Thursday, July 24, 2014

The American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial honoring injured veterans under way in DC

Paul Russo, with the John Stevens Shop, works on the letters for the Disabled Veterans’ Life Memorial, Monday, July 21, 2014 in Washington. The memorial is scheduled to be dedicated in October. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

 July 23
WASHINGTON — Army Lt. Dawn Halfaker was on patrol 10 years ago in Baqubah, Iraq, when a rocket-propelled grenade tore through her military vehicle and exploded inside.
When she woke up from a coma, the West Point graduate found out her right arm was gone and her career as a military officer was over at age 24. It’s the kind of sacrifice millions of U.S. soldiers have made dating back to the American Revolution. Veterans groups say there as many as 4 million living today with the scars of war.
Now Halfaker will be among those pictured in a new memorial rising near the National Mall within view of the U.S. Capitol. The American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial will be the first memorial in Washington dedicated to veterans who come home with life-changing injuries. It’s a project 16 years in the making and is set to be dedicated Oct. 5.
Glass walls will carry inscriptions and photographs telling veterans’ stories from different eras. Bronze silhouette sculptures will represent their service. A ceremonial flame will burn on the water’s surface in a star-shaped fountain representing the five branches of military service, surrounded by a grove of trees. The idea was inspired by the camaraderie of soldiers’ campfires and the flame as a symbol of renewal, designer Michael Vergason said.
“I think it will bring it home for visitors. I think it will give people a better understanding of how somebody’s life is forever changed and really help them understand the sacrifice a little bit more,” Halfaker said. “It’s hard to explain to somebody what being in combat is like.”
Halfaker created a consulting business after leaving the military and serves as chairwoman of the Wounded Warrior Project. The only thing she doesn’t like about the memorial, she said, is the term disabled. She doesn’t think of herself that way.
Construction has been underway for nearly a year, and the memorial plaza was taking shape as The Associated Press had a look at its progress. Workers have been installing black stone elements for a fountain and reflecting pool. A Rhode Island stone carver is working to hand-carve inscriptions from George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower, in the site’s marble Wall of Gratitude.
Those who planned the memorial near the Capitol wanted to ensure lawmakers and their staffs see the memorial each day “and realize there’s a human cost when you send our troops into harm’s way,” said project executive W. Barry Owenby, who is also a veteran.
While controversies have arisen over other memorials honoring Eisenhower, Martin Luther King Jr. and World War II veterans, this project has not drawn the same scrutiny or criticism. But it has gone through the same oversight reviews as any other memorial project.
“Who could take issue with honoring those who have given a life sacrifice?” said Arthur Wilson, a disabled Vietnam veteran and co-founder of the Disabled Veterans’ Life Memorial Foundation that is building the memorial. “It’s a reminder that needs to be there every day.”
The project is even more timely now, he said, considering the revelations of health care problems in the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The idea began in 1998 with Florida philanthropist Lois Pope, former Veterans Affairs Secretary Jesse Brown and Wilson, and it quickly drew support in Congress. By 2000, the authorizing legislation was signed by President Bill Clinton.
While some memorial projects rely on federal dollars, this memorial has been funded almost entirely with privately raised funds. Organizers raised about $80 million from more than a million donors. The Disabled American Veterans organization contributed about $10 million. Pope and her foundation also contributed about $10 million. A federal grant of about $6 million was secured to remove a road that crossed the site. The memorial will eventually be operated by the National Park Service.
Once it’s finished, Vergason, the site’s designer, said the fall will be a perfect time to visit. The memorial includes a grove of ginkgo trees that turn yellow in early November, just in time for Veterans Day.
American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial:
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

March and Rally for the Disability Treaty (CRPD) on July 29th in Washington D.C.

as shared by the wonderful people at United States International Council on Disabilities ...

We need YOU for our FINAL push to RATIFY the 
Disability Treaty! 

Tell the Senate the Time for Excuses is Over!

PLEASE Join Us at a March and Rally for CRPD to let the Senate know we want this brought up for a floor vote NOW!

