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Students get up close and personal with owls

Fourth grade students at Washington Elementary have recently been spending time in class learning about owls and their biology.

On Friday, those students got to get up close and personal with two different species of the winged animals as Dianne Guinn of Fontenelle Forest Raptor Recovery introduced the students to George and Firebolt.

Guinn spent an hour at the elementary school on Friday teaching students about what makes raptors, like owls, special with help from George, a tiny Eastern Screech owl, and Firebolt, a Barn owl, from the Raptor Recovery Program.

Students answered questions posed by Guinn about what kind of birds are considered raptors, or birds of prey. Little hands quickly shot up and answered some of the more obvious choices, Falcons, Eagles, and Hawks and of course owls.

One student was even able to name one of the more obscure raptors that exist in the world, Ospreys.

“I’m so glad you mentioned that, a lot of students have never heard of or seen one, but they are very cool,” Guinn told the student.

The student even knew a fact about the Osprey, and gladly shared it with the class.

“They are the best catchers of fish,” he said.

Guinn also taught the students about what attributes contribute to a bird being labeled a raptor, which include talons, keen eyesight, and curved beaks.

“What is really important to know is the talons are very sharp and they are connected to a lot of strength in these toes, a little robin has long toes and toe nails but it doesn’t grab and retrieve its prey,” she told the class. “So think of these like a fork that they are going to grab a hold of their prey and then they can really get a good grip.”

After asking, and answering, a multitude of questions the students’ eyes lit up as Guinn finally introduced them to George, an Eastern Screech owl that came to Raptor Recovery as a fledgling after his nest was destroyed when a tree was cut down near Louisville.

“A lot of people will see these in their backyards and call us and say, ‘I think it’s a baby Great Horned owl’, because they have the little ear tufts, or horns,” Guinn said. “But it’s actually a fully grown Eastern Screech owl, so you could have one of these in your backyard.”

George has been with the Raptor Recovery program for nearly four years, and cannot be released back into the wild because eye damaged caused in the fall from his nest left him blind in one eye.

“Now his eye doesn’t dilate, and you guys it is really important for owls to have binocular vision, and we have binocular vision too,” Guinn said. “The reason for that is it helps them with depth perception to be able to see how far something away is, and also when they are hunting if they see a little mouse and goes to fly over with one eye he is probably going to miss.”

The children oohed and awed at the sight of the tiny and adorable owl as he whinnied and trilled, while turning his head seemingly all around the classroom. Which led Guinn to ask another question about owls as a whole.

“Raise your hand if you guys think owls can turn their heads all the way around,” she asked.

While most students hands shot up, she quickly dispelled the misconception, telling students how far they actually can turn and why they are able to do so biologically.

“We can turn our necks approximately 180 degrees, not just owls but all raptors can turn their head 270 degrees,” she said. “I want you to touch the back of your neck, you feel those bones, those are called cervical vertebrae and we have seven of those, owls actually have 14 so that is why they are able to turn so far.”

Guinn also brought along an example of a larger owl species for the kids to enjoy, pulling a female Barn owl named Firebolt out of her carrier.

“There is nothing wrong with Firebolt, she was actually raised in captivity and we got her from a breeder,” Guinn said. “The reason for that is because we do get a lot of Barn owls with injuries, but Barn owls do not do well as an educational tool, they do not do well in buildings. So we ended up going to someone who has a special permit to raise them.”

Guinn also went through some of the characteristics that make Barn owls unique.

“Barn owls have some really cool and special adaptations, their ears are also on the sides of their head but they actually have a flap just like your ears,” she said. “There have been scientific tests done where they know that this type of an owl can actually find their prey in total darkness by sound alone.”

She also covered why Firebolt, and all other Barn owls, have the very distinct heart shaped face and what that adaptation allows her to do.

“That’s like a big satellite dish, so that helps the soundwaves go right back to her ears,” Guinn said.


Military
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Veterans service officer talks about available benefits

Mark Schneck wants area residents to check into their Veterans Administration benefits.

Why?

Because he’s seen how veterans and their families can be helped.

Schneck is the veterans’ service officer for Dodge County. His office is on the second floor of the Dodge County Courthouse in Fremont.

Dodge County has an estimated 5,000 veterans, but only about half that number have come into Schneck’s office to ask about benefits.

Reasons vary.

Schneck said some older veterans, like those who served in World War II, may feel like they don’t deserve the benefits or are unaware of them.

Some veterans are intimidated by the formidable VA process.

“They think they have to go to Omaha or Kansas City and deal with the federal VA employee, but I’m a fellow veteran who’s able to explain things from a layman’s perspective,” Schneck said.

He’s also able to help veterans and their families in many ways.

Schneck cites the case of a Vietnam veteran, who recently died of a service-connected illness. Schneck was able to get dependency and indemnity compensation of about $1,300 per month and free health care for the man’s widow for the rest of her life. A child still living at home also can receive free health care until graduating from college.

The widow will be able to remarry at a certain point and still retain her benefits.

Veterans and their families can benefit from several programs, including:

Veterans’ compensation. The most common type is for hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

“Many veterans don’t realize that the ringing or buzzing they hear in a quiet room is a result of noise trauma that may have occurred while in the military,” Schneck said.

The hearing loss or tinnitus can occur not only from gunfire exposure, but from repairing engines, working aboard a ship or on a flight line or while operating heavy equipment.

“If the VA agrees your job required working in a loud environment, that veteran may be eligible for a 10 percent disability — that’s the minimum threshold, which would allow the vet to collect $133 a month, tax-free,” Schneck said.

A 10 percent disability likely would allow the veteran to receive free, state-of-the-art hearing aids and eye glasses.

