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Thursday, May 31, 2012

U.S. vets filing for disability benefits in large numbers | May 29, 2012

Written by
MARILYNN MARCHIONE
The Associated Press

{photo: Army Pvt. Randy Donovan is hugged by his mother, Twila Donovan, upon arriving at the Crossroads Christian Church in Hutchinson, Kan., on April 14 for a welcome home party. Donovan was injured by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in November 2011. His injuries included a fractured vertebra in his neck, a broken upper jaw and broken radius in his right elbow. He also had shrapnel wounds to his upper body and two broken vertebrae in his back. Donovan received a Purple Heart. The cost of veterans' benefits and health care peaks decades after a war ends, says Harvard University economist Linda Bilmes. These peaked in 1969 for veterans from World War I and in the 1980s for World War II. They haven't peaked yet for Vietnam veterans. / Via AP}

America’s newest veterans are filing for disability benefits at a record-high rate, claiming to be the most medically and mentally troubled generation of former troops the nation has ever seen.

A staggering 45 percent of the 1.6 million veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now seeking compensation for injuries they say are service-related.

That is more than double the estimate of 21 percent who filed such claims after the Gulf War in the early 1990s, top government officials told The Associated Press.

What’s more, these new veterans are claiming eight to nine ailments on average, and the most recent ones over the last year are claiming 11 to 14. By comparison, Vietnam veterans are currently receiving compensation for fewer than four, on average, and those from World War II and Korea, just two.

It’s unclear how much worse off these new veterans are than their predecessors.

Many factors are driving the dramatic increase in claims — the weak economy, more troops surviving wounds, and more awareness of problems such as concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD.

Almost one-third have been granted disability so far.
Government officials and some veterans’ advocates say that veterans who might have been able to work with certain disabilities may be more inclined to seek benefits now because they lost jobs or can’t find any. Aggressive outreach and advocacy efforts also have brought more veterans into the system, which must evaluate each claim to see if it is war-related. Payments range from $127 a month for a 10 percent disability to $2,769 for a full one.

As the U.S. commemorates the more than 6,400 troops who died in post-Sept. 11, 2001 wars, the problems of those who survived also draw attention.

These new veterans are seeking a level of help the government did not anticipate, and for which there is no special fund set aside to pay.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is mired in backlogged claims, but “our mission is to take care of whatever the population is,” said Allison Hickey, the VA’s undersecretary for benefits. “We want them to have what their entitlement is.”

The 21 percent who filed claims in previous wars is Hickey’s estimate of an average for the 1990-91 Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield to oust Iraqi troops from Kuwait. The VA has details only on the current disability claims being paid to veterans of each war.
New veterans are differentThe AP spent three months reviewing records and talking with doctors, government officials and former troops to take stock of the new veterans.

They are different in many ways from those who fought before them.

More are from the Reserves and National Guard — 28 percent of those filing disability claims — rather than career military. Reserves and National Guard made up a greater percentage of troops in these wars than they did in previous ones.

About 31 percent of Guard/Reserve new veterans have filed claims compared to 56 percent of career military ones.

More of the new veterans are women, accounting for 12 percent of those who have sought care through the VA. Women also served in greater numbers in these wars than in the past. Some female veterans are claiming PTSD due to military sexual trauma — a new challenge from a disability rating standpoint, Hickey said.

The new veterans have different types of injuries than previous veterans did. That’s partly because improvised bombs have been the main weapon and because body armor and improved battlefield care allowed many of them to survive wounds that in past wars proved fatal.

“They’re being kept alive at unprecedented rates,” said Dr. David Cifu, the VA’s medical rehabilitation chief. More than 95 percent of troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan have survived.

Larry Bailey II is an example. After tripping a rooftop bomb in Afghanistan last June, the 26-year-old Marine remembers flying into the air, then fellow troops attending to him.

“I pretty much knew that my legs were gone. My left hand, from what I remember I still had three fingers on it,” although they didn’t seem right, Bailey said. “I looked a few times but then they told me to stop looking.” Bailey, who is from Zion, Illinois, north of Chicago, ended up a triple amputee and expects to get a hand transplant this summer.