July 29th, 12:15 pm
(We will gather at the NCIL rally and march to a location TBD so please join us on time!)

3rd Street NW between Pennsylvania Ave NW and Maryland Ave SW

If you're not located in DC, you can take part by visiting your Senators' in-state offices and expressing your support!  
Get a group together and go let them know about the ADA Anniversary and your support of the CRPD!

Your Senators need to continue to hear from YOU and know that you support the CRPD! Show the community is behind this treaty and that we want the process to KEEP MOVING FORWARD to a Floor vote!  
Additionally, Senator Reid also needs to hear from us, and that we want a floor vote NOW!

Visit our citizen action portal,www.disabilitytreaty.orgto CALL your Senators! They need to hear from our movement now or we will not succeed.

$74 Million Health Care Fraud Scheme: Elsa Ruiz the Owner of Miami Home Health Companies Pleads Guilty for Role

as posted...

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Owner and Administrator of Miami Home Health Companies Pleads Guilty for Role in $74 Million Health Care Fraud Scheme

A Miami resident who owned a home health care company and was the administrator of another home health care company pleaded guilty today for her participation in a $74 million Medicare fraud scheme.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida, Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro of the FBI’s Miami Field Office and Acting Special Agent in Charge Ryan Lynch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), Office of Investigations Miami Office made the announcement.

Elsa Ruiz, 45, pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke in the Southern District of Florida to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud.   Her sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 8, 2014.

According to court documents, Ruiz was an owner of Professional Home Care Solutions Inc. (Professional Home Care) and an administrator of LTC Professional Consultants Inc. (LTC), Miami home health care agencies that purported to provide home health and therapy services to Medicare beneficiaries.  Ruiz and her co-conspirators operated LTC and Professional Home Care for the purpose of billing the Medicare program for, among other things, expensive physical therapy and home health care services that were not medically necessary and/or were not provided.

Also according to court documents, Ruiz ran and oversaw the schemes operating out of LTC and Professional Home Care.   Ruiz and co-conspirators paid kickbacks and bribes to patient recruiters, who provided patients to LTC and Professional Home Care , as well as prescriptions, plans of care (POCs) and certifications for medically unnecessary therapy and home health services for Medicare beneficiaries.  Ruiz and her co-conspirators used these prescriptions, POCs and medical certifications to fraudulently bill the Medicare program for unnecessary home health care and therapy services.
From approximately January 2006 to June 2012, LTC and Professional Home Care submitted approximately $74 million in claims for home health care services that were not medically necessary and/or not provided, and Medicare paid approximately $45 million on those claims.

The case was investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG, and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.   The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Chief Joseph S. Beemsterboer of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.

Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged nearly 1,900 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $6 billion.  In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.    To learn more about the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), go to:
# # #

Report Medicare Fraud Now

Two Grandparents TalkingOffice of Inspector General
Call: 800-447-8477
TTY: 800-377-4950
Online: Report Fraud
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid
Call: 800-633-4227 / TTY 877-486-2048

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Disability Treaty Passes Out of Foreign Relations Committee - Help Us Now!

as shared by United States International Council on Disabilities, and supported by Ability Chicago...

CRPD Successfully Passed Out of the Foreign Relations Committee 

Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted the Disability Treaty out of committee!  We've crossed this difficult hurdle but we are RUNNING OUT OF TIME with numerous hurdles to go and little time!


We need a floor vote NOW!  
Senator Menendez and the disability, veterans, business faith communities are not willing to throw in the towel, but your actions in the next week are CRUCIAL to making this happen!  

Take part in three events this week to help us cross the finish line! 
ThursdayJuly 23rd, 10:30am
Veteran Press Conference
Dirksen 430 
Join Senators Dole, McCain, Ayotte, Kirk and Harkin as well as leading veteran organizations to hear why veterans support the disability treaty! 
ThursdayJuly 23rd, 1pm
National Call on CRPD!
Code: 4837166#
Join advocates from around the country for a FINAL national call to learn what YOU can do to pass the CRPD!  

