.org

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McAllen and Edinburg join UTPA to celebrate donation of 90 burr oak trees from TXU Energy

By GAIL FAGAN 

The gift of 90 burr oak trees from TXU Energy to The University of Texas-Pan American and the Rio Grande Valley cities of Edinburg and McAllen was celebrated on Tuesday, November 3 at the UTPA campus as one that will keep on giving for generations to come. 

University officials along with representatives from McAllen and Edinburg greeted Jon Bennett, TXU Energy director of Community Relations, and an 18-wheel truck carrying the 90 trees measuring 12 to 14 feet tall – 30 of which will go to each city and the remainder being planted at the University campus. 

UTPA Interim President Charles A. Sorber called the gift of the trees a welcome addition to UTPA’s campus landscaping master plan and its goal to provide and maintain a sustainable environment. 

“These particular oaks will be enjoyed not just in the short term but by students for generations to come long after you and I are gone, they will be there for the people of this community and the people that populate this campus. This living gift we accept today from TXU Energy will provide another huge step in our direction to making our landscaping sustainable in addition to beautifying our campus,” he said. 

The trees were donated as part of TXU Energy’s Committed to Community Growth program, which focuses on the company’s commitment to environmental improvement, sustainability and going green efforts at Texas campuses and communities. 

TXU Energy owns the largest urban tree farm in the nation operated by the Texas Trees Foundation and currently donates trees to any public property. Bennett said since the Committed to Community Growth program started in 2000, TXU Energy has dedicated more than 152,000 trees across the state. 

“We are inside communities everywhere and across the Rio Grande Valley from Port Isabel to Rio Grande City,” said Bennett, who also described TXU Energy’s other efforts to help their energy consumers, such as energy conservation advice and assistance for low-income customers. “The burr oak tree is one of the largest, deepest rooted and strongest Texas trees there is. When you put that here in the Valley it will be here for generations and generations. Sustainability is not about us, it is about the future." 

Accepting the trees at the ceremony from the City of Edinburg was Edward L. Kuprel, city forester, and from the City of McAllen, Parks Superintendent Brad Bentsen. Javier González, a biology major and member of the university’s Environmental Awareness Club, which initiated campus recycling and other green projects at UTPA, represented the students in thanking TXU Energy for their donation. González said “some of life’s best ideas and self realizations have come to light under the shade of a tree.” 

“It is a very exciting time to be attending UTPA as we embark on our journey toward a sustainable future. This university is part of our city, our county, our region and harbors our next generation. The green we plant here will spread and grow onto our community and then we can all taste from its fruit,” he said. 

Described by arborists as a tall, fairly slow-growing tree highly desirable for windbreaks, shelter belts and ornamental use, the burr oak is very adaptable to various soils and its mature height and spread are both approximately 80 feet. The trees donated to UTPA will be planted near the Wellness and Recreational Sports Complex and the Physical Plant Building, both on the campus’ western boundary. 

Marianella Franklin, UTPA’s director for Sustainability Programs, who moderated the donation ceremony, called the donation of trees an incredible gift toward UTPA’s preservation of a healthy, vibrant and sustainable ecological system. 

Appointed just this year, Franklin will direct the development and implementation of a comprehensive set of goals for a 10-year Sustainability Campus Action Plan covering operations, research teaching/curriculum, outreach and assessment. She will also chair a 23-member University Sustainability Council made up of University administrators and student, faculty and staff representatives who will establish and work on task forces to address the many sustainability areas to be met. 

“We seek to engage the entire University – students, staff, and faculty – and all of South Texas in efforts to contribute with solutions to the environmental challenges we face here locally. Today we are here to accept a gift that will assist the University in addressing one of those challenges,” she said. 

TXU Energy is a market-leading competitive retailer that provides electricity and related services to more than 2.2 million electricity customers in Texas. For more information on TXU Energy and its Committed to Community Growth program, go to http://www.txu.com. For more information on the sustainability initiatives at UTPA, contact Franklin at 956/292-7301 or via e-mail at franklinm@utpa.edu

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Beware of calls to Spanish-speakers offering “free” English courses paid by government

Spanish-speaking consumers are being targeted on their residential and mobile phones by scam artists offering a “free” English course. According to recent complaints to the Office of the Attorney General, callers are posing as employees of a purported nonprofit agency and claiming that call recipients could qualify for a “free” federal government English course. The scam artists ask unsuspecting customers for their personal information and the personal information of three friends as references. 

