AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EDT

Obama: Strides on helping veterans but more work to do

ATLANTA (AP) — President Barack Obama said Monday that the U.S. has made serious strides in improving services for military veterans, but work remains to overcome shortcomings in the delivery of health care, housing and mental health services.

He called the nation’s commitment to its veterans a “sacred covenant.”

“I don’t use those words lightly. It’s sacred because there is no more solemn request than to ask someone to risk their life, to be ready to give their life on our behalf,” Obama said at the annual convention of the Disabled American Veterans.

It was Obama’s final major address to a gathering of veterans before he leaves office in January after eight years as president. He was greeted with a rousing welcome, including cheers and a standing ovation.

Obama said the Department of Veterans Affairs has hired more doctors, nurses and staff and opened more clinics since the recent scandal over long wait-times for VA services, the demand for which keeps growing as more veterans come into the pipeline.


Criticism grows for Trump’s assailing of Muslim vet’s family

WASHINGTON (AP) — Angry and anxious, Republican lawmakers and veterans groups hastened to disavow Donald Trump’s repeated criticism of a bereaved military family Monday, but the GOP presidential nominee refused to back down. He complained anew that he had been “viciously attacked” by the parents of a Muslim U.S. Army captain who was killed in Iraq.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war, led the charge, saying Trump did not have “unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us.” The Veterans of Foreign Wars, the nation’s oldest and largest veterans organization, called Trump out of bounds for tangling with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son was killed in 2004.

“Election year or not, the VFW will not tolerate anyone berating a Gold Star family member for exercising his or her right of speech or expression,” VFW leader Brian Duffy said.

Democratic President Barack Obama chimed in, too, addressing the Disabled American Veterans in Atlanta. He said of families who have lost family members in the military service: “No one has given more to our freedom and our security than our Gold Star families. … They represent the very best of our country.”

A growing chorus of GOP lawmakers chastised Trump for sparring with the Khans, who appeared at the Democratic convention on behalf of Hillary Clinton. But like McCain, none revoked his support of the GOP nominee in the White House campaign.


Military families to Trump: Apologize for comments to Khans

Their sons were killed in Iraq about a week apart.

So when Karen Meredith heard the grieving parents of a decorated Muslim Army officer being belittled by Donald Trump, she cried.

Meredith said she hadn’t wept over her son’s death for a long time, but the Republican presidential nominee “ripped the wounds right open again.”

“You don’t attack one Gold Star family, because if you do, you’re attacking a lot of us,” Meredith, 62, of Mountain View, California, said Monday.

Trump has been engaged in an emotionally charged feud with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son, Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed in Iraq by a suicide bomber on June 8, 2004. Trump stoked outrage by implying that Ghazala Khan did not speak while standing alongside her husband at last week’s Democratic convention because of their Muslim faith. And he disputed their right to question his grasp of the Constitution.


10 Things to Know for Tuesday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Monday:


The Republican presidential nominee makes an unprecedented assertion by a modern presidential candidate, one he did not back up with any immediate evidence.


Families of American service members killed in combat, as Trump feuds with the grieving parents of a fallen, decorated Muslim Army captain.


Expert to Rio athletes: ‘Don’t put your head under water’

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Just days ahead of the Olympic Games the waterways of Rio de Janeiro are as filthy as ever, contaminated with raw human sewage teeming with dangerous viruses and bacteria, according to a 16-month-long study commissioned by The Associated Press.

Not only are some 1,400 athletes at risk of getting violently ill in water competitions, but the AP’s tests indicate that tourists also face potentially serious health risks on the golden beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana.

The AP’s survey of the aquatic Olympic and Paralympic venues has revealed consistent and dangerously high levels of viruses from the pollution, a major black eye on Rio’s Olympic project that has set off alarm bells among sailors, rowers and open-water swimmers.

In light of the findings, biomedical expert Valerie Harwood had one piece of advice for travelers to Rio: “Don’t put your head under water.”

The most contaminated points are the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, where Olympic rowing will take place, and the Gloria Marina, the starting point for the sailing races.


Pilot was able to keep flying despite drunken-driving record

LOCKHART, Texas (AP) — The pilot of a hot air balloon that crashed in Texas, killing 16 people, was able to keep flying despite having at least four convictions for drunken driving in Missouri and twice spending time in prison.

Whether the pilot’s drinking habits had anything to do with the crash was unclear. A former girlfriend described Alfred “Skip” Nichols as a recovering alcoholic. She said he had been sober for at least four years and never piloted a balloon after drinking.

