(TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) -- A proposed Florida Board of Education rule could expand restrictions on classroom instruction related to sexual orientation and gender identity.
"For grades 4 through 12, instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity is prohibited unless such instruction is either expressly required by state academic standards … or is part of a reproductive health course or health lesson for which a student's parent has the option to have his or her student not attend," according to the proposed rule.
This rule would build up on the Parental Rights in Education law Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed in March 2022. The law bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
It states that any instruction on those topics cannot occur "in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards," according to the legislation.
A spokesperson for the governor told ABC News' Rachel Scott in a statement, "There is no reason for instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity to be part of K-12 public education. Full stop."
The law was dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" law by critics, who said it aimed to shun LGBTQ identities from classroom content and discussion.
Laura McGinnis of the LGBTQ advocacy group PFLAG told ABC News that "everyone has a sexual orientation and a gender identity. It looks like this rule would make it impossible to do much instruction at all."
This rule, voted on by the seven-member board, coincides with other legislation being considered in the state legislature.
HB 1223 would ban classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in pre-kindergarten through grade 8, and would not require any employee or student to refer to a another person using their "preferred personal title or pronouns" if it does not correspond to that person's sex. The proposed legislation would also make it a statewide public school policy that "it is false to ascribe to a person a pronoun that does not correspond to such person's sex."
A hearing on the proposed board policy will be held on April 19 at the Florida State Capitol Complex.
(WASHINGTON) -- The White House COVID-19 team will wind down as the country moves out of the emergency phase of the pandemic, multiple administration officials confirmed to ABC News.
The public health emergency is set to expire on May 11 after being in place since early 2020. The end will impact public health measures afforded by the pandemic, like expanded Medicaid enrollment, subsidized costs of COVID tests, and data gathering on cases and deaths across the country.
It will also mark a "new phase" of COVID response, an administration official said, which will be mirrored by a restructuring within the White House.
"The COVID team size will reflect the new phase that we're in as the public health emergency ends," an administration official said.
And Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID coordinator, is also likely to leave, according to another administration official.
His departure is expected around the time the emergency ends, a member of the White House COVID team said. Many members of the current response team have already returned to their original agencies or other jobs, the team member added.
The Washington Post was the first to report the news on the team winding down.
In a statement, a senior administration official told ABC News that "COVID no longer disrupts our lives because of investments and our efforts to mitigate its worst impacts."
"COVID is not over, fighting it remains an administration priority, and transitioning out of the emergency phase is the natural evolution of the COVID response," the official said.
(WASHINGTON) -- A Supreme Court debate Wednesday over parody and popular commercial brands was dominated by talk of whiskey bottles, dog toys, pornography and poop.
For nearly two hours, in an argument punctuated by laughter, the justices wrestled with the intersection of freedom of speech and protection for trademarks in a case pitting a humorous dog toy maker against American whiskey producer Jack Daniel's.
The case, Jack Daniel's Properties Inc., v. VIP Products, centers on a chew toy that resembles a bottle of Jack Daniel's whiskey but is spoofed as "Bad Spaniels" with the suggestion that its contents are pet waste.
"This case involves a dog toy that copies Jack Daniel's trademark and trade dress and associates its whiskey with dog poop," the whiskey maker's attorney Lisa Blatt told the court on Wednesday.
The liquor company claims the toy's design causes confusion and dilutes the quality of its brand. VIP Products insists the spoof is obvious and protected by the First Amendment.
"They're complaining about the speech, the parody, the comparison to dog poop and a Bad Spaniel, not the mark," VIP Products attorney Bennett Cooper said Wednesday. "Parodies on noncompetitive goods like Bad Spaniels aren't likely to cause confusion."
A district court sided with Jack Daniel's but an appeals court reversed, upholding the toy. The justices considered what legal test should decide when a trademark has been infringed and whether VIP Products' toy had done so.
"Could any reasonable person think that Jack Daniel's had approved this use of the mark?" Justice Samuel Alito asked Blatt, representing the whiskey maker.
"Absolutely," Blatt replied. "That's why we won [in the district court]."
"I'm concerned about the First Amendment implications of your position," Alito said.
Blatt, backed by dozens of U.S. brands like American Apparel, Campbell Soup Company and Nike, warned that allowing imitations like "Bad Spaniels" would open the floodgates to harmful trademark infringement -- under the justification of "parody" -- including in pornography.
Blatt told the justices that trademark owners could be victims of "something that approaches compelled speech if their mark has been used in porn films and porn toys and sex toys, and people are profiting off of that."
She raised the '70s pornographic film "Debbie Does Dallas," which an appeals court in a separate case found had infringed the trademark of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
Meanwhile, VIP Products argued that a dog toy is a "noncommercial" form of protected speech -- a distinctive parody, said Cooper, one of their attorneys, because it does not explicitly say "Jack Daniel's."
"There's no doubt that Jack Daniel's takes itself very seriously," Cooper quipped.
Some on the court did not appear convinced.
"Maybe I just have no sense of humor -- but what's the parody?" asked Justice Elena Kagan. She went on to suggest the chew toy is just an "ordinary commercial product" profiting from the likeness of a whiskey brand.
"You make fun of a lot of marks: Doggie Walker, Dos Perros, Smella R Paw, Canine Cola, Mountain Drool. Are all of these companies taking themselves too seriously?" she asked dryly.
Chief Justice John Roberts guided the morning's arguments but did not ask any questions himself. Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett did not speak at all throughout the proceedings.
There was no apparent consensus among the justices on which company should prevail or whether the matter should be sent back to a lower court for further consideration.