A few days later, a representative of the phony nonprofit organization calls interested customers and tells them they did not qualify for a “free” course after all. Call recipients are asked to pay $500 for the so-called course. In some cases, customers are told they did qualify, but they nonetheless need to pay $500 for the course. In either case, if the customers decide not to take the course after initially agreeing to take it, the scam artists insist a binding, verbal contract exists and that the customers must pay. 

In some instances, the scammers will tell call recipients the course has been sent to them through an express delivery service, even though customers never receive any merchandise. The scammers call customers repeatedly to insist on payment. To add further pressure, some call recipients are told they have been sued by the nonprofit for non-payment and that they now have a court date. 

The Office of the Attorney General urges Texans to exercise caution when dealing with telephone sales calls. 

To stop calls from telemarketers, Texans should register residential and mobile telephone numbers with both state and federal do-not-call lists. Enroll with Texas’ do-not-call list at http://www.texasnocall.com and the federal government’s list at http://www.donotcall.gov. The registrations are effective several weeks after enrollment. 

Scam artists do not respect customers’ legal right not to be called after their phone numbers are registered, so Texans should always be suspicious of unsolicited sales calls. The best way to deal with unsolicited calls is to hang up on them. 

Texans who believe they have been victimized by a fraudulent telemarketers or suspect violations of the Texas no-call list can file a complaint with the OAG at (800) 252-8011 or online at http://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov

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Abelardo Flores Jr., 40, of Harlingen latest defendant in May 2003 human smuggling tragedy that killed 19, sentenced to prison

By ANGELA DODGE  

Abelardo Flores Jr., 40, a resident of Harlingen, was sentenced to more than 14 years in federal prison on Monday, November 9 for his involvement in a smuggling conspiracy which resulted in the death of a total of 19 smuggled aliens aboard an ill-fated tractor trailer abandoned near Victoria in May 2003, United States Attorney Tim Johnson has announced.  

Flores previously pleaded guilty to a smuggling conspiracy charge and ultimately testified at the trials of seven co-defendants. 

At a sentencing hearing during the morning on November 9, United States District Court Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore sentenced Flores to 175 months in federal prison, without parole, to be followed by a five-year-term of supervised release for his smuggling conspiracy conviction. Gilmore also imposed a $3,000 fine and assessed a $100 special assessment.  

Flores was a member of an alien smuggling organization that included among its goals the smuggling of aliens into the United States from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and other countries. 

On May 13, 2003, Flores made telephone contact with Tyrone Mapletoft Williams, who was traveling from San Antonio to Harlingen in a tractor-trailer rig accompanied by co-defendant Fatima Holloway. Upon arriving at a truck stop in Harlingen on May 13, 2003, Williams and Holloway met co-defendant Fredy Giovanni García-Tobar. García-Tobar rented a room at a Horizon Inn in Harlingen for Williams and Holloway and transported them to the hotel. Williams left his rig parked at the truck stop. 

Later that same day, Flores met with Williams and Holloway at the hotel on two separate occasions. During the second meeting, Flores gave Williams a brown paper sack containing $7,500 as payment to transport a group of undocumented aliens from Harlingen to Robstown, located near Corpus Christi. 

At approximately 9 a.m. on May 13, 2003, Flores guided Williams and Holloway, who were traveling in Williams’ rig, to a darkened field at or near Harlingen. After the rig’s lights had been extinguished, the rig was backed into the field. At this site, at least 74 undocumented migrants were loaded into the refrigerator trailer of Williams’ rig. After the undocumented migrants were loaded, Williams proceeded to Highway 77and then continued northbound on Highway 77 bound for Robstown. During the trip, plans changed and Williams agreed to transport the undocumented aliens to Houston for an additional sum.  

On the morning of May 14, 2003, officers of the Victoria County Sheriff’s Office discovered Williams’ refrigerator trailer near Victoria. The bodies of 17 undocumented aliens plus two others in critical condition who later died at area hospitals as well as survivors of the ill-fated smuggling effort were found by deputies in and around the trailer.  

A jury subsequently convicted Williams of having recklessly placed the lives of the undocumented migrants in jeopardy and at risk of serious bodily injury and that Williams’ deliberate, reckless conduct caused the death of 19 of the trailer’s occupants. The jury subsequently sentenced Williams to 19 life terms of imprisonment. 

A total of 12 persons including Flores have been convicted for their involvement in this tragic smuggling operation and are presently serving lengthy prison terms. This case was the result of an extensive international investigation conducted by the Houston, San Antonio, Harlingen, Brownsville and McAllen offices of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; the Department of Housing and Urban Development; the Department of Public Safety, including the Texas Rangers; the Victoria County Sheriff’s Department; and the Police Departments in McAllen, Harlingen and Victoria.   