He is still transitioning from active duty and is not yet a veteran. Just over half of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans eligible for VA care have used it so far.
Of those who have sought VA care:

--More than 1,600 of them lost a limb; many others lost fingers or toes.

--At least 156 are blind, and thousands of others have impaired vision.

--More than 177,000 have hearing loss, and more than 350,000 report tinnitus — noise or ringing in the ears.

--Thousands are disfigured, as many as 200 of them so badly that they may need face transplants. One-quarter of battlefield injuries requiring evacuation included wounds to the face or jaw, one study found.

“The numbers are pretty staggering,” said Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston who has done four face transplants on non-military patients and expects to start doing them soon on veterans.

Others have invisible wounds. More than 400,000 of these new veterans have been treated by the VA for a mental health problem, most commonly, PTSD.

Tens of thousands of veterans suffered traumatic brain injury, or TBI — mostly mild concussions from bomb blasts — and doctors don’t know what’s in store for them long-term. Cifu, of the VA, said that roughly 20 percent of active duty troops suffered concussions, but only one-third of them have symptoms lasting beyond a few months.

That’s still a big number, and “it’s very rare that someone has just a single concussion,” said David Hovda, director of the UCLA Brain Injury Research Center. Suffering multiple concussions, or one soon after another, raises the risk of long-term problems. A brain injury also makes the brain more susceptible to PTSD, he said.

On a more mundane level, many new veterans have back, shoulder and knee problems, aggravated by carrying heavy packs and wearing the body armor that helped keep them alive. One recent study found that 19 percent required orthopedic surgery consultations and 4 percent needed surgery after returning from combat.

All of this adds up to more disability claims, which for years have been coming in faster than the government can handle them. The average wait to get a new one processed grows longer each month and is now about eight months — time that a frustrated, injured veteran might spend with no income.

Claims are backloggedMore than 560,000 veterans from all wars currently have claims that are backlogged — older than 125 days.

The VA’s benefits chief, Hickey, gave these reasons:

--Sheer volume. Disability claims from all veterans soared from 888,000 in 2008 to 1.3 million in 2011. Last year’s included more than 230,000 new claims from Vietnam veterans and their survivors because of a change in what conditions can be considered related to Agent Orange exposure. Those complex, 50-year-old cases took more than a third of available staff, she said.

--High number of ailments per claim. When a veteran claims 11 to 14 problems, each one requires “due diligence” — a medical evaluation and proof that it is service-related, Hickey said.

--A new mandate to handle the oldest cases first. Because these tend to be the most complex, they have monopolized staff and pushed up average processing time on new claims, she said.

--Outmoded systems. The VA is streamlining and going to electronic records, but for now, “We have 4.4 million case files sitting around 56 regional offices that we have to work with; that slows us down significantly,” Hickey said.

Barry Jesinoski, executive director of Disabled American Veterans, called Hickey’s efforts “commendable,” but said: “The VA has a long way to go” to meet veterans’ needs. Even before the surge in Agent Orange cases, VA officials “were already at a place that was unacceptable” on backlogged claims, he said.

He and VA officials agree that the economy is motivating some claims. His group helps veterans file them, and he said that sometimes when veterans come in, “We’ll say, ‘Is your back worse?’ and they’ll say, ‘No, I just lost my job.’”

Jesinoski does believe these veterans have more mental problems, especially from multiple deployments.

“You just can’t keep sending people into war five, six or seven times and expect that they’re going to come home just fine,” he said.

For taxpayers, the ordeal is just beginning. With any war, the cost of caring for veterans rises for several decades and peaks 30 to 40 years later, when diseases of aging are more common, said Harvard economist Linda Bilmes. She estimates the health care and disability costs of the recent wars at $600 billion to $900 billion.

“This is a huge number and there’s no money set aside,” she said. “Unless we take steps now into some kind of fund that will grow over time, it’s very plausible many people will feel we can’t afford these benefits we overpromised.”

How would that play to these veterans, who all volunteered and now expect the government to keep its end of the bargain?

“The deal was, if you get wounded, we’re going to supply this level of support,” Bilmes said. Right now, “there’s a lot of sympathy and a lot of people want to help. But memories are short and times change.”