The court is expected to release a decision by the end of June.
(NEW YORK) -- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis likened former President Donald Trump's jabs against him to so much "background noise," according to excerpts from an upcoming interview with Piers Morgan.
"To me, it's just background noise," DeSantis is quoted saying in an account of the sit-down Morgan wrote for The New York Post. "It's not important for me to be fighting with people on social media."
DeSantis, a hugely popular and controversial GOP governor considered to be Trump's closest competitor if he enters the race for president, also took an apparent swipe at Trump's character.
Speaking with Morgan, DeSantis said politicians should aspire to fewer moral failings.
"You really want to look to people like our Founding Fathers, like what type of character. It's not saying that you don't ever make a mistake in your personal life, but I think what type of character are you bringing?" DeSantis said to Morgan, according to the excerpts in the Post.
"Somebody who really set the standard is George Washington because he always put the republic over his own personal interest. When we won the American Revolution, Washington surrendered his sword. [King] George III said, 'He's the greatest man in the world if he gives up power.' I think the person is more about how you handle your public duties and the kind of character you bring to that endeavor," DeSantis added.
Quotes from the interview, which will air Thursday night on Fox Nation, were published in the Post and via several clips from Fox News.
As polls place DeSantis as Trump's biggest challenger for the Republican nomination, should DeSantis announce a 2024 campaign as expected, the former president has grown increasingly critical of DeSantis and DeSantis' record.
And while DeSantis had largely been ignoring the attacks -- saying last month that "I don't spend my time trying to smear other Republicans" -- he's become more vocal in directly responding as Trump's criticisms ramp up.
On Monday, the Florida governor distanced himself from Trump and adult film star Stormy Daniels when asked at a press conference about Trump potentially being indicted in New York City.
"Look, I don't know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair. I just can't speak to that," DeSantis told reporters.
Trump is being investigated there over money he paid to Daniels before the 2016 election to stop her from discussing an alleged affair with Trump.
Trump denies wrongdoing and Daniels' claim of an affair; his attorney has called the money extortion.
At Monday's press conference, DeSantis went on to criticize the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, who is leading the probe. DeSantis accused Bragg of "pursuing a political agenda and weaponizing the office." (A spokeswoman for Bragg said in response to DeSantis that "we will not be intimidated by attempts to undermine the justice process, nor will we let baseless accusations deter us from fairly applying the law.")
DeSantis echoed his view of the investigation when talking with Morgan but said of Trump's alleged conduct: "The reality is that's just outside my wheelhouse. I mean, that's just not something that I can speak to."
Trump seemingly reacted to DeSantis' remark on Monday referencing the Daniels controversy with a post on his Truth Social platform, writing that "Ron DeSanctimonious will probably find out about FALSE ACCUSATIONS & FAKE STORIES sometime in the future, as he gets older, wiser, and better known."
During his sit-down interview with Morgan at the governor's mansion in Tallahassee, when asked about Trump's escalating criticism of him, someone Trump previously endorsed, DeSantis "chuckled," Morgan wrote in the Post.
"Things have changed a little bit, I guess. It is what it is," DeSantis said, noting the shift came after his double-digit reelection last year.
He sought to draw sharp distinctions between him and Trump as leaders, particularly on what he called his "drama-free" executive style.
"The way we run the government, I think, is no daily drama, focus on the big picture and put points on the board," he said. "And I think that's something that's very important."
He also brushed off the nicknames from Trump, who favors insulting his rivals.
"I don't know how to spell the sanctimonious one," DeSantis said. "I don't really know what it means, but I kinda like it. It's long, it's got a lot of vowels."
"I mean you can call me whatever you want, just as long as you also call me a winner because that's what we've been able to do in Florida, is put a lot of points on the board and really take this state to the next level," he said.
The response to COVID-19 was another thing that separated him and Trump, DeSantis said: "I would have fired somebody like [Dr. Anthony] Fauci. I think that he got way too big for his britches."
In another excerpt, DeSantis projected confidence that he could take on President Joe Biden in a general matchup next year, though neither of them is officially in the race yet.
"If I were to run," DeSantis said, "I'm running against Biden. Like we [him and Trump] are competing for the Republican, potentially, I get that, but ultimately, you know, the guy I'm gonna focus on is Biden because I think he's failed the country. I think the country wants a change. I think they want a fresh start and a new direction, and so we'll be very vocal about that."
On Wednesday, Trump responded to DeSantis' interview with Morgan with a post on Truth Social, claiming that he is an "average" governor and "is not working for the people of Florida as he should be, he is too busy chatting with a Ratings Challenged TV Host."
Despite recent tours of pivotal early-voting states like Iowa and Nevada, DeSantis maintained to Morgan that he's not made a "final decision" on whether he'll run in 2024.
However, he has privately indicated to allies that he expects to jump in the race around May or June, sources familiar with the matter previously told ABC News.
"I've told people that I've got a lot to do over the next few months in Florida," DeSantis told Morgan. "We're gonna put a lot of points on the board. And then we'll see how the dust settles after that, but I can tell you a lot of people realize the country is not going in the right direction and believe that what we've been able to do in Florida, if we can apply that nationally, we can get America back on track and back on our foundations."
DeSantis is scheduled to headline a fundraiser in New Hampshire next month.
ABC News' Katherine Faulders, Isabella Murray and Will Steakin contributed to this report.
(WASHINGTON) -- Some East Palestine, Ohio, residents are still grappling with the aftershock of last month's train derailment, with one mother offering compelling testimony about how the incident traumatized her young child.