This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel C. Rodríguez, Jeffery Vaden and Tony R. Roberts. 

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Congressman Cuellar votes for historic health care reform plan narrowly passed by House

By ASHLEY PATTERSON 

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Saturday, November 7, voted for H.R. 3962, the “Affordable Health Care for America Act of 2009,” historic health care reform legislation to reform the nation’s health insurance system and ensure quality, affordable health care for all Americans. The deficit-neutral legislation will bring health care coverage to 209,000 uninsured Americans in the 28th congressional district of Texas and will provide coverage to 4.4 million uninsured Texans. 

The measure must still be passed by the Senate and signed into law by the President. 

“This vote was a once in a lifetime opportunity to build upon the premise that all Americans are created equal and would ensure that every American is worthy of access to quality affordable health care,” said Cuellar. “This historic unprecedented plan is built on a fundamental premise that all Americans should be treated with dignity when securing their health. No American should live without health care choices or live on the brink of a health care crisis.” 

The “Affordable Health Care for America Act” would provide coverage to 96% of Americans through private health insurance reforms, an expansion of Medicaid, affordability credits and the creation of a national health insurance exchange. The deficit-neutral legislation costs $894 billion, $400 billion less than the original House health care reform plan introduced this July. 

Cuellar secured two major amendments in the final bill, including protecting state tort reform laws from federal preemption and ensuring that all new health care agencies created under the bill are efficient and held accountable. Earlier in the week, the Texas Medical Association applauded Cuellar’s provision to protect Texas’ strong medical liability laws. 

“I decided to vote in favor of this historic legislation because it preserves what works and improves upon what doesn’t,” said Cuellar. “One third of my district is uninsured, meaning that there are over two hundred thousand reasons why we need immediate health care reform today.” 

The House health care reform plan would prohibit private health insurance companies from denying coverage to Americans with pre-existing conditions, and would also cap annual out of pocket medical expenses at $5,000 per individual and $10,000 per family. The plan would also provide affordability credits to low and moderate income individuals and families, and includes a voluntary public health insurance option in which the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates 2% of Americans would enroll. 

“Congress created Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to provide options for Americans who would otherwise have slim to none,” said Cuellar. “These government programs are vital to those who rely on them and thus ‘government takeover’ claims are fabrications to evoke fear.” 

The plan passed by the House late Saturday by a vote of 220-215 and significantly strengthens Medicare and Medicaid. In fact, it closes the Medicare Part D “Donut hole” for seniors by 2019 and eliminates cost-sharing for preventive care services. The bill also expands Medicaid to individuals and families with incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty line, recognizing the hardships families face in these tough economic times. 

“This transformative, landmark bill is one of the most important votes this Congress will ever take,” said Cuellar. “A champion for health care, Senator Ted Kennedy once called health care reform the great unfinished business of our country. Today, we are one giant step closer to finishing the job.” 

The 28th District of Texas would significantly benefit by the “Affordable Health Care for America Act of 2009”: 

Coverage of the Uninsured 

There are 267,000 uninsured individuals in the 28th district, (34% of the district’s population). The Congressional Budget Office estimates that nationwide, 96% of all Americans will receive insurance coverage under this plan. If this benchmark is reached, 209,000 people who currently do not have health insurance will receive coverage under H.R. 3962. 

Strengthening Medicare 

There are 94,000 Medicare beneficiaries in the 28th district. The health care reform legislation improves Medicare by providing free preventive and wellness care, improving primary and coordinated care, improving nursing home quality and strengthening the Medicare Trust Fund. 

Help for Small Businesses  

Under the legislation, businesses with up to 100 employees will be able to join the health insurance exchange, benefitting from lowered group rates and a greater choice of insurers. There are 14,200 small businesses in the 28th district that will be able to join the health insurance exchange. 

Help for Seniors 

Each year, 5,800 seniors in the 28th district experience the Medicare Part D “donut hole”  and are forced to pay their full prescription drug costs. This legislation would provide them with immediate relief, cutting brand name drug costs in the donut hole by 50%, and ultimately eliminate the donut hole by 2019. 

Health Care and Financial Security 

In 2008, there were 600 health care-related bankruptcies in the 28th district in 2008, caused primarily by the health care costs not covered by private insurance. This bill caps annual out-of-pocket expenses at $5,000 for single individuals and $10,000 per year for families, ensuring that no citizen will have to face financial ruin because of high health care costs.  