Design Issues for Accessible Sidewalks: Pedestrians who use Wheelchairs | video - U.S. Access Board


YouTube Uploaded by PublicResourceOrg on May 10, 2010

Accessible Sidewalks: Pedestrians who use Wheelchairs - Access Board - - Accessible Sidewalks is a four-part video developed by the Access Board to illustrate access issues and considerations in the design of sidewalks.

For the United States Access Board :
http://www.access-board.gov/

Illinois Abilities: World-class swimmer Amy Chapman aims for Paralympic Games in London

{photo: In this May 17, 2012 photo, world-class swimmer Amy Chapman, of Batavia, Ill., practices at the Academy Bullets Swim Club out of Marmion Academy in Aurora, Ill. Chapman plans to try out in June for the U.S. team for the Paralympics Games, to be held this summer in London. (AP Photo/Daily Herald, Rick West) MANDATORY CREDIT, MAGS OUT, TV }

Article by ELENA FERRARIN | Daily Herald
First Posted: May 30, 2012

BATAVIA, Ill. — World-class swimmer Amy Chapman has been a frequent visitor of the prosthetist's office since she was a toddler, getting fitted with new pairs of legs year after year.

That's not because there were any problems. Quite the contrary — Amy was always so active and sporty that her prosthetic legs, well, suffered the consequences.

Amy, 16, a junior at Batavia High School, competed with Team USA at the Parapan American Games last November in Mexico, where she set an event record in the 100-meter breast stroke in her disability classification. Altogether, she competed in seven events, including the 50-, 100- and 400-meter freestyle, the 100-meter backstroke, 100-meter fly and the 200-meter individual medley.

She plans to try out in June for the U.S. team for the Paralympics Games, to be held this summer in London.

Amy's prosthetist, John Angelico of Scheck & Siress in Oak Park, said he's never known anything to stop her.

"She's going to keep up with her peers, she's going to participate with her peers, no matter what," Angelico said. "I'd love to say it's because of Scheck & Siress, but it's her determination. If we would have made her the worst set of legs in the world, she'd still be the accomplished athlete that she is."

Amy was born with fibular hemimelia, which means her legs had no fibula bones and were basically useless below the knee. When she was about a year old, doctors performed a partial amputation so she could fit into prosthetics.

Growing up, Amy did gymnastics and played soccer, but swimming is what she really fell in love with, she said.

"I love it so much, mainly just from all the friends I've made and everyone I've met, but also because it was something that came so natural to me," she said. "I never felt like I had to hold back or was limited in any way in the water."

During afternoon practices with her team, the Academy Bullets Swim Club out of Marmion Academy in Aurora, Amy sits on a bench by the pool and takes off her prosthetic legs. Pumping her arms for balance, she walks on her stumps and heads to the starting blocks. She hoists herself up and positions herself, one knee bent, ready to dive into the pool. Then she pushes herself off and emerges from the water, her strong arms and shoulders moving rhythmically, her thighs in constant motion to further propel her forward.

"It took a while to get into it competitively and really learn all the strokes, but it was something I could really work toward and put all of my energy into," she said.

Amy's siblings — twin brother Trevor, 17; Derek, 19; and Allyson, 22 — are all very athletic. Mom Leslie was a swimmer in college, while dad Keith played Division I basketball. The family bikes and water skis in summer and snow skis in winter, and Amy's always been right there with them, just one of the bunch.

The only allowance the Chapmans have made for her disability was to outfit a Toyota Matrix with hand controls so Amy can drive it, too.

"I'm so used to being able to do everything. If something doesn't work for me, I'll accomplish it anyway," Amy said.

Having a twin brother was instrumental in Amy's development, Leslie Chapman said.

"She had that model of the next development phase. He rolled over, she rolled over. He started to crawl, she started to crawl. When he started to walk, she started to pull up on furniture and stand. That's when the doctor said she was ready and did the surgery to prepare her for prosthetics," she said.

Each pair of legs costs $20,000 to $25,000, but Amy was fortunate to always have great health insurance, she said.

Amy did gymnastics from about age 3 to 9 at Excel Gymnastics in Batavia, but she could only go so far, she said.

