By Randi Kaye and Scott Bronstein, CNN
Phoenix (CNN) - Mike Rioux can't go to the grocery store without making a list, even for a single item.
He can't drive without gripping the steering wheel so hard his knuckles turn white. And he can't stand any longer than 30 minutes because of severe back pain.
This is Rioux's life after Afghanistan, where firefights and a roadside bomb blast left him with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
His ears still ring from the explosions. He suffers from vertigo, headaches, insomnia and nightmares. He has terrible anxiety, evident in an interview with CNN - Rioux could hardly sit still, and his memory loss and inability to concentrate meant questions had to be repeated at times.
"I need to discover who I am again," he said.
As a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, Rioux most recently was deployed in 2010 to one of the most dangerous spots in Afghanistan. There he survived firefights and blasts and witnessed much carnage in Paktia province, near the volatile Afghan-Pakistan border.
After returning home, Rioux faced a much different battle, one that neither he nor his wife, Maggie, expected.
Confusion is 'monumental'
The Department of Veterans Affairs said it is on track to process 1 million disability claims this year.
With the war in Iraq over and the one in Afghanistan winding down, the VA is sorting through a backlog of more than 860,000 disability claims from American veterans. More than a quarter of those vets - 228,000 - have been waiting for a year or more.FULL STORY
(CNN) - A day after the Supreme Court upheld the health care law, Chief Justice John Roberts joked that he would spend some time at "an impregnable island fortress" to escape the torrent of vitriol and praise heaped on the bench.
The nation is now focused on the presidential election, but attention will likely shift back to the court after the November vote. A new term opens on Monday and the nine justices will address another potentially historic docket. Affirmative action, same-sex marriage, voting rights, and abortion could be taken up.
"The justices are moving from the frying pan right into the fire, having moved up with the big healthcare case," said Thomas Goldstein, a leading Washington lawyer and publisher of SCOTUSblog.com. "They are tackling some of the most difficult legal questions of today. Across the board, probably the biggest term in at least a decade."
A range of explosive issues will test Roberts' leadership of a shaky 5-4 conservative majority:
–Affirmative action and whether universities may continue to use race as one factor in student admissions to maintain a diverse campus.
–Same-sex marriage and the constitutional "equal protection" rights of gay and lesbian couples to wed.
–Voting rights challenges to rigorous federal oversight of state and local elections, and to voter identification laws.
–"Personhood" laws that say life begins at conception, a push by some states and anti-abortion opponents to perhaps revisit the Roe v. Wade ruling.
These issues and several other important criminal, business, and international cases could change the social political landscape in coming years.
Editor's note: Jose Antonio Vargas is the founder of Define American, a nonpartisan, nonprofit campaign that seeks to elevate the immigration conversation. An award-winning journalist, Vargas disclosed his undocumented immigration status in an essay for The New York Times Magazine in June 2011. Vargas attended California's public schools and early this year was named Alumnus of the Year by San Francisco State University.
(CNN) - Arizona's immigration law, Senate Bill 1070, has generated a lot of ink recently, especially with a court ruling last week that allowed a controversial provision that in my view will result in racial profiling to move forward.
The law's goal is chilling: ramp up deportations of undocumented people by forcing local police into the difficult role of immigration agents. And with last week's ruling, police are now required to go out of their way to investigate the immigration status of everyone they "suspect" might be undocumented whom they arrest or stop.
In practice, that will mean targeting people just for the way they look or speak, separating families, and trapping undocumented people in local jails for minor infractions to await deportation.
As an undocumented American - and I am, in my heart, an American - it is my hope that our nation doesn't follow Arizona's discriminatory example. Will Arizona become the norm, or can we work as a nation to fix dysfunctional immigration policies so that they reflect our best values as Americans?
All eyes are now on California for a key part of the answer.FULL STORY
Television empress Oprah Winfrey is America's only African-American billionaire, according to Forbes magazine. She's worth $2.7 billion.
Despite her persona and global influence, Winfrey came in last in Fortune magazine's latest poll on the 50 most powerful women in business.
So who's the woman who topped the list? Hint: She found herself embroiled in a recent gender controversy involving a green jacket.Check out the list of Fortune's 50 most powerful women
By Moni Basu, CNN
(CNN) - Singer Petula Clark once raved about downtown as the place that took away loneliness and worries and made everyone happy.
"The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares and go
Downtown, things'll be great when you're
Downtown, no finer place for sure,
Downtown, everything's waiting for you"
Clark sang that ditty decades ago after which some American downtowns fell into gloom and doom. But Thursday, new census data showed that downtowns were officially back as happening places.
In many American cities, people are moving back into downtowns, defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as within a two-mile radius of City Hall. Data from the 2010 census (PDF) said that 16 million people, or about 6% of America's 258 million metro-area population, were living in downtowns.
Metro areas with 5 million or more people experienced double-digit population growth rates within their downtown areas, according to census numbers released Thursday.
The Windy City topped the list. Downtown Chicago registered 48,000 new residents over 10 years. Also on the list were New York, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City and Washington.
Demographers cite gentrification and people's a desire to live closer to their jobs as two main reasons for moving downtown. FULL POST
By Moni Basu, CNN
(CNN) - Before 2000, you had to pick one: White, black, Asian, American Indian, Alaska Native or some other race. But now you can tick multiple boxes on the U.S. Census Bureau's race category.