The night of the incident, a "huge fireball" was visible from East Palestine resident Misti Allison's driveway, she testified to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, vowing, "We will never forget the night the train derailed."
"My seven-year-old has asked me if he is going to die from living in his own home. What do I tell him?" she asked lawmakers Wednesday.
Allison said the accident "put a scarlet letter on our town" that has resulted in tumbling home values and financial strain for the village.
"I'm here to put a face on this disaster," said Misti Allison, a mother of two who lives in East Palestine. "This isn't just a political issue. It is a people issue."
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw has repeatedly refused to commit to certain points on rail and worker safety and commitments to the East Palestine community. During the same hearing at which Allison spoke, Shaw refused to commit fully to backing the RAIL Act, proposed by Reps. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, and Emilia Strong-Sykes, D-Ohio, and the Railway Safety Act, proposed by Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, -- saying the bills contained "potential for meaningful improvement," going just slightly further than prior remarks in which he refused to commit to backing the bipartisan Railway Safety Act amid intense political fallout.
Though Shaw offered his "full-throated endorsement" for "many provisions" in the Railway Safety Act, which was proposed by Ohio's two senators in the wake of the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, last month, he still dodged when asked whether he'd support the legislation and did not offer a specific long-term safety plan. Shaw testified earlier this month he'd commit to "the legislative intent to make rail safer" without citing specific elements of the legislation he would support.
"We are committed to getting better," Shaw said Wednesday when asked by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., whether he supported the bill, citing Norfolk Southern's support for the acceleration of the phase-in of the DT-117s, funding first responder hazmat training, and expanding advanced notification.
Asked by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., whether he would support legislation requiring at least a two-person crew on all freight trains -- which will become a requirement if the RSA is enacted -- Shaw sidestepped, saying he was "not aware" of data supporting the notion that having more than a one-person crew aboard all trains would improve safety.
"Mr. Shaw, will you commit to supporting legislation requiring at least two-person crews on all freight trains?" Markey asked.
"Senator, we'll commit to using research and technology to ensure the railroad operates safely," Shaw said.
When Sen. Peter Welch, D-Vt., pressed Shaw on who was responsible for preventing the derailment, which Shaw said in prior testimony was preventable, the CEO responded, "We are responsible for safety on our network and working within the entire industry to enhance safety."
"Okay, let me understand this. You've just reluctantly acknowledged A) it's preventable, and B) it was your responsibility to prevent it. Am I incorrect?" Welch asked.
"Senator, I'm taking responsibility to enhance safety throughout the entire industry," Shaw said -- a reply Welch said "sounds like a lobbyist response."
"Small communities have something that's really very, very special," Welch said of the derailment. "It's trust. You trust one another. And there's been a breach of trust here."
(TOPEKA, Kan.) -- Months after Kansas voters decided to uphold protections for abortion rights, the state's House of Representatives approved a bill based on the disputed idea that providers leave newborns to die after unsuccessful abortions. The bill passed with a 88-34 vote.
If approved, the bill would provide legal protections for infants born alive after a failed abortion, requiring healthcare providers to provide them with care. The bill would create criminal penalties and civil liability for violations of the act.
The bill now heads to the Republican-majority state Senate for approval. Kansas voters decided to protect abortion rights in a high-turnout primary vote, striking down a proposal to remove abortion protections from the state's constitution.
The vast majority of abortions are performed before the point in pregnancy when a fetus would theoretically survive, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2020, only 0.9% of abortion procedures occurred after 21 weeks gestation, the CDC reports. Failed abortions where infants are born alive are extremely rare.
Providers who fail to provide care to infants born alive will face felony charges. The father of the fetus, the mother of the fetus and family including parents or guardians are allowed to bring civil lawsuits against providers who fail to follow the law.
If the pregnancy results from any criminal conduct, the person guilty is barred from bringing such lawsuits.
The bill defines an infant as "born alive" if it "breathes or has a beating heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord or definite movement of voluntary muscles," according to the bill.
Under the bill, health care centers will be required to report to the secretary of health and environment how many abortions result in infants being born alive. Facilities who fail to submit the report could face a fine of up to $500.
The measure is similar to a proposed Montana law that voters rejected in November.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a similar bill in January, but it is unlikely the bill will become law.
(WASHINGTON) -- Patients and medical providers who rely on pharmaceutical medications to treat everything from asthma to ADHD to cancer may have had a harder time finding those medications last year than in years past, a new Senate report released Wednesday finds.
The report, issued by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Gary Peters, finds many drug shortages were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Between 2021 and 2022, the report says, drug shortages increased by nearly 30%, creating challenges for health care providers and ailing patients, and, Peters says, possibly exposing the country to national security threats.
At the end of 2022, a five-year record was set with 295 active drug shortages. But while the COVID-19 pandemic may have heightened drug-access challenges, the report says the problem is not new: 15 essential drugs have been in short supply for over a decade.
One expert testifying to lawmakers Wednesday, Erin Fox, a pharmacist and professor at the University of Utah College of Pharmacy, has been tracking drug shortages since 2001.
Her team has found an abundance of drugs in short supply, most notably generic injectable drugs used at hospitals, such as anesthetics, some steroids and older chemotherapy agents. While the Senate report highlights a variety of shortages, it points specifically to shortages of Vincristine, a critical adult and pediatric chemotherapy drug used to treat various types of cancer with no alternative treatment, and Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG), an immunotherapy biologic drug used to treat bladder cancer.
"Because of shortages, patients and hospitals routinely cannot access the most basic and essential prescription medications," Fox plans to tell the Senate Homeland Committee.