July 29th, 12:45pm
National Rally on CRPD!
Join advocates from around the country for a rally on the National Mall for CRPD!  Watch for more details coming soon.  If you're not located in DC, you can take part by visiting your Senators in-state offices and expressing your support!

Your Senators need to continue to hear from YOU and know that you support the CRPD! Show the community is behind this treaty and that we want the process to KEEP MOVING FORWARD to a Floor vote!  
Additionally, Senator Reid also needs to hear from us, and that we want a floor vote NOW!

Visit our citizen action portal,www.disabilitytreaty.orgto CALL your Senators! They need to hear from our movement now or we will not succeed.
United States International Council on Disabilities | 1012 14th St. NW | Suite 105 | Washington DC | DC20005

Ed Roberts: His Words, His Vision : America's Disability Activist History : video

YouTube Upload by rtcil on Mar 3, 2009
(refresh if no video)

In this video excerpt, Ed Roberts discusses the history and future of the independent living movement in the U.S. The video is produced by the Research and Training Center on Independent Living at the University of Kansas.

A self-proclaimed cripple, Ed was a catalyst and cosmic thinker. He built a life for himself as a person with polio, then laid the foundation for millions of other people with disabilities to build similar lives. Ed said, "Everybody has a future." He meant it, lived it and helped others achieve it.

This video incorporates a 1981 speech that Ed Roberts gave to independent-living activists with photos depicitng the ongoing struggle of people throughout the world for the rights and independence modeled by this visionary leader.

For more information and to order the complete video, visit
# For more History of America's Disability Activists, explore 'Its Our Story" Project at:

US Senate - vote on the Disability Treaty CRPD -TUESDAY July 22nd - move forward by contacting your Senator

as shared by United States International Council on Disabilities, & supported by Ability Chicago...

Ithe CRPD Support logo with We support instead of I support 

July 22nd 


Thank you to everyone who called their Senators this month and expressed support for the CRPD! Based on YOUR incredible show of support,
Chairman Menendez has scheduled a mark-up for July 22nd!

Treaty opponents continue to use scare tactics to frighten people to fictitious dangers to the treaty. 
We all must share the TRUTH with your  Senators! 


Your Senators need to continue to hear from YOU and know that you support the CRPD! Show the community is behind this treaty and that we want the process to KEEP MOVING FORWARD to a Floor vote!

Visit our citizen action portal,www.disabilitytreaty.orgto CALL your Senators! They need to hear from our movement now or we will not succeed.
  United States International Council on Disabilities | 1012 14th St. NW | Suite 105 | Washington DC | DC20005

State of Illinois can close Murray Center Developmental Center, A Federal Judge ruled