“The wife can be given a microphone to wear on her lapel that allows her to talk to her husband through his hearing aids,” Schneck said.

Some also will allow the veteran to hear a Smart TV through his hearing aids.

Schneck added that some veterans could rate at 40, 50 or even 100 percent disability. Veterans need to have a chronic condition initially treated while in the service.

Veterans suffering from hearing loss, however, may still be found disabled even though they probably didn’t seek treatment while in service, he said.

If the condition was diagnosed afterward – as is the case with veterans exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam — they may be eligible for compensation if they have conditions such as diabetes, ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s, prostate cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, bone marrow cancer and other ailments.

VA pension. This includes aid and attendance mostly for assisted living, nursing homes and in-home adult care. If the veteran has wartime service, he and his spouse may be eligible for a VA pension if their out-of-pocket medical expenses are high — mostly due to nursing home and assisted living care costs.

“Although the VA requires that the household assets are $80,000 or less, I encourage family to begin the paperwork process well in advance, because it’s possible to gain the veteran a few extra months of pension benefits based on his intention to file,” Schneck said.

If the veteran and spouse have $150,000 in the bank and nursing home costs are rapidly depleting this balance, informing the VA that they intend to file can benefit them upon approval.

“We have several electric wheelchairs, walkers and canes that are available for loan to Dodge County residents,” Schneck added.

Schneck said enrolling in the VA health care system is based on a household income of approximately $40,000 and less, which most retirees meet.

Enrolling with the VA health care system doesn’t mean veterans have to give up their Fremont doctors. They just need to have an annual physical with the VA Medical Center in Omaha or Lincoln to maintain enrollment, Schneck said.

Because Fremont is within 40 miles of the closest VA health care facility in Lincoln or Omaha, Fremont veterans need to drive to those cities. However, Dodge County veterans living in Hooper, North Bend, Dodge or Uehling would be eligible for the VA Choice program, because they reside more than 40 miles from those major cities.

“The VA Choice allows rural veterans the ability to see a community doctor assuming that doctor will work with the VA system,” Schneck said.

Nebraska Veterans Homes. This allows a veteran and sometimes a spouse to be enrolled with one of four VA nursing homes in Bellevue, Norfolk, Grand Island/Kearney and Scottsbluff.

The maximum cost as determined by the Department of Health and Human Services is $3,800 per month depending on the veteran’s ability to pay.

“This could be a substantial savings when considering some nursing home stays can be double that,” Schneck said.

Financial aid. Nebraska Veterans Aid offers financially challenged veterans the opportunity for dental care or assistance with utilities and mortgage payments during an interruption of income event such as an unplanned illness or medical expenses or unexpected layoff. It can assist the veteran’s family with burial if the family is unable to afford a funeral.

Schneck encourages area veterans and their family members to contact his office. The phone number is 402-727-2719.

“We have families that when they came in they discovered their parents were eligible for over $1,000 in monthly pension benefits for aid and attendance at a local nursing home due to the veteran’s service during time of war,” he said.

Schneck enjoys his work.

“It’s a very rewarding job, because you feel like you’re handing out benefits to veterans that maybe had no concept that they were eligible,” he said. “I love the job and plan to continue serving Dodge County veterans for many years.”


Local
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Hy-Vee, customers step up for hurricane relief

With the string of recent hurricanes devastating residents in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the local effort to provide relief to those affected by the storms has been in full gear.

During the month of September, Hy-Vee customers were able to make donations during checkout at any of Hy-Vee’s 245 stores, including Fremont’s local store at 840 East 23rd Street, as well as online or via Hy-Vee’s Aisles Online.

“We have a giving community and those poor folks in the Southeast and Texas they took it on the chin, so it was a good program to be able to help them out,” Andrew Yochum, Fremont Hy-Vee Store Director, said. “Its great that Hy-Vee can facilitate something like that for our customers here and those folks in Texas and along the coast.”

Hy-Vee customers could donate $1 or $5 amounts, and though the individual amounts donated were small, the total added up to more than half a million dollars for hurricane relief.

“You want to do all you can and sometimes it is just something easy that helps, because there are a lot of people that want to give something but they don’t know how,” Yochum said. “So for us to be able to do something like that, and facilitate that, it gives them the easy road to make it happen.”

On Tuesday, Hy-Vee, Inc. presented a $631,922.48 check to the American Red Cross after the company’s month-long fundraising effort. The total donation includes a $100,000 company match from Hy-Vee.

“Our customers have a history of donating to those in need, and we’re proud to partner with them to offer help to those impacted by the recent hurricanes,” Randy Edeker, chairman, CEO and president of Hy-Vee said in a released statement.

According to Yochum, the specific number of donations from customers at the Fremont Hy-Vee were unavailable, but he was impressed by the communities support.

“We don’t have store specific numbers, so i couldn’t tell the exact figure of how much we raised locally, but I know our community gave well.”

Along with presenting the American Red Cross Iowa Region with its largest check of year, Hy-Vee also participated in several other efforts to provide assistance to those affected by hurricanes.

Hy-Vee also partnered with Iowa State and Iowa University to collect non-perishable goods during Cyclone and Hawkeye football games in the month of September.

The company, based out of West Des Moines, also donated and delivered five semi-trailers of bottled water to victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, totaling more than 185,000 bottles of water.

“The outpouring of support that we saw from Hy-Vee and their customers during a time of unprecedented weather events is unmatched,” Leslie Schaffer, regional executive, Iowa Region of the American Red Cross, said. “These donations help those hardest hit by the recent hurricanes as they work to rebuild.”