She told ABC News she plans to describe the challenges of providing medical care in an environment where shortages are commonplace, citing studies that show adverse patient outcomes when providers are faced with shortages.
"Shortages adversely impact patients, health care professionals, and health systems. An entire generation of clinicians has never practiced during a time without shortages," Fox will tell the committee.
Peters, the committee chairman, began examining drug shortages in 2019, before COVID-19 increased scrutiny of the problem. Since his 2019 report, shortages have increased, in part due to U.S. reliance on foreign providers for some active pharmaceutical ingredients necessary to give medications their desired effect. That reliance became a critical weakness for the United States during the pandemic when some foreign countries placed limits on exports of pharmaceuticals.
"Our continued over-reliance on foreign suppliers for the key materials needed to make critical drugs, primarily those in China, remains an unacceptable national security risk," the Illinois Democrat will argue.
The new report finds that nearly 80% of manufacturing facilities that produce active pharmaceutical ingredients -- the key ingredients that give a drug its intended effect -- are located outside of the U.S., with the number of China-based manufacturers registered with the Food and Drug Administration more than doubling from 2010 to 2015.
Outsourcing production to India and China means the U.S. is vulnerable to global catastrophes and at the whim of market forces. If the U.S. faces another pandemic or global crisis, it could experience even more serious supply chain issues with key pharmaceuticals.
The report also identifies what it says are blind spots in the ability of the FDA and other U.S. regulators to monitor or address shortages.
Under current law, manufacturers aren't required to report increased demand or export restrictions for drug products to the FDA, making it challenging for the regulating agency to anticipate shortages coming down the pike. In the report, the Senate Homeland Committee recommends Congress implement changes to these rules.
The FDA also doesn't have a list of life-supporting and life-sustaining drugs, leaving it unable to assess the number of drugs that have a limited number of manufacturers or that rely on only one supplier for production.
"The federal government's inability to comprehensively assess U.S. pharmaceutical supply chain vulnerabilities and address known causes of shortages for critical drugs continues to frustrate efforts to predict drug shortages and effectively mitigate their impact on patient care," the report finds.
It's not yet clear what, if any, action Congress can take to try to shore up supply chains for key pharmaceuticals.
The committee report recommends new federal investment in domestic manufacturing of key drug products that are regularly in short supply. Congress took similar action in a separate sphere last year after determining that reliance on foreign-produced microchips used to power cars, computers and other technology posed a national security risk, by passing the CHIPs and Science Act which provided billions to incentivize onshore production of computer chips.
It's not clear if a similar effort geared toward pharmaceuticals could gain traction in Congress.
(WASHINGTON) -- It's a brand battle in the Supreme Court this week as whiskey maker Jack Daniel's Properties, Inc. takes on a dog toy manufacturer in a case over free speech and federal trademark law.
The case, first filed by Jack Daniel's Properties, Inc., against VIP Products LLC in Arizona several years ago and slated for a Wednesday hearing before the high court, claims trademark infringement over an injection-molded vinyl chew toy the whiskey manufacturer says infringes on its trademark.
VIP's "Silly Squeakers" dog toys are made to resemble real-life products, mostly involving sodas, beers, wines and liquors. The toy bottle in question reads "BAD SPANIELS" instead of "JACK DANIEL'S," "The Old No. 2" instead of "Old No. 7 Brand," and "On your Tennessee CARPET" instead of "Tennessee sour mash WHISKEY."
The district court found VIP's use of the Jack Daniel's trademark was likely to confuse consumers. However, on appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of VIP in 2020. The Supreme Court is now tasked with determining when "humorous use" of a brand's logo and identity in a commercial product by a third party violates federal trademark law or deserves protection under the First Amendment.
Jack Daniel's brief claims the products mislead customers for profit.
"VIP sells products mimicking Jack Daniel's iconic marks and trade dress that mislead consumers, profit from Jack Daniel's hard-earned goodwill, and associate Jack Daniel's whiskey with excrement," reads the brief.
The dog toy company invokes its First Amendment rights in its brief to the Supreme Court.
"Freedom of speech begins with freedom to mock," reads the first sentence of VIP's brief.
The brief of respondent argues the product is not a trademark infringement because "Bad Spaniels" is not an actual product -- the dog toy, which has artwork on it, is the product.
"This case is not a dispute between two trademarks on commercial products," reads the brief. "VIP uses a pretend trademark and pretend trade on a pretend label on a pretend bottle full of pretend contents."
Rogers v. Grimaldi
The Ninth Circuit decision, upholding VIP's ability to sell the whiskey-themed dog toy, relied on a longstanding ruling from a different federal appeals court in the 1989 case Rogers v. Grimaldi.
When actress Ginger Rogers sued Alberto Grimaldi and MGM films over Ginger and Fred -- a film about two cabaret performers whose routine resembled that of Rogers and Fred Astaire -- the Second Circuit Court of Appeals developed a test, known as the Rogers test, for balancing First Amendment free speech rights with trademark protections under the Lanham Act. The court ruled in favor of Grimaldi, saying the film was not likely to deceive or cause confusion in replicating a trademarked routine.
In the Jack Daniel's case, the Ninth Circuit agreed that the Jack Daniel's bottle design is protected under trademark law but concluded the humorous approach of VIP was protected by the First Amendment.
"Although VIP used Jack Daniel's trade dress and bottle design to sell Bad Spaniels, they were also used to convey a humorous message, which was protected by the First Amendment," reads the opinion.
A slate of major commercial brands have weighed in on the Supreme Court case through amicus briefs, or friend-of-the-court filings that allow other stakeholders to inform the justices of broader implications of a case.