article BY BRIAN BRUEGGEMANN | News-Democrat BND.COM | July 21, 2014

A federal judge in Chicago has ruled that the state can close its Warren G. Murray Developmental Center in Centralia.
A group of plaintiffs, which included parents of some residents at the center, had sought a preliminary injunction to block the state's plan to close the center. They argued the state was violating federal laws by trying to shoe-horn all people with developmental disabilities into group homes -- a cheaper alternative to state-run institutions.
Federal Judge Marvin Aspen, in a 55-page ruling, said the plaintiffs did not prove they would suffer irreparable harm if Murray Center closes. Aspen said the state, in closing Murray Center, is trying to "improve efficiency by serving more citizens, to effectuate public policy favoring the integration of the disabled when feasible, and to potentially improve the state budget."
He added: "We are not unsympathetic to the real human concerns raised by plaintiffs in their diligent and highly professional advocacy as guardians, on behalf of their loved ones as well as other families facing this predicament. We recognize that Murray's closure may cause distress and disruption for plaintiffs, their wards, and their families. In the end, however, we cannot grant them legal relief on the record before us, which does not permit us to conclude that plaintiffs' interests outweigh defendants' interests..."
Aspen heard arguments and testimony during a weeklong trial for the case in January.
Rita Winkeler, president of the Murray Parent Association, which sought the injunction, said she'll be meeting with the group's attorney to consider an appeal.
"I am so sad at this time, and having a difficult time thinking. I know that we all did the right thing in fighting this, as our loved ones' lives depend on us fighting for them," Winkeler said. "I am praying for all of us and our residents at Murray. They are the ones who will suffer because government officials put money and power above the lives of the most fragile residents of Illinois."
Januari Smith, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services, said the ruling will help Illinois move from an "outdated system" of caring for people with developmental disabilities.
"The Quinn administration is committed to improving the quality of life for persons with developmental disabilities by reducing the number of out-dated institutions in the state," Smith said. "Living and being included in the community offers people with disabilities the opportunity to be more productive and social, live close to family and friends and enjoy an overall improved quality of life. Over the past several years, we have helped thousands of individuals move out of large institutions and into their very own homes."
The plaintiffs sought an injunction that would have prohibited the state from closing Murray or any other institutions that Illinois operates for people with developmental disabilities. The plaintiffs argued that the state wants to put all people with developmental disabilities into community-based group homes, which are privately operated but publicly financed. The plaintiffs argue that group homes can't adequately handle the needs of some people who have profound disabilities.
The state admitted that it prefers placement in groups homes for most people with developmental disabilities, primarily because they're a more modern way to care for those people, and because most people prefer residing in a home rather than an institution. The state argues that it has no plans to close all of its six other institutions, but that it's a state decision on whether to operate the institutions, not a federal court's.
In addition, the state argued that placement in a group home instead of an institution saves the state about $100,000 per person annually, allowing Illinois to spread its limited resources among a growing number of developmentally disabled who need services.
As of January, Murray Center had about 225 residents, some of whom have lived there for decades, and about 530 employees, many of them union members who helped with the parent group's legal expenses.
Gov. Pat Quinn announced in 2012 that he planned to close Murray Center as part of a "rebalancing initiative." The state estimated it would save $22.7 million a year by closing Murray Center and Jacksonville Developmental Center. The Jacksonville center already has closed.
Aspen, in his ruling, noted that 11 states have quit operating institutions for people who have developmental disabiltiies. "Community programs have been developing for at least 50 years and are not a fad," the judge wrote.
Aspen also noted that Illinois currently serves about 1,800 residents in institutional developmental centers, and about 22,000 people in community-based settings such as group homes. But, the judge added, "an estimated 23,000 people with developmental disabilities in Illinois are on a waiting list to receive services, of whom 6,000 are considered to be in emergency situations. The (state) lacks funding to offer services to these individuals."

Statement from the 'Going Home Campaign'

The Going Home Campaign applauds the court’s ruling supporting the closure of the Murray Developmental Center and celebrates a victory for the disability community that allows people with even the most severe disabilities the opportunity to live life outside an institution and in a neighborhood of their choice.
Judge Marvin E. Aspen’s of the United States’ District Court Northern District of Illinois ruling concluded that "the initiative seeks to make community-based treatment a reality for more Illinois citizens who need and desire it, using the ACCT (Active Community Care Transition) process to help determine whether the community can accommodate a particular individual."
Judge Aspen supports our beliefs that the transition process is a comprehensive, person-centered plan ensuring people with disabilities safely transition out of institutions and are able to choose the best path for them. His opinion further stated that the “community can provide the same if not better services than state operated institutions.”
Even with the closure of Murray, there are six state-operated facilities—continuing to make Illinois one of the most institutionalized states in the nation. We look forward to continuing our advocacy efforts to help people with disabilities make successful transitions into their new homes where they will receive customized supports and services allowing them to achieve their maximum potential and become fully integrated into society.
The Going Home Leadership Team

FOR previous posts on Warren G. Murray Developmental Center in Centralia, IL:

Monday, July 21, 2014

Laurence Clark - No more Mr Nice Guy: When disabled people get nasty

wanted to share this article, and anyone that knows me knows I never get nasty (OK now stop laughing) - Jim..

BBC OUCH | article By Laurence Clark, Guest blogger | July 20, 2014

Laurence performing live
Disabled comedian Laurence Clark admits that sometimes he's not been very nice to people who have tried to help him - but he doesn't care. Much.
We disabled comedians have always enjoyed focusing on the unusual things the public says to us, it has proved a rich vein of comedy, as there's seemingly no end to the range of bizarre reactions we can get.

