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November 12, 2015

As we pay tribute to our veterans on Nov. 11, it is important to remember those who are continuing their battles.

Long after concluding their military duty, many who have served our country struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders, alcoholism and traumatic brain injuries. Several who are leaving military service will not share issues with their counselors because they are afraid this will make it into a public record and prevent them from finding employment. This leads to issues in later years which might have been prevented if the signs were detected. Even for those who do seek assistance, funding is woefully under adequate levels.

Symptoms of PTSD include recurring memories or nightmares, sleeplessness, loss of interest, or feeling numb, anger and irritability. These symptoms sometimes do not surface for months or even years following the event or after returning from deployment.

Some factors can increase the likelihood of a traumatic event leading to PTSD, such as: the intensity of the trauma; being hurt or losing a loved one; being physically close to the traumatic event; feeling you were not in control; or having a lack of support after the event.

It is also not just veterans who suffer. After the death of a firefighter years ago, steps were taken to ensure other firefighters on the scene received counseling. Recently an Oklahoma community experienced the loss of a teenager due to an automobile accident. The school brought in counselors to help those who came forth to discuss what issues they were facing. We also are all aware of the trauma from the horrible incident in Stillwater just a few weeks ago where a person drove a car into a crowd watching the OSU homecoming parade. While many were physically injured, far more experienced trauma from witnessing this and suffering emotionally.

I can attest personally to how serious this is for students. During my days in school, we lost two sets of students in separate car crashes. At that time there was no counseling and I remember trying to sort through the whys and what ifs. It is something that never completely goes away, but fortunately, in my case, I had parents, a church family and close friends who helped in the healing. Even after many years, though, the sadness still lingers for their loss.

Mental health concerns should be held to a higher priority with our state and our nation. About 10 percent of Oklahoma youth have a mental health disorder and an additional 10 percent have a substance abuse issue, according to the Department of Mental Health. Oklahoma ranks near the bottom in every assessment on mental health treatment.

Our Legislature put additional funds in for one year of appropriations, but stripped it back down the very next. Until our elected officials address this concern, many in our state, including the veterans, public servants, and even civilians, will continue to fight their inner battles with little support from those who could make a difference.

(Joe Dorman served House District 65 as a State Representative for 12 years and was the 2014 Democratic nominee for Governor of Oklahoma. Currently he is the Community Outreach Director for Heart Mobile.)

 

Sept. 17, 2015

By Joe Dorman

State agency officials were warned last week to prepare for additional budget cuts for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2016-17.

The Legislature and our governor were forced to make significant budget cuts last year across various agencies, and to raid a host of reserve funds kept by different agencies, boards and commissions, in order to balance the state budget as required by the Oklahoma Constitution.

The initial estimate given to agency officials last week was that the budget shortfall could range from $600 million to $1.2 billion fewer dollars available for appropriation next year. Remember, this is on top of the $611 million slashed from the current state budget, which followed a $188 million shortfall in 2014.

This means that next year, state expenditures for programs that affect the lives of you and your family will have been reduced in three years by more than one billion dollars, and perhaps as much as two billion dollars.

The Republican leadership of Oklahoma has been successful in its relentless campaign to "right size" government by reducing the amount appropriated to state agencies. Their agenda to continue to cut various taxes and replace some lost revenue with fee increases has been successful in the five years in which they have had complete control of Oklahoma state government.

In their defense, you will hear them blame the plunging price of oil as an excuse. This is only part of the equation, as they have consistently campaigned to reduce the budget and have implemented policies which do precisely that.

Let’s review what has happened in recent years as the Democrats slipped to one-third of the Legislature, and with a Republican governor.

Oklahoma has the worst funding levels for education programs in the nation since 2008, by inflation-adjusted dollars, in addition to creating additional unfunded mandates on teachers for additional high-stakes tests and administrative work. GOP legislators talk about putting in new dollars, but when they do not keep up with appropriations compared to the other 49 states, is that something they should really be bragging about?

Public school teachers and many state employees have not received a pay raise since the Henry administration. There were well over 1,000 open spots in classrooms across Oklahoma at the beginning of this school year, and throughout last year, as well. This means local schools are forced to hire teachers who are not certified in their particular field, to educate your kids and grandkids, nieces and nephews, friends and neighbors.