Nike, Inc., Campbell Soup Company, Levi Strauss & Co. and American Apparel & Footwear Association all filed briefs in favor of Jack Daniel's argument. If the Ninth Circuit ruling stands, it "opens the door to a new global counterfeit threat: an influx of infringing products meriting First Amendment protection because their creators clear a ground-level hurdle of affixing minimal 'humorous' expression onto them," according to American Apparel's amicus brief.
In the 1986 case Grey v. Campbell Soup Company, Campbell's, which owned the trademark GODIVA, won an injunction against a pet treat maker branded as Dogiva, with packaging that infringed on the trademark for Godiva's chocolates. Campbell's brief claims it would have lost the case under the standard set forth by the Ninth Circuit in 2020.
"If the case were litigated today, Grey would undoubtedly argue that DOGIVA was intended to be a humorous commentary on the GODIVA® brand and thus was an expressive work, and Ninth Circuit precedent would require the district court to impose a heightened burden on Campbell Soup to show that the Rogers test was satisfied," reads the Campbell brief.
The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States also filed an amicus brief in favor of Jack Daniel's. A release sent to ABC News earlier this week says this case is about ensuring responsible advertising.
"This case is no laughing matter," Courtney Armour, chief legal officer for Distilled Spirits Council, said. "While the case involves dog toys, even allegedly 'humorous' knock-offs can confuse consumers as to what messaging and products well-known alcohol beverage brands endorse."
The Biden administration also supports a ruling in favor of Jack Daniel's, according to a brief from the U.S. Solicitor General's office.
Among those weighing in on behalf of VIP are at least 30 trademark law professors, whose brief argues the company's "speech" is "noncommercial."
The Motion Picture Association -- comprised of some of the largest film distributors in the country -- filed a brief that backed neither party, instead offering context for why filmmakers are invested in the case.
"A work might [refer to trademarks] to create a realistic or fanciful setting, to cast the mark in a creative new light, or to comment on it directly," the filing says.
The court is expected to deliver a decision in the case by the end of June.
(WASHINGTON) -- Twenty years after the start of the Iraq War, a personal battle continues for former U.S. Army Sgt. Ben Hayhurst.
He's claimed he developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after experiencing heavy combat.
But nearly 18 years ago, he was separated from the military with what instead was called a "personality disorder."
Now, he is renewing his fight to have the Army recognize what he said is his true condition.
Hayhurst's story began in 2004 when he and his unit were part of the siege of Sadr City, now infamously known as "Black Sunday." His experience was documented in the National Geographic miniseries, The Long Road Home, based on a book written by ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz.
In April 2004, Hayhurst and 18 other soldiers were in a convoy of four Humvees when they were hit by a large-scale ambush.
"I think a lot of us believed we weren't going to get out of there," he said.
Shot twice in the shoulder, Hayhurst was evacuated to the U.S. for medical treatment.
But he was eager to rejoin his comrades in the fight, and within months, he was back with his platoon in Iraq. Yet, while his shoulder had largely healed, he said his less visible wounds began to reveal themselves when he was again ambushed by enemy forces.
"When we got hit again, I started having panic attacks, pretty heavy ones. And after a couple of weeks of fighting, I ended up having one while we were out. That kind of shut me down, and they they pulled me out," he said.
Hayhurst was sent to a combat stress center in Baghdad.
"I was supposed to be assessed for PTSD there, but unfortunately, the doctor who did those assessments was on leave. And so, I never got a sense. But they basically told me, 'Yeah, you've got PTSD,'" he said.
After he and his unit had finished their deployment and returned to the U.S., Hayhurst said he was again sent to receive a mental evaluation.
"The lady who did it told me, 'You've got PTSD. It's fairly severe,'" he said.
He said he was offered two choices: be assigned another job in the Army or separate from the service. Not interested in taking a new position, he said, he chose to leave. But he said he didn't realize everything that decision would entail.
"At the time I was also very heavily medicated, I wasn't sleeping, I was having panic attacks all the time," he said.
When he received his discharge paperwork, he said he was surprised to see no mention of PTSD.
"It said 'personality disorder.' And because it was a 'preexisting condition,' they were going to take my bonus back, my re-enlistment bonus," he said.
The "personality disorder" designation, he said, would also disqualify him from some benefits.
"I basically got out with a paycheck," he said.
"Despite the overwhelming evidence that Sgt. Hayhurst suffered from combat induced PTSD meriting his medical retirement, the Army instead mis-classified his PTSD as a personality disorder, resulting in his administrative separation," said a legal complaint filed on behalf of Hayhurst in the U.S. District Court for Washington, D.C., in November.
When ABC News asked the Army about Hayhurst's claims, a spokesperson said the service does not publicly address ongoing cases.
"As a matter of policy, we do not comment on litigation involving the Army," Army spokeswoman Madison Bonzo said.
With his record claiming he had a "personality disorder" -- described as a "deeply ingrained maladaptive pattern of behavior of long duration" -- his ability to find relief through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was slowed, according to Hayhurst.
"Since I was discharged for a personality disorder, it took a while to get the VA to recognize it was PTSD and not a preexisting condition. So, I fought for several years through the VA to finally get them to recognize that I was dealing with PTSD and not a preexisting condition," he said.
Though eventually receiving VA disability benefits, he said his physical and mental wounds from war made it hard to find stable employment in the meantime.
"I went through multiple jobs, whether it was physical things like my neck and shoulder that caused me not to be able to continue working, or it was mental health issues like panic attacks while working," he said. "I went through 13 or 14 jobs in the first couple of years after I got out."