"I had a lot of fun. I loved bars, but it would have been hard for me to compete because there are a lot of little things, like pointing your toes, that I couldn't do."

"She's going to keep up with her peers, she's going to participate with her peers, no matter what," Angelico said. "I'd love to say it's because of Scheck & Siress, but it's her determination. If we would have made her the worst set of legs in the world, she'd still be the accomplished athlete that she is."
She took up soccer, but finding the right balance while kicking the ball was very difficult, she said.

She got hooked on swimming when she was 10. The family lived in Arkansas, and Amy went to the local pool with a friend who wanted to try out for the team.

"When I saw what they were doing, I decided I wanted to try out, too. I just went up to coach and told him. He just looked at me," Amy recalled, giggling.

Amy made the team and hasn't looked back since. The turning point, she said, was mastering the ability not only to prevent her legs from being a hindrance and just dragging underwater but to use them for added power, too.

Academy Bullets coach Todd Capen, who's been coaching Amy for about three years, said Amy is tough both physically and mentally. She works extremely hard, and as the only disabled member of the team, she has to confront her disability every day, he said.

"She finds ways, and we find ways, to incorporate her workout in whatever we're doing," he said, adding that when it comes to training that doesn't involve legs, Amy is absolutely on par with her teammates, if not better. "She's one of the strongest people you'll ever meet."

For the last two years, swimmers with disabilities have been able to participate in state meets without qualifying so they can gain race experience, Capen said.

"Amy has been one of the few athletes in the state of Illinois to even take that opportunity," he said. "She got on the (starting) block and got in the pool in front of a thousand people totally by herself. Mentally, that's difficult."

Amy is an inspiration to her teammates, he said.

"Our older kids that she trains with understand it more. It's difficult for them, so some of them can't even fathom how much more difficult it is for Amy," Capen said. "From the younger kids' perspective, they see somebody who is different from them and is meeting all these lofty goals and getting all this recognition, and they think, 'Wow, she's amazing.' They don't get the physical side of it."

Amy's life is far from being just about swimming.

She's very involved with her church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Geneva; she gets up at 5:15 a.m. to go to seminary every morning before school and has held leadership roles for church-related youth activities.

She also plays wheelchair basketball with the Windy City Warriors, sings for the school choir and teaches swimming to kids Saturdays. Oh, and she manages to keep a solid 3.5 GPA at Batavia High School.

"I don't know what to do with myself when I do have free time. I like to keep busy," said Amy, who wants to go to Brigham Young University in Utah and become a dolphin trainer at Sea World.

The Chapmans will move to Utah in mid-June, where Amy's older siblings go to college. "I'll have the opportunity to have a high school swim team, which I don't here. I'm excited," she said.

When asked if she ever wished she had been born with legs, Amy takes a long pause, then answers "no" with a direct gaze. "I've never known anything different," she said.

Prosthetist Angelico says he's confident Amy is headed for great things.

"She's an incredibly determined little girl who had this incredible disability, and she's just as normal as any other kid," he said. "You put pants on her, and you have no clue. She's just an amazing girl."

___

Information from: Daily Herald, http://www.dailyherald.com

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

State of Illinois Close the state-run institutions : Tribune Editorial | May 30, 2012

Chicago Tribune : Editorial : May 30, 2012
We’re coming down to the final decisions in Springfield on state spending for the next fiscal year.


Three months ago, Gov. Pat Quinn unveiled a budget that made the tough choice to shut down a handful of government-run facilities around the state. He did it for good reason.

The facilities, including prisons and centers for the developmentally disabled, are unneeded and hugely expensive. The services they provide can be done much more efficiently, and their high cost puts a squeeze on funding available for other social services.

Now we're coming down to the final decisions in Springfield on state spending for the next fiscal year. The closing of the facilities are a bargaining chip. Legislative leaders may spare some of these places in exchange for votes on other priorities. We understand that's how a budget is negotiated.

But Illinois can't afford to logroll its way to higher spending on inefficient services and institutions. The Legislature has made tough decisions on Medicaid. It has to make tough decisions on every line item. That means shutting down obsolete facilities.

Case in point: the Jacksonville Developmental Center. The ongoing dispute over closing this aging facility shows why the state has such a poor record of managing its finances.