In the past, strangers have mistaken my cerebral palsy for drunkenness and, when taking my kids out trick-or-treating, neighbours have handed sweets to me instead of to my kids. I have assumed they were being patronising but, as I use a power wheelchair, maybe they thought I was dressed up as Davros, Doctor Who's arch-nemesis.
A drawback to bringing up awkward disability moments in front of a mainstream comedy audience is that you may be asking them to laugh at things they may have done themselves. So disabled comics have to work hard to create an atmosphere where it's OK to laugh.
Humorous though it often is, concentrating on what members of the public say is only one side of the story. The other side is me, and how I respond to it. You see, if I'm completely honest, I handle those interactions very badly. Very badly indeed.
In my Edinburgh Fringe show I recount times where I've reacted by losing my temper and screaming blue murder to the amazement of onlookers, calling an esteemed colleague an obscenity, making a waiter cry and biting a policeman's ankle.
Why do I lose my temper? Sometimes it's because I've had a bad day, other times I've had my space invaded, but most often it's caused by what I'm beginning to realise is a serious aversion to other people being polite, helpful... or nice.
Everything you've ever seen and read, tells you to be nice. When we were kids our parents told us to be nice. At that age we never listened but maybe the world would be a better place if we still negotiated using only the threat of wedgies and wet willies.
I've come to hate nice. To my way of thinking, nice is not nice. Nice is in fact bad because nice causes me problems.
Let me explain nice. Although I'm a wheelchair user, I can walk up steps if I take my time and use a handrail. It may look like a horrific accident waiting to happen, but I'm actually quite steady. What gets in my way, however, is someone being spontaneously nice by grabbing my arm to give me support which can cause me to lose my balance and fall.
If a total stranger accosted you and made you tumble down a flight of steps, you'd be justified in telling them where to shove it. But when they act nicely, with the best of intentions, supporting me because they're worried I might fall. You can't shout at them and feel good about it. Perversely, in some ways I find open hostility easier to deal with.
Being nice to others requires anticipating their needs and desires. What I need is to be left alone. What I desire is peace and quiet. Nine times out of 10 the public get this horribly wrong.
Another example. When I'm out shopping, I'm often asked if I would like an item fetching down from a higher shelf and, before I have the time to reply, they pass it to me. The person is always trying to be helpful but since when was an offer of help a rhetorical question? I don't know how to deal with this stuff now - it happens so often.
Laurence with his wife and two kidsLaurence at home with his family, trying to be nice...
The other week I had a supermarket assistant follow me round the store for ages, offering help. I repeatedly said no thanks, tried shooing her away and even told her I'd throw a bag of wholemeal penne pasta at her, but she just kept smiling. After an hour I had a basket overflowing with groceries I never wanted which I then had to ask someone else to put back on the shelves for me. But this person also didn't understand my cerebral palsy speech pattern so smiled at me a lot, even though I could have been asking for his PIN number. All very polite and nice but terribly infuriating.
'd like to think that it's perhaps understandable why I don't always respond to niceness with niceness but there are a number of past incidents which have left me with feelings of remorse. For my Fringe show, I've set myself the challenge of revisiting some of these moments of instant regret and trying to make amends.
Having recently hit 40, I'm a bit more chilled out and don't get quite so wound up. I've come to realise that my stand-up material shouldn't just be about giving positive PR for disabled people, so I've created a show in which I look at how unpleasant I can be.
Surely there's room for a bit more honesty now that portrayals of disabled people are broader. Equal representation should include those times when we get it wrong and, like me, behave like an idiot.