Teachers leave Oklahoma to receive much better pay in states surrounding Oklahoma, particularly Arkansas and Texas. In addition, college students are not entering teacher education/training programs because they view the future in that field as grim, thanks to our current politicians. This leads to the expansion of private programs funded by businesses for the kids who receive admission. This is essentially modern segregation based on income levels rather than race.

Multiple income-tax cuts have been passed in recent years to give money back to the wealthiest of Oklahomans. The average amount returned to most Oklahomans through these cuts is equivalent to one tankful of gasoline – and that is at current levels with cheap gas. Politicians have campaigned on their tax cuts, while at the same time wringing their hands to figure out how to pay for essential programs that they must fund in order to not look bad to voters and donors who are the few who actually show up at the polls.

Some of that revenue loss has been recouped by state agencies raising fees on services for the middle class. Just a few of these include multiple additional fees implemented on students attending our major universities, a broad range of Agriculture Department fees that increased Sept. 11, and further penalties implemented through the court system.

Driver’s license fees were increased significantly in 2013 in order to raise funds for the Department of Public Safety, particularly its understaffed driver examiners. As a result, the cost of a four-year new or renewed Class D operator’s license jumped 56%, to $33.50; in addition, the price for Class A, B and C commercial licenses, and the cost of a Class D operator’s license for senior citizens and for motorcyclists, went up $10 apiece.

A study performed in 2013 by the Oklahoma Policy Institute showed that in that year, the state collected more than $600 million in fees, a 48% increase from just the prior year. Imagine what the budget shortfall would have been in recent years had Republican legislators not imposed these fee increases on programs that directly affect you!

So when you hear the upcoming rhetoric out of our State Capitol about how bad things are due to the price per barrel of oil, remember that this is only part of the story. Your decision on who you vote for – or worse, if you choose to not vote and let others make the decision for you – makes a big difference on where we proceed as a state. Vote for people who will work together for solutions, not just simply to be elected to a job that many refuse to do properly.

 

July 16, 2015

Dorman: Help break cycle of

domestic violence in Oklahoma

 

Did you know that Oklahoma ranks third in the nation for women killed by men?

Did you know that 11,418 children in Oklahoma were victims of child abuse or neglect during fiscal year 2013. The most recent data show a nearly 58 percent increase in child victims since fiscal year 2010, when 7,248 Oklahoma children were harmed.

Did you know that domestic violence and sexual assault cost more than $727 million each year, with over 7.9 million paid workdays lost, as well?

Aware of it or not, this is an issue that is all around us. I have experienced two instances personally, and each had a lasting impact on me.

A former co-worker and a good friend got engaged, but her joy did not last long. She approached one of our senior staffers and confided to him she had been physically abused and did not know what to do. He offered to help her get assistance. He told me to meet him and we would help her move out of the house where she lived with her fiancé. One of my other co-workers advised me to not get involved because it was a personal issue between the couple. I, of course, did not listen and helped her move, and I look back knowing I made the right decision.

Earlier this month I saw a woman walking down the highway with a child. I turned around to see if she needed assistance. She was distraught and confided that her boyfriend had thrown her out of his vehicle. Due to the condition of her clothing, I knew she was speaking literally. She was walking several miles back home. I offered assistance and let her use my phone. She began crying when she could not remember any phone numbers. Another vehicle pulled up and its occupants said they witnessed the incident. The abandoned woman refused any further assistance for calling authorities, and they offered her a ride home. I hope she is all right, although I cannot help but wonder if there was anything else I could have done.

Each of us can do our part to help stop this cycle of violence.

The YWCA shelter, established in 1974, was the very first in Oklahoma to offer assistance to women. This is an emergency shelter, providing help in obtaining legal services, transportation, housing information, medical care, child care and advocacy services for up to two months. The YWCA shelter is a safe place for women and children to escape domestic violence. Open 24 hours 7days a week, the shelter provides immediate, emergency shelter and supplemental services to more than 350 women and children every year. They can be reached at their 24-hour Domestic Violence Hotline: 405-917-9922 or 24-hour Sexual Assault Hotline: 405-943-7273.