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Sen. Hutchison dismayed by House passage of "government-run health care overhaul" plan

By COURTNEY SANDERS 

U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, on Saturday, November 7, released the following statement regarding House passage of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and the Democrats’ "government-run health care overhaul": 

“I’d like to commend the Republican members of the Texas delegation for their unanimous vote against the Democrats’ government takeover of healthcare. Today and every day, they are fighting for Texas and the best interest of their constituents. Unfortunately, President Obama and the Democrats in Congress refuse to listen to the American people as was reflected in tonight’s vote. 

“We need to work to improve access to healthcare, but we must do so in a way that does not hijack our healthcare system. What the Democrats have passed tonight, a government takeover of our healthcare and the tax increases that go along with it, is a disappointing substitute for real reform. I will do everything in my power to prevent this bill, and anything remotely similar to it, from passing the Senate. 

"My Republican colleagues and I have put forth fiscally responsible ideas for reform such as small business pooling, nationwide medical malpractice reform and tax credits for individuals who purchase insurance. These measures would lead to more affordable and accessible health insurance without crippling families and businesses. 

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Congressman Hinojosa, economist Dr. Ted C. Jones to headline 6th Annual State of Real Estate Forum on Friday, January 22

By ELVA JACKSON GARZA 

Edwards Abstract and Title Co. has announced that the 6th Annual State of Real Estate Forum is scheduled for Friday, January 22, 2010 at the McAllen Country Club.  Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m. and the forum will be from 9 a.m. until noon. 

The 6th Annual State of Real Estate Forum  – 2010 and Beyond will be headlined by key note speaker Dr. Ted C. Jones, Ph.D. and Director of Investor Relations with Stewart Information Services Corporation.  Jones will target his presentation on national, state and housing market issues. One of the keys to the rebounding of the national economy is the stability of the housing market. Jones will offer his insight on mortgage and lending issues, interest rates, inflation and energy solutions. Jones currently serves as Senior Vice President and Chief Economist for Stewart Title Guaranty Company headquartered in Houston. 

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, has accepted a special invitation to participate in the 6th Annual State of Real Estate Forum. The focus of Hinojosa’s message will be his efforts on behalf Congressional District 15 as a member of the powerful House Committee on Financial Services.  As co-Founder and Chairman of the Congressional Rural Housing Caucus, Hinojosa has taken actions to reduce the negative impact the current economic crisis is having on the housing market. 

The 6th Annual State of Real Estate Forum is provided as a continued service of Edwards Abstract and Title Co.   

“We are committed to the continued growth and success of real estate industry professionals in the Rio Grande Valley.  Most of us in the real estate industry are looking for solutions during 2010, and we will start the year with two very knowledgeable individuals who will offer their perspective of the market during the coming year,” said Byron Jay Lewis, president of Edwards Abstract and Title Co. 

Early registration is strongly encouraged and limited to the first 250 who register.  Reservations can be made by contacting Elva Jackson Garza, vice president/marketing manager at 383-4951 or elva.garza@edwards-titleco.com.  There is no cost to attend. 

Edwards Abstract and Title Co. was founded in 1880 and offers four convenient locations in McAllen, Mission /Sharyland, Weslaco with the headquarters located in Edinburg.  For more information log on to http://www.edwards-titleco.com

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Attorney General Abbott reaches agreement to stop Tagged from misusing e-mail addresses

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Monday, November 9, resolved an enforcement action against Tagged, Inc., a social networking site operator that has an estimated two million Texas users. Under an agreed final judgment obtained by the state, Tagged must implement new privacy features and take additional measures to inform users about how the Web site will utilize their personal information. 

To use Tagged’s social networking service, users must register and create an account. During the enrollment process, state investigators found that the defendant misled subscribers into providing Tagged access to users’ e-mail address books. Tagged then used this access to send deceptive electronic invitations to users’ personal contacts under the user’s name. 

Tagged’s deceptive solicitation campaign in early June triggered the state’s investigation. In this venture, Tagged sent e-mails to subscribers’ contacts using the member’s name, and misled those contacts by claiming that subscribers wanted to share their photos. To view those “photos,” which in many instances did not exist, contacts were told they must join Tagged. Tagged enrolled those recipients as users and sought access to their e-mail address books, continuing the deceptive cycle. 

Under the November 9 judgment, Tagged must clearly disclose its intention to access subscribers’  e-mail address books and send e-mails to users’ contacts. Tagged must secure express, verifiable consent from subscribers for either activity to occur and must allow users to view a sample of the e-mail Tagged will distribute. The judgment also requires Tagged to allow subscribers to select or deselect any individual contacts from their e-mail address book who will receive the corporation’s electronic communication. Tagged also must provide subscribers the option to skip unnecessary access to their e-mail address books. 