Find out more

Rob and Kate
Laurence Clark was on this month's Ouch podcast. You can download and listen to it here.
Laurence Clark's new show, Moments of Instant Regret, will be on at the Assembly George Square, Edinburgh, from 30 July to 24 August, part of the Festival Fringe.
Follow @BBCOuch on Twitter and Facebook, and listen to our monthly talk show
FROM Laurence Clark's YouTube channel

Friday, July 18, 2014

Disabled woman to drive video-equipped robot in Chicago Disability Pride Parade 0n Sat July 19th

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS July 18, 2014 - 4:06 am EDT

CHICAGO — A Chicago woman with partial paralysis plans to participate in the city's Disability Pride Parade by driving a robot from her apartment bedroom.

Barbara Reed will be using an Orbis Robotics Teleporter connected to her home computer. Her image will appear on the screen of the robot as she maneuvers it through the parade. Members of Chicago's American Legion Post 2091 will accompany the robot.

In a press release, the California-based manufacturer says the mobile video conference technology may someday allow homebound people to work in the retail industry. In a similar demonstration, Reed worked at a recent convention as the Orbis Robotics spokesperson without leaving her apartment.

Clarification of Obligations To Kids With Autism - U.S. DEPT OF HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICE

as reported by the wonderful people at Disability Scoop ...

By MICHELLE DIAMENT | Disability Scoop | July 17, 2014

Melanie Feazell works with Declan Byrne during an ABA session. Federal officials say states must provide treatment services like ABA for kids with autism on Medicaid. (Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times/MCT)
Melanie Feazell works with Declan Byrne during an ABA session. Federal officials say states must provide treatment services like ABA for kids with autism on Medicaid. (Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times/MCT)
In what advocates are calling a major win, federal officials are for the first time telling states that Medicaid coverage must include treatments like applied behavior analysis for children with autism.
Medicaid programs nationwide must offer “medically necessary diagnostic and treatment services” to kids with autism, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told states in a bulletin this month. That includes everything from speech and occupational therapy to personal care services and medical equipment, the agency said.
The services must be included in what’s known as the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment program, or EPSDT, a package of offerings that every state is required to provide children under age 21 who qualify for Medicaid.
The move comes in response to an increasing number of inquiries in recent years from states facing legal action for denying services to Medicaid beneficiaries with autism, Melissa Harris, director of the Division of Benefits and Coverage at CMS, told members of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee recently.
Many of the court cases focused on coverage of ABA therapy, though Harris said that CMS was careful not to single out ABA or any other specific treatment in its directive to states.
“The expectation is children with autism are a population that need to have their service needs met under the state EPSDT obligation. ABA is one way to do it,” Harris said.
Medicaid coverage for kids with autism has traditionally varied from state to state. Establishing national requirements will have a huge impact, advocates said.
“This should be of enormous significance to beneficiaries across the country,” said Dan Unumb, executive director of Autism Speaks’ Autism Legal Resource Center. “It will dramatically increase access to critical, medically necessary care.”
FOR MORE FROM 'Disability Scoop' visit:

Strengthening Illinois’ home care program / Opinion by Cathy Contarino

as appeared in St. Louis Post Dispatch | Opinions by Cathy Contarino on July 17, 2014

