1. Letters to the Editor

Saturday's letters: Working to help veterans

October Letter of the Month

The winning letter addressed school start times.

Pinellas starts classes too early

In Pinellas County, the high school start time is 7:05 a.m. This is just plain wrong. There is good evidence that adolescents need eight to nine hours of sleep and evidence that their circadian rhythm for sleep is different. This entire scenario is further complicated by eight months of daylight saving time, when 7:05 a.m. is really 6:05 a.m.

I have worked in health centers in some of our high schools for the past 20 years and have witnessed firsthand the negative effects of the early start time. Students do not eat breakfast because they have to get up so early and rush to catch their bus. Students in the magnet programs may be more negatively impacted because they may travel long distances. Students arrive at school tired and hungry.

Studies have shown that in areas where start times are later students use this time to get more sleep. Academic performance improves, absentee rates and bad behavior rates decrease.

Three times while I was chair of the School Health Advisory Board, we petitioned the School Board to change the start time for high school students. No action was taken. The reason repeatedly given was budget and availability of buses. We now see that the Hillsborough County School Board has accepted the fact that the early start time is not in the best interest of educating our youth. They have come up with a plan to change the start time to 8:30 a.m. and say it will save money. It is time for our School Board to act in the best interest of the students.

David A. Cimino, M.D., St. Petersburg

The writer is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Veterans Day

Helping those who served

As we celebrate Veterans Day this weekend, I am reminded of the words of President John Kennedy. He said, "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." Throughout my tenure in Congress and as vice chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, I've worked to make veterans my top priority.

I am particularly proud of the fact that the passage of my bills, the COVER Act and PROMISE Act, is helping improve mental health treatment and will hopefully reduce the tragic suicide rates among the veteran community. Through the CHOICE program, Congress has ensured that veterans receive care in a timely manner at a facility close to their home. If the VA is unable to meet these requirements, the veteran has the option to seek private care. Unfortunately, there have been many problems with CHOICE implementation and we are rectifying them in legislation under consideration.

I understand that accessing the veterans' health care system is difficult for some who have been exposed to dangerous conditions during their service. I am concerned about veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals in burn pits and are experiencing health problems, especially since other federal agencies have already established a nexus between those toxins and various illnesses. These veterans cannot afford to wait for the VA to conduct its own lengthy study to replicate these findings within the veteran population. Similarly, I am pushing legislative efforts to extend benefits to our Blue Water Navy Veterans.

I have also filed legislation to expand veterans' access to dental care.

While improvements continue to be made in health care, the VA is still woefully inadequate in processing veterans' compensation claims and appeals within a timely manner. However, Congress is taking action. We passed the VA Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act this year, which should speed up the process. Additionally, we have provided substantial increases in VA funding, more than a 70 percent increase since 2009. However, we have seen that more money doesn't always translate into better results, which is why we remain committed to providing ongoing oversight and accountability.

I will continue to do everything in my power to ensure the promises made to our veterans are kept.

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor

Campaign finance

Put limits on money

Campaign finance is the most serious problem our country has. I've had an idea for many years of how it can be fixed.

1. No one is allowed to contribute money or anything else to any federal election, period.

2. Each politician running for an office will be given an equal amount of money from our national treasury. This money is to be used for their campaign with government oversight.

3. All radio and TV stations using the nation's airways will be required to donate a certain equal amount of free airtime to each candidate.

In a government "for the people, by the people" shouldn't we at least give it a try? Of course we'll have opposition from politicians, corporations and probably the legal system, but I think a determined people like us can win.

David Anderson, St. Petersburg

Hundreds more leave class in protest
Nov. 9

Students stand up

Kudos to you, high school kids. Adults could learn a lesson from you. This is what protests should be about: righting a wrong, standing up for something that is worthwhile and meaningful, standing up for someone who has been hurt, and doing it peacefully and without destruction.

And I know your teachers thank you for all your support. Good luck to you all.

Lisa Fackender, Spring Hill

Editorial cartoon | Nov. 9

A disgusting image

As a veteran I was totally disgusted with the depiction that we would honor the fallen only if he were a Republican. I understand Jim Morin's bias, but to suggest this is repugnant. If his intent was to honor our fallen heroes, better to show Uncle Sam presenting the wreath — no comment necessary.

Irv Kline, St. Petersburg