Under the governor's proposal, Jacksonville would close in a matter of months, after a transition period in which most of its residents move into community care. These are some of Illinois' most fragile citizens — people with severe intellectual disabilities. They require individual assessments to determine their needs. The governor has a sensible plan to make that move go smoothly.

Other states have made the same move with spectacular results. Not only do the states save money, the individuals involved fare much better. Research shows that community-based care — small group homes and the like — provides the opportunity for much more rewarding lives. No single formula is right for everyone. For most, however, community care beats institutions.

Illinois is among a very few states clinging to its institutions. Local politicians are loath to give up the state-funded payroll and contracts that these facilities generate. Labor unions fight for the facilities to preserve jobs for their members. Understandably, parents and guardians of the residents worry about change. They know any transition carries a risk for their loved ones. They doubt the state can manage it. Yet we've seen this transition work all across the country. We've seen the governor's plan. We believe his path leads to humane progress for those directly involved and for the many thousands indirectly affected.

Education and social services are likely to face more budget cuts this year and perhaps for many years while Illinois digs itself out of a terrible financial hole. When the state spends an unnecessary dollar to prop up an antiquated state-run facility, that's a dollar that doesn't go to the classroom, doesn't go to health care, doesn't go to community care.

Lawmakers, you've started to show some courage this year. Show it again: Close these obsolete facilities so Illinois can put its money where it will do the most good.

Copyright © 2012, Chicago Tribune
@ http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-edit-facilities-20120530,0,5533919.story

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Wounded Warriors Amputee Softball Team’s : Todd Reed - Losing his foot and ankle to a land mine - plays outfield , Arizona police officer

Battlefield of dreams: Amputee veterans rule diamond

By Meghann Myers - Medill News Service | May 23, 2012

When Sgt. Matt Kinsey hung up his cleats, dropped out of college and joined the Army in 2006, he never imagined that just a few years later he’d be spending his weekends back out on a ball field, traveling the country, and playing softball in front of thousands.

What started as a one-week amputee sports camp at the University of Arizona sponsored by the Wounded Warrior Project has grown into a full-fledged ball club, complete with sponsorship deals, a booked 2012 schedule and a legion of adoring fans.

The Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team is the passion project of Army veteran David Van Sleet. After two years in the service, he completed a certification in orthotics-prosthetics and immediately went to work for the Veterans Affairs Department, where he spent his career fitting injured troops with prosthetic devices.

{photo:Army Sgt. Matt Kinsey, right, wipes down his leg while teammate Todd Reed prepares for his next at-bat during the Wounded Warriors Amputee Softball Team’s recent game in Washington, Pa.}

After working at the disabled veterans sports camp at the University of Arizona in 2011, Van Sleet suggested to the Wounded Warrior Project — which sponsors programs to help veterans improve their education, job skills and physical skills as well as reduce stress — that it add softball to its lineup of adaptive sports.

They said, ‘Do you really think we can get that many wheelchair athletes to play softball?’ ” Van Sleet says. “I said, ‘I’m not talking about wheelchairs. I’m talking softball, able-bodied.’ ”

When the camp was over, the players wanted more. Seven went on to join the team, which filled out the rest of its 15-man roster through word of mouth.

Cut to a year later and the team is booked for the entirety of 2012 and fielding “a dozen or so” requests a day that will eventually shape up into the 2013 schedule.

Van Sleet says it costs about $7,500 to accommodate the team for the weekend, funded by donations. All of the team’s equipment comes from sponsorships: They sport Louisville Slugger bats, gloves, bags. They even have Louisville Slugger stickers slapped on their prosthetics.

Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals also stepped up to provide the team with branded uniforms for game days, so they now have a choice of Nationals red in addition to a couple of camouflage jerseys.

“We get spoiled,” says 27 year-old Kinsey, who plays shortstop.

They’ve been featured on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” ESPN and the “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams,” as well as Sports Illustrated and the cover of Softball magazine.

Coming back from an injury
It’s a welcome change from the way they pictured their lives after war. The players all served in the Army or Marines; each saw his military career cut short.