To better protect subscribers’  personal information, Tagged must designate a corporate level compliance representative and adopt a formal retention policy. The defendant also must allow subscribers to set their accounts to a “private” setting that blocks unauthorized access to their information. 

The November 9 judgment orders Tagged to pay $145,000 in civil penalties for violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Tagged also must pay $105,000 to cover the state’s investigative costs. 

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FBI continues investigation into Fort Hood massacre that killed 12, wounded dozens

The FBI continues to work closely with the Department of the Army in the joint, ongoing investigation into the tragic events that occurred on Thursday, November 5 at Fort Hood, according to the federal law enforcement agency. 

Twelve U.S. military personnel were killed and injured 31 other people were injured during a massacre allegedly undertaken by Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who reportedly opened fire at a military processing center at Fort Hood around 1:30 p.m. that afternoon. 

According to a briefing issued by the FBI on Wednesday, November 11: 

With respect to the investigation—the Army Criminal Investigative Division is leading a coordinated criminal investigation with the support of the FBI and other components of the Department of Justice and the Texas Rangers. The investigation is in its early stages, and the information we can provide now is limited. 

With respect to what the FBI is doing—personnel from the Counterterrorism Division, Laboratory Division, and the Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) are on site in support of the tragedy. The personnel deployed by the Laboratory and CIRG are specialists in crime scene analysis, evidence collection, and shooting incident reconstruction. Our victim assistance teams are working closely with their counterpart Department of Defense specialists, and we will continue to provide whatever resources are necessary to support the investigation. 

At this point, there is no information to indicate Major Nidal Malik Hasan had any co-conspirators or was part of a broader terrorist plot. The investigation to date has not identified a motive, and a number of possibilities remain under consideration. We are working with the military to obtain, review, and analyze all information relating to Major Hasan in order to allow for a better understanding of the facts and circumstances that led to the Fort Hood shooting. Understandably, there is a large volume of information in various forms, and it will take us some time to complete this work. 

There has been and continues to be a great deal of reported information about what was or might have been known to the government about Major Hasan prior to the shooting. 

Major Hasan came to the attention of the FBI in December 2008 as part of an unrelated investigation being conducted by one of our Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs). JTTFs are FBI-led, multi-agency teams made up of FBI agents, other federal investigators, including those from the Department of Defense, and state and local law enforcement officers. Such task forces are designed to bring investigators and analysts into a collaborative, information-sharing environment in order to maximize the collective impact of the respective agencies.  

In this case, the JTTF included investigators and analysts from, among other agencies, the FBI and the Department of Defense’s Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS). Investigators on the JTTF reviewed certain communications between Major Hasan and the subject of that investigation and assessed that the content of those communications was consistent with research being conducted by Major Hasan in his position as a psychiatrist at the Walter Reed Medical Center. Because the content of the communications was explainable by his research and nothing else derogatory was found, the JTTF concluded that Major Hasan was not involved in terrorist activities or terrorist planning. Other communications that the FBI was aware of were similar to the ones reviewed by the JTTF. 

Standard protocols—based on federal law, regulations, and policy, including the Privacy and Freedom of Information Acts—govern information handling in federal task force settings, including JTTFs. JTTF-generated information may only be disseminated outside the structure of the JTTF (including to a member’s home agency) with the approval of the JTTF FBI supervisor. In this case, following the review and analysis conducted by investigators, there was a conclusion made by the investigator and the supervisor that Major Hasan was not involved in terrorist activities or planning. Further dissemination of the information regarding Major Hasan was neither sought nor authorized. 

Our top priority is to ensure that the person responsible for the Fort Hood shooting is held accountable. The ongoing investigation includes forensic examinations of Major Hasan’s computers and any Internet activity in hopes of gaining insight into his motivation. But the investigation to date indicates that the alleged gunman acted alone and was not part of a broader terrorist plot. 

After meeting with the President, FBI Director Robert Mueller ordered a review of this matter to determine all of the facts and circumstances related to this tragedy and whether, with the benefit of hindsight, any policies or practices should change based on what we learn. 

Again, this is a joint, ongoing criminal investigation that continues to move forward on many fronts. There is still much to learn. As a pending criminal case, the government remains limited in what information can be disclosed publicly about a U.S. citizen under investigation. As with any criminal investigation, all suspects are presumed innocent unless and until they are proven guilty of a crime in a court of law. 

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