Nichols, who had been stripped of his driver’s license at least twice, “couldn’t drive a car but he could pilot a hot air balloon,” said an attorney who represented a passenger who sued Nichols in 2013. The passenger said she was hurt when Nichols crash-landed a balloon in the St. Louis suburbs.

Had he been a commercial airplane pilot, Nichols probably would have been grounded long ago.

The Federal Aviation Administration might allow a recovering alcoholic to fly commercial jets if the pilot could show that he or she was being successfully treated, said John Gadzinski, an airline captain and aviation safety consultant. But the agency is unlikely to accept an airline pilot with convictions for driving under the influence, he said.


Pilot in hot air balloon crash had convictions, complaints

DALLAS (AP) — The pilot of the hot air balloon that crashed Saturday in Texas had at least four drunken-driving convictions, two prison stays and more than 40 customer complaints in his past, records show.

Alfred “Skip” Nichols was identified by friends and colleagues as the pilot of the downed balloon, operated by Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides. Investigators said the balloon hit high-tension power lines before crashing into a pasture near the Central Texas town of Lockhart. Authorities have not publicly named any of the 16 people killed, saying it could take a while to identify the bodies.

Before setting up operations in Texas in 2014, Nichols had extensive criminal and business troubles in the St. Louis, Missouri, area. Here is a timeline of those events:


Nichols pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated in St. Louis County, according to online court records.


US launches airstrikes targeting IS militants in Libya

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States launched multiple airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Libya on Monday, opening a new, more persistent front against the group at the request of the United Nations-backed government, Libyan and U.S. officials said.

Fayez Serraj, the head of Libya’s U.N.-brokered presidency council, said in a televised statement that American warplanes attacked the IS bastion of Sirte on the Mediterranean in northern Libya. No U.S. ground forces will be deployed, he said.

The precision strikes, which targeted an Islamic State tank and vehicles, come amid growing concerns about the group’s increased threat to Europe and its ability to inspire attacks across the region, even though its numbers have been shrinking because of attacks from local forces and allied international troops.

“The presidency council, as the general army commander, has made a request for direct U.S. support to carry out specific airstrikes,” Serraj said. “The first strikes started today in positions in Sirte, causing major casualties.”

The strikes mark the start of a more intense American role in the fight against IS in Libya, as the U.S. steps in to assist the fragile, U.N.-backed government. They were the first strikes by the U.S. on the group in Libya since February, and they are expected to continue. But officials said they expect the air campaign will last weeks, not months.


CDC warns pregnant women against Zika-stricken part of Miami

MIAMI (AP) — Government health officials warned pregnant women Monday to avoid a Zika-stricken part of Miami and told couples who have been there recently to put off having children for at least two months, after the number of people feared infected through mosquito bites in the U.S. climbed to 14.

In its highly unusual and perhaps unprecedented travel warning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said expectant mothers should get tested for the virus if they have visited the neighborhood since mid-June.

All 14 cases are thought to have occurred in Miami’s Wynwood arts district, a trendy, fast-gentrifying neighborhood of warehouses, art galleries, restaurants and boutiques.

Gov. Rick Scott asked for a CDC emergency response team to help Florida combat Zika, which has been sweeping Latin America and the Caribbean in recent months and now may be gaining a long-dreaded foothold in the U.S. The White House said a team will be sent quickly.

Health officials last Friday announced that mosquitoes have apparently started spreading Zika on the U.S. mainland, citing four cases they strongly believe were caused by bites. Ten more cases were announced Monday, even though Florida authorities have yet to find any mosquitoes actually carrying the virus.


Happier Meal? McDonald’s nixing some unpalatable ingredients

NEW YORK (AP) — McDonald’s, which is trying to shake its image for serving processed junk food, said Monday it’s eliminating some unpalatable ingredients from its most popular menu items.

That includes making Chicken McNuggets and other items without artificial preservatives, and removing high-fructose corn syrup from its burger buns. McDonald’s did not immediately respond when asked about which specific preservatives are being removed.

The changes come as the world’s biggest burger chain fights to win back customers after three straight years of declining guest counts at its established U.S. locations. Major restaurant chains are scrambling to step up the image of their food as they face more competition from smaller rivals promising wholesome alternatives.

“Why go to the position of trying to defend them, if the consumer is saying, I prefer not to have that particular ingredient in my food?” said Mike Andres, president of McDonald’s U.S., during an event at the company’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, about its “food journey.”

How meaningful the changes are to customers remains to be seen.

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