Some lost limbs to IEDs, others to land mines. Outfielder and retired Army Staff Sgt. Greg Reynolds was run down on his motorcycle at home two weeks before his second deployment in 2008.

But each of them woke up in a hospital bed following the accidents with similar thoughts.

“I bought a stick shift car before I left, and I’m like, how am I supposed to drive a stick shift without my feet?” says first baseman and retired Marine Lance Cpl. Josh Wege, 22, who lost both of his legs below the knee in 2009 when his Humvee rolled over an IED in Afghanistan.

“How does a guy with no legs live a functional life?” he wondered from his hospital bed. “But that was just me being dramatic.”

Kinsey stepped on a land mine in 2010 during a routine night patrol in Afghanistan.

“I was on top of the world doing what I did. Then you get injured and you’re not the same as you were before,” Kinsey says. “Everybody stares at you and even if they’re not, you think they’re staring at you. And then it’s like, who’s going to want me? I’m missing a foot, somebody’s going to have to take care of me.”

Kinsey says, however, that he had no idea back then just how normal he could be minus one foot. Six weeks after his surgery, he took his first step at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. From there, it was on to recovery.

“I hit my therapy as hard as I possibly could. I mean, I lived in the gym,” Kinsey says. “Once they gave me my first leg and cleared me to do stuff, I was: breakfast, go work out. Lunch, take a break, go work out. And I’d stay in there all day long.”

Several months later, Kinsey met Wege at Walter Reed, where they dominated an obstacle course that was part of their rehabilitation. Wege mentioned to Kinsey that he was going to Arizona to try out for an all-amputee softball team.

“David asked me all these questions, like how hard I threw, had I ever played softball before,” Kinsey says. “And I was like, ‘No, it’s a chick sport.’ And he’s like, ‘No, actually, it’s not.’ ” The rest, as they say, is history.

“Now they go and travel around and visit each other, do things socially. They’re the best of friends,” Van Sleet says. “I think what happened is they found someone in their life that’s just like them, not only physically, but that they can get along with as very good friends.”

‘One big family’
Playing for the Wounded Warriors Amputee Softball Team isn’t just about nine innings and a free bag of bats. At least two weekends a month, the guys hop on planes from all corners of the country for a weekend-long extravaganza. Often their families and significant others will make the trip out to see everyone.

“It’s like one big family. They’re all really great guys. They’re always trying to look out for us,” says Heidi McMahon, girlfriend of outfielder and retired Army Sgt. Brian Taylor Urruela.

“I think this whole organization has really helped the guys come back to normal life and get used to their amputations,” she adds.

On a recent visit to Washington, Pa., local businesses and the town’s mayor got together to put on a program that included two catered dinner parties, a game against a team of local corrections officers and a tour of State Correctional Institution Greene.

Not only did the officers lead the team through the facility’s cell blocks and dining halls, the team took batting practice on the prison’s ball diamond. One of the inmates pitched, another caught. Every time a ball cleared the fences, a security alarm erupted, unable to tell the difference between a home run and an escaping inmate.

“No, prison’s not a usual thing,” says retired Army Cpl. Saul Bosquez, 27, who lost his left leg below the knee near Baghdad in 2007. “Usually they’ll tour us around town, but it’s kind of the landmarks in that area.”

The evenings out before and after the game are a tradition, though, and they go down like most nights when professional athletes hit a town.

“I hate all the attention. Well, not girl attention,” Wege says. “The female attention’s nice. I mean, who’s going to turn that down?” Women ask for pictures with them, buy them drinks at the bars and occasionally keep in touch long after the guys leave town via Facebook and text message.

“We have groupies,” Wege adds.

It’s not at all what most of the guys were expecting when they imagined getting their lives back.

“It has bumped it up. I get a lot more attention, and it’s in a positive light. Yesterday several of those young ladies came up to me saying, ‘Oh, you’re my favorite player, we love watching you catch the ball,’ ” Reynolds says of the Washington, Pa., game.

“I think the push-ups usually win them over,” he adds, explaining that when the Warriors lose a game, he challenges the strongest player on the other team to a pushup contest, and in 20 matchups he’s never lost. His record is 100.

Reynolds is missing his right arm, shoulder and collar bone, or as he explains it, “a fifth of my body.”