Hayhurst, who now lives in Washington State with his wife and children, said his financial situation deteriorated.
"We ended up filing for bankruptcy because we couldn't keep up with our bills," he said. "We lost our vehicles because we couldn't afford them anymore. We had to move into subsidized housing because we couldn't afford rent."
Seemingly having been on the path to a successful Army career, with an early promotion to staff sergeant on the horizon, Hayhurst said the sudden end also dealt a psychological blow.
"The biggest thing I did in my life has now boiled down to a personality disorder," he said.
He said he also fell out of contact with the men he fought with in Iraq.
"I didn't talk to anybody because I was ashamed of what happened," he said. "I figured it was my fault, I had done something wrong."
A Department of Defense report to Congress said that of 22,656 troops who were separated for personality disorder between FY 2001 and 2007, only 3,372 (15%) had deployed in support of the War on Terror. Most of the rest were separated within the first year of service, according to DOD.
But a 2008 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study concluded DOD did "not have reasonable assurance that its key personality disorder separation requirements have been followed."
The report noted that accurately diagnosing service members who served in Iraq or Afghanistan with a personality disorder could be particularly challenging.
"Some of the symptoms of a personality disorder -- irritability, feelings of detachment or estrangement from others, and aggressiveness -- are similar to the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder," the report said.
As a result of GAO's findings, defense leaders were grilled on the subject of wrongful personality disorder separations during a 2010 House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.
Lernes Hebert, then acting director of Officer and Enlisted Personnel Management for DOD, said efforts were under way to contact all veterans who were separated for personality disorders after having deployed.
"We are reaching out to them to inform them of what options are available to them if they consider their discharge mischaracterized," Hebert said.
Hayhurst said he received a message from DOD around 2012, but that it wasn't very helpful.
"I got one of those letters. That letter had no contact information at all. All it told you was that they were going to relook at it. It didn't tell you how to get it relooked at or what to do or who to call," Hayhurst said.
After several appeals, he said the Army has so far refused to change the designation on his record.
"Each time they shot me down, I would go through bad depression," he said.
Hayhurst argued that with much more known since about PTSD, his record deserves to be corrected.
Now armed with a pro-bono legal team, he is trying again, also hoping to spread awareness of what he said he's worried might be a much larger problem.
"I've been told by Vietnam vets they were doing the same thing to Vietnam vets in Vietnam when they came home," he said. "And it really bothers me to think they might still be doing it now."
He said he is also back in touch with a group of the men he served with in Iraq.
"We talk every day," he said.
In the end, Hayhurst said, he simply wants to be treated fairly.
"I want an honest look at it. I believe from what I know of the evidence, that they were wrong and that I should have been rated at least somewhat for the PTSD and possibly a little bit for my shoulder as well, which those ratings right there through the Army would qualify me for more programs," he said.
But Hayhurst said military benefits would only be a perk of his record being updated.
"It would mean that they didn't think I was a screw-up," he said. "Which might sound silly -- but I'd like to know that. It really bothers me that they threw me away that way."
(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden on Tuesday teased a 2024 run as he celebrated American legends Bruce Springsteen, Gladys Knight, Julia Louis Dreyfus and more in a White House ceremony.
Biden bestowed medals to nearly two dozen individuals and groups whose work, he said, deepened the country's "understanding of the humanities and broadened our citizen's engagement with history, literature, philosophy and so many other subjects."
"Above all, you're masters of your craft," Biden told the recipients.
Biden made a reference to a potential 2024 campaign while introducing author Colson Whitehead, noting he won two Pulitzer prizes for his consecutive novels "The Underground Railroad" and "The Nickel Boys."
"How in the hell did you do that? Pretty good man. I'm kinda looking for back-to-back myself," Biden said, prompting a loud applause.
Biden has repeatedly said his intention is to run for reelection, though he's yet to make any formal announcement.
Biden also quipped about how "some people are born to run" while he praising rock music icon Bruce Springsteen.
"Bruce Springsteen, a poet troubadour, chronicler of American life and resilience and hope and dreams, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, along with 20 Grammys, an Oscar, a Tony, and an unyielding love from millions of fans across generations," Biden said.
Biden introduced Dreyfus as "President Julia Louis Dreyfus" for her role as Selina Meyer in the hit HBO sitcom "Veep."
"I'm gonna talk to Julia later whether she liked being VP or president better," he joked. "I got to figure that one out."
Biden recognized each individual who was honored and detailed their work in their respective fields.
When it came to Knight, Biden described her as the "Empress of Soul" and said she's "truly one of the best things ever to happen in terms of music."
Other recipients included comedian Mindy Kaling, designer Vera Wang, activist Bryan Stevenson, artists Judith Francisca Baca and Antonio Martorell-Cardona, and writers Ann Patchet, Amy Tan, Walter Isaacson and Tara Westover.
"Mindy Kaling you know from Massachusetts, but as we all know, Scranton, Pennsylvania made her who she is," Biden joked, in a nod to Kaling's work on "The Office."
It was the first time Biden awarded the arts medals since taking office after the COVID-19 pandemic put the ceremony on pause.
Biden previously bestowed Elton John with a National Humanities Medal during a White House concert last fall as John was embarking on his farewell tour -- an honor John said he was "flabbergasted and humbled" to receive.
"You do make the country better, make it a better place," Biden said to the 2021 awardees as the event came to a close.
(MADISON, Wis.) -- The two candidates in Wisconsin's crucial Supreme Court race met for their only debate Tuesday, debating hot-button issues such as abortion access and gerrymandering two weeks before voters will decide the balance of the state's highest court.
Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Janet Protasiewicz, a liberal judge, and former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly, a conservative, sparred for nearly an hour at the Wisconsin Bar Association, dinging each other over trustworthiness and policy in the race to win a 10-year term.
Protasiewicz cast Kelly as a "true threat to our democracy," while Kelly repeatedly responded by painting his liberal opponent as a liar, with both citing ties to their partisan affiliations. The race is formally nonpartisan, but the two candidates' résumés and comments cast little doubt as to their ideological makeups.
Protasiewicz highlighted Kelly's track record of working with state GOP officials in an attempt to submit pro-Trump electors after the 2020 election even though then-candidate Joe Biden won the state.
"I am running against probably one of the most extreme partisan characters in the history of the state. This is somebody who advised the Republican Party on the fake elector scheme," Protasiewicz said. Kelly accused Protasiewicz of lying about his role in that effort.
The former state Supreme Court justice, meanwhile, accused his opponent of being "bought and paid for" by the state's Democratic Party and suggested she would have a "major problem going forward" if she were elected. Protasiewicz said she would recuse herself from any cases involving the state Democratic Party due to the support it has given her campaign.
Kelly did use the Republican Party of Wisconsin's offices as his campaign headquarters in his 2020 campaign to stay on the court, but he said he would not accept any money from the state party.
The two also took aim at each other over comments on abortion and outside groups involved in the issue, with each accusing the other of forecasting how he or she would rule on an 1849 abortion law still technically on the books that bans the procedure in virtually all instances.
Protasiewicz, while acknowledging being an abortion rights supporter, said she would decide a case about the ban based on the law not her personal beliefs.
"I have been very clear about my values to the electorate because I think the electorate deserves to know what a person's values are, Rather than hiding, I think the electorate deserve to know. I've also been very clear that any decision that I render will be made based solely on the law and the Constitution," she said.
"My personal opinion is that it should be a women's right to make a reproductive health decision, period," she added.
Protasiewicz also noted Kelly's endorsement from Wisconsin Right To Life, a group that opposes abortion rights, though Kelly said he did not make any promises to the group on how he'd rule.
"The conversations we had were this: Will you pledge to follow the law? Will you uphold the Constitution? Will you do the job of the justice and simply using existing law to decide the case has to come before the court? And that's the same pledge I made to everyone, regardless of the issue involved that might come before the court. And so, they can be confident -- just like everyone else in the state -- that decisions would be based on the law," Kelly shot back.
Protasiewicz and Kelly also tangled over the state's legislative lines, with Protasiewicz claiming the current maps are rigged in Republicans' favor and Kelly accusing her again of forecasting a future ruling from the debate stage.
"So, we know that the maps are not fair. We have battleground elections. We know they're not. But the question is, am I able to fairly make a decision on a case? Of course I would. … That's what you do. I can assure you that every single case that I will ever handle will be rooted in the law 100%," Protasiewicz said.
"See, this is a problem that you have when you have a candidate who does nothing but talk about her personal politics," Kelly responded. "She's already told each and every one of you how she will approach this. And although she says the formulaic words that she will follow the law, she's never said one thing in this campaign that would lead to any reasonable belief that that's what she will do."
The stakes are high for the April 4 faceoff between the two. The seven-member Supreme Court, currently split 4-3 in conservatives' favor, would flip if Protasiewicz replaced retiring Justice Patience Roggensack, a conservative.
Besides ruling on issues like abortion rights and gerrymandering, the court could become involved in a close presidential election, as was the case when it intervened in 2020 to shut down an effort by former President Donald Trump to overturn his narrow loss in the state.
(WASHINGTON) -- Federal lawmakers have reintroduced a bill that would give consumers a tax break on the purchase of a new electric bike.
The Electric Bicycle Incentive Kickstart for the Environment (E-BIKE) Act would offer a refundable tax credit amounting to 30% of the e-bike's price, capped at $1,500.
New e-bikes that cost less than $8,000 would be eligible for the refund -- up from what was initially $4,000 in President Joe Biden's original Build Back Better proposal.
The new bill also doubles the income limits to receive the maximum credit -- up to $150,000 for a single filer and $300,000 for joint filers -- to match the electric car credits in the Inflation Reduction Act.
California Rep. Jimmy Panetta -- who reintroduced the bill on Tuesday along with California Reps. Mike Thompson and Adam Schiff and Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer, the Congressional Bike Caucus chairman -- called the bill a "commonsense way to encourage" e-bike ownership, particularly for low-income earners looking to reduce their carbon footprint.
"By incentivizing Americans to own and use e-bikes, we are allowing them the chance to help improve the quality of life in our communities and tackle the climate crisis in our country," Panetta said in a statement.
The e-bike tax credit was ultimately eliminated from the Build Back Better Act and was left out of the Inflation Reduction Act.
In reintroducing the bill, Panetta's office pointed to the success of an e-bike rebate program implemented in Denver last year that issued more than 4,700 e-bike rebates.
"Transitioning to a clean energy economy includes changing the way we get around," Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development who has introduced companion legislation in the Senate, said in a statement. "Our bill will make it more affordable for working people to buy an e-bike and help get cars off the road."
Amid concerns over e-bike safety -- in particular low-quality bikes equipped with shoddy, potentially dangerous and explosive batteries -- the reintroduced E-Bike Act also includes language to help address battery hazards. The proposed bill defines eligible e-bikes as ones that meet battery safety standards set by Underwriters Laboratory, an industry leader in battery technology, or that "may be recognized by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission."
(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced the establishment of two new national monuments, protecting land totaling more than half a million acres.