The 2010 census provided the first glimpse of trends in multirace reporting since it was the second time such an option was available. And what it shows is that people who say they are a mix of races grew by a larger percentage than people who reported a single race, according to the data released Thursday.
People who reported a background of mixed race grew by 32% to 9 million between 2000 and 2010. In comparison, single-race population increased 9.2%.
In all, the U.S. population increased by 9.7% since 2000. Many multiple-race groups increased by 50% or more.
But that does not necessarily mean there are many more children of interracial couples. FULL POST
By Herndon Graddick, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Herndon Graddick is the president of Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
(CNN) - This week, Jennifer Tyrrell and her family went to the headquarters of the Boy Scouts of America in Irving, Texas, to deliver a petition of 300,000 signatures asking the organization to end its ban on gay Scouts and gay Scout leaders.
The BSA's policy of "not granting membership to open or avowed homosexuals" is a travesty.
It led to the dismissal of Jennifer, who was the den leader of her own 7-year-old son's troop in Bridgeport, Ohio. By reaffirming its anti-gay policy this week, the BSA is telling the entire nation that maintaining its legacy of discrimination is more important to them than strengthening the bond between a mother and her son.
The BSA clearly has its priorities backwards. In spite of calls for change from its own board members, from high-profile Eagle Scouts and from Americans of all stripes, it refuses to budge. Other organizations, such as the Girl Scouts, 4-H clubs, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and even the U.S. Armed Forces, have put an end to such discrimination.
It might not be easy for an organization to admit it is wrong. Especially since the BSA has had this policy for decades; it has even gone all the way to the Supreme Court to try to preserve it.
But just because you have a right to discriminate doesn't mean it is right to discriminate.
By Lisa Respers France, CNN
(CNN) - Kerry Washington knows you have been waiting.
The star of the hit ABC series "Scandal" is fully aware that there is a legion of "gladiators in suits" (as fans call themselves) eagerly awaiting the return of the series. She, too, is pretty excited to be back playing Washington, D.C. insider and crisis management expert Olivia Pope. Pope is a "fixer" who formerly worked for her lover, Republican President Fitzgerald Grant.
When told that there are many women who try to emulate both Pope's sense of fashion and take-charge personality, Washington laughs.
"I do, too," she said.
The series ended its first season with the revelation that the character Quinn Perkins, an employee of Pope's (and played by Katie Lowes), was not actually Quinn Perkins.
Perkins calls Pope after she is jailed for the murder of her boyfriend, a reporter who was digging into the secrets of President Grant's administration.
Did we mention that said president also happens to be in love with Pope?
Season 2 answers the "Who is Quinn" question in the first episode, but Washington said there will be plenty of other surprises and mystery this season that even she isn't sure about.
By Moni Basu, CNN
(CNN) - Joz Wang doesn't buy things at Victoria's Secret - overpriced, she says, though she occasionally strolls through the store known for racy lingerie sported on runways and in catalogs by sexy, sultry models.
But even if she could spare the money, Wang, founder of an influential Asian-American blog, might be tempted to stay away from Victoria's Secret for the moment. At least until she gets an answer to what the clothing company was thinking when it launched its recent "Go East" collection.
One particular number in the collection - the "Sexy Little Geisha" - raised eyebrows, especially from the Asian-American community. Many found it offensive and accused Victoria's Secret of exploiting sexual stereotypes of Asian women.
You can't find the image of "Sexy Little Geisha" on the Victoria's Secret website anymore. Apparently, it and the entire "Go East" line vanished after the online firestorm.
But several blogs posted the catalog picture of a voluptuous blonde model in a sheer mesh teddy with cutouts and strategically placed Asian floral patterns.
Wang could see why the getup was called racist.
Editor's note: Lesley Kinzel is an associate editor at xoJane.com and the author of "Two Whole Cakes: How to Stop Dieting and Learn to Love Your Body."
(CNN) - Designer Ralph Lauren is making model-related headlines again.
The last time this happened, it was when the iconic American branddigitally altered model Filippa Hamilton into a biologically impossible state, rendering her waist and pelvis in miniature and leaving the rest of her body normal-sized.
Astute critics noticed and spoke up. It didn't help matters when Hamilton herself stated that she was allegedly fired by the brand for being "too fat" by fashion world metrics.
More recently, however, the Ralph Lauren brand has made attempts to improve its image and hired Australian plus-size model Robyn Lawley, who stands 6-foot-2 and wears a size 12, for a print campaign. After the public relations nightmare with Hamilton, many have heralded this choice as a positive sign of improvement in a fashion industry that overwhelmingly hires and promotes models who are far thinner than the average American woman.
As is often the case when any plus-size model makes news, many are eager to hold this up as a victory for "real women," that anonymous majority who so rarely get to see themselves portrayed in fashion images.
But don't get too enthusiastic with the back-patting just yet.
This is not a revolutionary moment, any more than it has been any other time a mainstream designer has plucked a nonwaifish model from the depths of the plus-size-modeling dungeon and made her, however briefly, a public curiosity. Fashion is famously fickle, and if Ralph Lauren has chosen to showcase this particular model at this particular moment, it may have nothing to do with making some grand political statement or a significant change of heart and everything to do with generating buzz.
Of course, I can't know the brand's intentions for certain. But in the larger context, even widespread use of plus-size models doesn't signal the evolution of a movement away from the impossible feminine physical ideal; it's just taking that ideal and making it a tiny bit bigger.