An Illinois Medicaid program that gives adults with disabilities vital home care assistance was unfortunately thrust into the news recently. Fourteen workers in the Metro East region were charged with alleged time fraud in the Home Services Program and 15 workers were indicted in the Springfield area.
As an individual with a disability, and a customer of the Home Services Program through the Illinois Division of Rehabilitation, I rely on personal assistants who assist me to live independently and to go to work every day. I also serve as the executive director of IMPACT Center for Independent Living where we advocate with individuals with disabilities of all ages to live full and fulfilling lives of our own choosing. So the news of the alleged fraud is very distressing.
Let’s be crystal clear: Any fraud in the Home Services Program should not be tolerated whatsoever. And those who break the law should be held legally accountable.
The alleged time fraud and possible prosecutions shouldn’t be a reason to completely undermine or diminish an important and vital home care program that supports over 32,000 customers to live in their own homes with dignity, security and privacy. The Home Services Program also employs an estimated 26,000 workers whose service, professionalism, and commitment to consumers make this a valuable investment, especially for the taxpayers of Illinois.
The Home Services Program saves the state of Illinois tens of millions of dollars every year because it reduces institutional and nursing home costs. According to the Illinois Department of Health and Family Services, the state pays an average of $4,250 a month for every resident in a nursing home, whereas home care assistance is only one-third of the costs.
But the most concerning issue that came out of the press coverage from the indictments were comments that individuals shouldn’t be allowed to choose our own personal assistants. We should be allowed to choose, for our own sense of privacy or personal security, to have a family member or someone we know and trust to be a personal assistant. That should be our right. One must consider that a personal assistant is intimately involved in our lives and assists us with some of the most private aspects of a person’s daily routine, from cooking and cleaning, to helping to manage medications to bathing and personal hygiene.
Despite the recent news about wrongdoing, the truth is that the Home Services Program is only getting stronger because of five new and important fraud prevention measures implemented from the state.
• On May 22, the Illinois Department of Human Services announced a new timekeeping system for caregivers to safeguard against fraud.
• The state is now requiring all personal assistants undergo mandatory training in preventing fraud and abuse.
• The state is now conducting background checks on personal assistants while also preserving the consumers’ right to hire and choose their own provider.
• The state created an anti-fraud unit within the Department of Human Services to identify potential suspicious cases.
• The Illinois Network of Centers for Independent Living, which our local CIL is a partner of, just rolled out a statewide program to provide training to people with disabilities on how to recognize and avoid fraud, abuse and neglect.
All of these fraud prevention measures were either announced or enacted by the state before these recent indictments as a sign that the state is already moving in the right direction.
I am someone whose life has been transformed because of the Home Services Program. It’s why I’m able to work, pay taxes and write this commentary from my desk and continue to advocate for equal rights for all. A few bad apples who were up to no good, who if convicted should be held responsible, shouldn’t take away my independence and the tens of thousands of other individuals with disabilities.
Cathy Contarino is executive director of IMPACT Center for Independent Living in Alton.

As State of Pennsylvania mental institutions close, the final resting places for many patients are forgotten

A hillside cemetery in Kilbuck holding the remains of more than 1,300 Dixmont State Hospital patients has gone to seed, with some of the numbered concrete markers leaning, toppled or broken and others covered by brush and branches.
About 20 miles south, in Collier, as many as 1,000 graves from the Woodville State Hospital campus are in a similar state, a dense tree canopy making it difficult even to walk upright among the neglected markers.
As the state has closed hospitals for people with mental illness and centers for people with intellectual disabilities, it has stopped caring for the cemeteries that were part of the sprawling campuses.
In some cases, such as a fenced Cecil plot containing about 30 graves from the former Western Center complex for people with intellectual disabilities, municipal officials or other parties have taken over maintenance.
“We pay right now to have it hand-mowed twice a month,” said Wayne Fleming, executive director of Washington County Authority, which bought 216 acres of center land from the state to expand the Southpointe business park.
But no one is minding the Woodville or Dixmont sites.
“It’‍s pretty much abandoned,“ Collier manager Sal Sirabella said of the Woodville cemetery, now owned by the township.
Mr. Sirabella estimated the site holds 130 to 150 graves. However, the Rev. George DeVille, administrator of Holy Rosary Parish in Cecil Township and former chaplain at Woodville and Mayview State Hospital in South Fayette, said he’s certain that there are 1,064 graves at the Woodville cemetery.
“I counted them,” Father DeVille said.
Other states also have abandoned cemeteries as they closed institutions and shifted to community-based care. In some places, government agencies and volunteers are working to restore burial sites, saying it’s time to give a measure of dignity to people who were marginalized in life and forgotten in death.
“There’s no excuse for it not being a priority. On the other hand, we know the mental health system, in general, is starved for resources,” said Bob Carolla, spokesman for National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Neither the state Department of Public Welfare, which operated Woodville and Dixmont, nor the state Department of General Services, which oversees state properties, has responded to questions about the dilapidated cemeteries. Nor did they respond to questions about whether the state has records matching the numbered markers with people buried in the graves.
The 407-acre Dixmont facility was opened in 1862 and closed in 1984. Its buildings were demolished about a decade ago. The state sold 406 acres to Kilbuck businessman Ralph Stroyne, who re-sold about 75 acres for a Walmart shopping center project that was halted by a landslide.
At the last minute, Mr. Stroyne said, the state refused to sell him the acre occupied by the cemetery. But other than one half-hearted cleanup several years ago, he said, the state has done nothing with the site. A volunteer cleanup took place in 2007.