Biden named Avi Kwa Ame National Monument in Nevada and Castner Range National Monument in Texas as the nation's newest monuments during the White House's Conservation in Action Summit at the Interior Department.
Biden said these areas will be protected for future generations, and is part of the administration's goal of preserving 30% of lands and waters by 2030 in accordance with his broader climate initiatives.
"When we conserve our country's natural gifts, we're not just protecting the livelihoods of people who depend on them, like the family farms, outdoor recreation, businesses, rural communities welcoming visitors from all across the country and around the world," Biden said at the White House Conservation in Action Summit at the Department of the Interior on Tuesday.
"We're protecting the heart and the soul of our national pride."
Avi Kwa Ame National Monument -- also known as Spirit Mountain -- is in a part of the state that's been targeted for development of renewable energy, especially solar power. The Interior Department has identified 9 million acres of public land outside the monument's borders that could be used for solar projects and the Bureau of Land Management is reviewing proposals for 13 potential projects in Nevada.
"It's a place of reverence, it's a place of spirituality and it's a place of healing," Biden said. "And now it will be recognized for the significance it holds and be preserved forever, forever."
Biden said protecting the Castner Range in Texas as a national monument had significance for tribal nations and the military.
"It tells a story of the tribal nations who lived there, and the members of our armed forces were trained in those lands," he said. "It's also a place of incredible beauty."
Biden said he's directing Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to consider creating a new National Marine Sanctuary designation to protect U.S. waters surrounding Pacific islands. The new sanctuary would include 777,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean southwest of Hawaii.
"That's an area larger than the Alaskan and Colorado put together and three times the size of Texas," he said, adding, "It would make it the largest ocean area on the planet with the highest level of protection."
The day of conservation comes as Biden approved more drilling in Alaska for the Willow Project, a move environmental groups have slammed, and one day after the United Nations released a dire climate change report.
(NEW YORK) -- A judge declined Tuesday to move the trial date for a civil lawsuit filed against former President Donald Trump, his eldest children and his company by New York Attorney General Letitia James, alleging they duped banks and insurers by inflating the value of Trump's real estate portfolio.
Trump's legal team sought the delay but Judge Arthur Engoron said there was no need to postpone what he called a "seemingly simple case" of whether Trump's disclosures to his lenders and insurers, known as statements of financial condition, were accurate or not.
"The issue is whether the statements were false," Engoron said. "This case is complex, but it is not complicated."
Trump has denied wrongdoing and cast the lawsuit as politically motivated by the New York attorney general.
The trial is scheduled to start on Oct. 2
Trump's attorneys also sought the court's permission to take depositions from more than 30 witnesses, which the attorney general's office called an excessive "fishing expedition."
"We're asking for a fair opportunity," defense attorney Christopher Kise said. "They've had three years to talk to 80 people plus."
The attorney general's office filed a $250 million civil lawsuit in September alleging the Trumps altered the values of their holdings to suit different business purposes like arranging loans or applying for tax breaks.
The lawsuit accused them of engaging in "numerous acts of fraud and misrepresentation in the preparation of Mr. Trump's annual statements of financial condition" that overstated the values of nearly every major property in the Trump portfolio over at least a 10-year period.
"These acts of fraud and misrepresentation grossly inflated Mr. Trump's personal net worth as reported in the Statements by billions of dollars and conveyed false and misleading impressions to financial counterparties about how the Statements were prepared," the lawsuit said.
The judge has already rejected several defenses, including what Engoron called the "everyone was doing it" defense.
"You don't have to have an accounting degree," Engoron said. "A triplex apartment is worth less money if it's 11,000, not 30,000 square feet," referring to an allegation in the state's 214-page complaint that Trump overvalued his apartment in Trump Tower. Until he moved to Florida, Trump lived in an 11,000-square-foot triplex. From 2012 to 2016, Trump represented the size of the apartment to be 30,000 square feet and valued it as high as $327 million, according to the lawsuit.
Trump is defending himself in the civil suit as he awaits a possible criminal indictment.
(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday again ripped into the Manhattan district attorney when asked about the potential charges against Donald Trump at a news conference at the House GOP retreat in Orlando while seemingly growing frustrated with reporters after multiple questions about the former president who has continued to dominate the news cycle.
McCarthy was asked directly if had concerns specifically about Trump's alleged conduct regarding a hush money payment to Stormy Daniels and quickly pivoted to talking about Hillary Clinton and did not answer the question -- before instead targeting the Manhattan DA.
"What we see before us is a political game being played by a local ... Look this isn't New York City, this is just a Manhattan, this is just a borough DA. Okay," McCarthy said.
McCarthy told ABC News when asked that he hasn't spoken to Trump in three weeks and that he has not talked to him about his calls for House committees to investigate the Manhattan DA.
"I have not talked to the president, maybe three weeks? No, I have not talked to him about the investigation at all," McCarthy said.
At times, McCarthy seemed to grow frustrated that, at the House issues retreat, he's being asked repeatedly about Trump amid potential charges, blaming the press who he claims keeps bringing up the former president.
However, ahead of this weeks retreat McCarthy announced he would direct House committees to investigate the investigation into Trump, which helped fuel the news cycle heading into this week's retreat.
"We're not talking about this in our conference; you're asking about it," McCarthy said. When asked if Trump is still the leader of the Republican Party, McCarthy again took a jab at the press: "In the press room, for all of you, he is."
McCarthy's comments targeting the press come as other GOP members at the retreat have privately complained to ABC News about how the former president has once again dominated the coverage around this week's retreat, which members had hoped to use to promote their legislative goals.