The CARE Center in Oklahoma City works with the parent or caregiver, the detective assigned to the case of the child, the DHS case worker. A child specialist will walk the family through a process of easing the anxiety of the child while allowing the person reporting the case to file the proper paperwork. They will then interview the child using video that is admissible in court. Afterward, they provide specialized advocacy to assist with immediate needs and establish counseling services to help over the long term. They also offer assistance with medical exams to make certain the child has not been hurt physically.

Both organizations have fund-raising events on Thursday, Aug. 6, in Oklahoma City. I am serving as a table sponsor for both and encourage you to join me at both these fund-raisers. The minimum donation for each is $100.

The YWCA hosts its Engaging Men breakfast that morning at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, beginning at 7 a.m. Aug. 6. This event provides an excellent networking opportunity among hundreds of professional men across Oklahoma. The program will highlight a testimonial – a personal, dramatic and heartwarming story. This annual event gives each guest a firsthand account of a person whose life has been changed – and a cycle of violence broken.

The CARE Center will hold its first advocacy luncheon, featuring Antwone Fisher. This will be at the University of Central Oklahoma in the Grand Ballroom in the Nigh University Center, starting at 11:30 a.m. Aug. 6.You can listen to Antwone’s personal experience about the abuse he overcame and his journey to launch the movie "Antwone Fisher" and become a best-selling author and speaker.

You can contact me at joe@joedorman or by phone at (580) 476-3745 for more information about these events and to RSVP. I hope you are able to attend and help break the cycle of violence we face in Oklahoma.

Joe Dorman served House District 65 as a State Representative for twelve years and was the 2014 Democratic Nominee for Governor of Oklahoma. Dorman is currently the Community Development Director for Heart Mobile.

 

June 4, 2015

New weather alert program is on the way, Dorman says

By Joe Dorman

The severe weather which has impacted Oklahoma has in many ways shown the problems we still face. While the best systems and models are in place with the National Weather Center located in Norman, Oklahomans must still remain vigilant and weather aware. We will also see growing needs for road repairs following the flooding.

Two years ago, my final piece of legislation to become law was a bill which established a new weather alert program for Oklahomans. When I checked on the status of this last week, the Oklahoma Office of Emergency Management felt the implementation would be soon.

This legislation, authored by myself and Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, created a mobile phone application to be administered by the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES), with oversight and data provided by the Office of Emergency Management (OEM). The application would allow individuals to receive information about potential disasters and also report information following an event to help the state receive the proper data for filing reports. We have seen how important this will be with the weather we experienced in April and May and the proper submissions for adequate assistance.

The legislation also put strict penalties in place for price gouging during a disaster. Too many times we see con men or crooked businesses raise the prices of items in an area where a disaster has occurred. These provisions will protect those Oklahomans who are impacted in a declared disaster area from being taken advantage of in a time of need.

One issue I would have liked to see implemented is a direct debit from the Rainy Day Fund for the cost of disaster recovery. Too often, disasters occur when the Legislature is not in session and it would take a call for a special session to convene the senators and representatives to allocate funds. My proposal would simply debit the 12.5% match required by the state for federal assistance. This money is audited, so there would be no chance for a misappropriation and it would have save thousands of dollars needed to convene a special session, as well as critical time. The funds would also come from the portion of the Rainy Day Fund that the Legislature is not allowed to use to balance the budget, as we saw occur this year with the $611 million shortfall.

As citizens, we must do our part to be prepared, which includes maintaining the proper insurance. Neither the state nor federal governments will reimburse for costs that should be covered by private insurance. These were demands following Hurricane Katrina for accountability and that is now the law. Households need to have plans in place on how to handle an evacuation or where to take shelter safely. When there is no plan, accidents occur and sometimes the worst can happen.

I want to share in the condolences to those who have been affected by these storms, including the families of the many people who lost their lives. I especially want to thank the men and women in emergency management who help protect our lives. It is sad to lose someone in the line of duty as happened in the Claremore Fire Department with Capt. Jason Farley. He sacrificed his life to save a family trapped by flooding.

Joe Dorman is a former state representative who served House District 65 in Oklahoma. He was the 2014 Democratic Nominee for Governor of Oklahoma.

 

 

Beaver