A tree has grown around an old grave marker at Dixmont Cemetery in the woods behind the former Dixmont State Hospital ...
The cemetery is off an unmarked road that cuts across Mr. Stroyne’s property.
A tattered sign says “Dixmont State Hospital Cemetery.” A granite marker says the site holds the remains of 1,300 patients, including war veterans, who died from 1863 to 1937. Beyond, under the trees, are crumbling rows of graves.
The rounded concrete markers are about 6 inches wide and a foot tall. In a maintenance building, Mr. Stroyne said, he found the forms used to make the markers. He also found a list of those buried.
Some of the markers lean, and others have fallen over. One is embedded in a tree trunk. Some lie under branches or other debris. In a couple of cases, the concrete has eroded completely, leaving only two pieces of rebar to mark someone’s resting place.
Woodville, which opened in the mid-19th century and closed in 1992, was a poorhouse and tuberculosis hospital before it became a hospital for people with mental illness. The cemetery is 100 yards or so past a cul-de-sac in a residential neighborhood.
“It‘‍s just a long forgotten piece of property,” said Cecil Township resident David DeSafey, a former state hospital employee who has posted footage of the dilapidated cemetery on YouTube.
Developer Jack Cargnoni said the cemetery was part of 50 or so acres he deeded to the township for a park about 15 years ago.
A granite monument at the edge of a clearing says the cemetery was used from 1867 to 1949. Behind the monument, under the trees, are markers similar in size and condition to those at Dixmont.
“It’s very, very overgrown,” Mr. Sirabella said.
In the 1980s, at the urging of Ginny Thornburgh, wife of then-Gov. Dick Thornburgh, the state undertook a spate of cemetery improvements, including the replacement of more than 1,000 numbered headstones at Polk Center in Venango County with markers bearing the names of those buried there. At the time, Mrs. Thornburgh said she was “haunted” by the numbered graves.
But any improvement efforts at Dixmont and Woodville were short lived and did not include replacement of numbered markers. The Woodville chaplain for 28 years, Father DeVille said he could not recall a time when the cemetery was well maintained.
At least two former institutional cemeteries are being kept up.
South Fayette officials maintain a fenced plot with about 30 numbered graves at Fairview Park. The graves once were part of the Mayview State Hospital complex, which closed about five years ago following a protracted downsizing.
Morganza, a reform school, turned into Western Center, which closed in 2000. In purchasing Western Center land for a second phase of the Southpointe business park in Cecil Township, Washington County officials had to agree to maintain the 80-foot-by-60-foot cemetery.
“We took a rather proactive and positive attitude,” Mr. Fleming said, citing plans to make the cemetery more aesthetically appealing. Possible improvements, he said, include a walkway and reflection area.
Some of the 28 graves have names on them. The most recent burial was in 1917.
Interest in restoring state hospital cemeteries around the country prompted the U.S. Center for Mental Health Services to fund publication of a how-to manual.
Mr. Carolla said his organization supports restoration efforts but noted that volunteers can face significant challenges in gaining access to the sites, covering project costs and identifying the buried.
In Ohio, state officials have awarded grants to groups that want to restore cemeteries.
The recipients included a committee that’s worked for 14 years to restore and maintain three cemeteries that once were part of a mental hospital in Athens. In all, the group has raised $100,000 in grants and in-kind contributions, allowing the volunteers to clear brush, repair markers, build a nature trail and rebuild a pond.
“It’s been sort of a release for me to have that project,” said longtime volunteer Tom Walker, whose son has a mental illness.
Advocates say the clean-ups help to cast a modern light on mental illness. Mr. Walker said they’re “a stigma buster.”