Working harder but just as well
Still, the Wounded Warrior lifestyle isn’t all handshakes and photo ops. Like any other players, they have to be good to be taken seriously. And because they play only able-bodied teams, they have to be as good as players with all of their limbs.

“Especially when you’re wearing a prosthetic device, you’re working harder than an able-bodied person,” Kinsey says. “You burn more energy carrying one of these things, so that makes it harder. It’s heavy.”

While each injury comes with its own challenges, the players with prosthetic legs experience the most discomfort during games. Major league players spend their dugout time dumping water over their heads and spitting sunflower seeds at each other; the Warriors are usually popping off their limbs, wiping down their stumps and rubbing any sore spots.

Coach Van Sleet has also worked their positions around their limitations. Wege’s two prosthetic legs don’t lend him a ton of speed so first base is an ideal choice, because the position is mostly about scooping up ground balls or gloving throws.

“The muscle memory’s still there, I’ve just had to adjust with pivoting my foot,” Bosquez says of playing with a prosthetic leg. “I’ve lost a little bit of my power, but I think I’m at the same place I was the last couple of years I was playing baseball. I just can’t do squats.”

Retired Marine Lance Cpl. Nate Lindsey and retired Army Sgt. Kyle Earl make great outfielders because their lower arm amputations don’t have any effect on how quickly they can run down a ball.

Despite the adaptations, the Warriors have proven themselves to be as good as any other competitive softball team, or so their 19-18 record in late May would suggest.

“We just want people to see us as ballplayers and that’s it,” Bosquez says. “I understand it’s a good story, but we just want to be viewed as ballplayers and not kind of like, ‘Aw, that’s cute.’ ”

Kinsey echoes that sentiment.

“I’m back doing what I love to do. I’m back on the ball diamond,” he says. “There’s no reason to feel sorry for me — I’m living out my dream.”

Gannett Government Media Corporation
@ http://www.armytimes.com/news/2012/05/military-wounded-warrior-amputee-softball-team-battlefield-of-dreams-veterans-rule-diamond-052312w/

Honoring Our Fallen Heroes this Memorial Day - President Obama 2012

Weekly Address:

Published on May 26, 2012 by whitehouse

President Obama pays tribute to our men and women in uniform who have died in service to our country.

Chicago launches new program to help returning veterans with jobs, services to ease transition | May 27,2012

By Associated Press


CHICAGO (AP) — Military veterans returning home to Chicago will be able to get a little help from the city as they transition back to civilian life.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Saturday announced a new "Returning Veterans Initiative" to help veterans find jobs, health care and other services.

The city will open a Veterans Employment Center with job placement services, career counseling and training resources.

It also will open a new Veterans Resource Office to assist veterans with disabilities. That office will be located across the street from the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center and the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.

The mayor's office says the programs will take effect in the near future. His office will send postcards to returning veterans with information on the initiative.

# For Chicago's Mayors Office for People with Disabilities:
http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/mopd.html

Saturday, May 26, 2012

UPDATED - Jessica Vega Faked Cancer to Score Dream Wedding, Is Charged - She's sentenced, released | Pretend Disabled Epidemic

UPDATED - May 23, 2012 BELOW ORIGINAL POST
###

Shared from ABC News - reported By CHRISTINA NG
April 10, 2012

A generous New York bridal shop owner never questioned the heartbreaking story of a woman who claimed to have cancer and wanted to marry before she died. The bride's story opened the hearts and wallets of her community who donated thousands of dollars to pay for her wedding and honeymoon.

{photo: Jessica Vega is fitted for her wedding gown in this undated file photo. Jessica Vega, inset, is seen in her undated booking photo. (Courtesy of Times Herald-Record)}

But months after the wedding, it was revealed that Jessica Vega, 25, lied about her terminal illness and had duped everyone. Now, she has been arrested and charged with six felonies and one misdemeanor and could face up to four years in prison for each felony charge.

Keri Ciastko is the co-owner of Bliss Bridal, which was Bella Couture when she first met Vega in 2010. Vega came into the shop in search of a wedding dress and said she was getting married quickly. Ciastko noticed Vega's short hair.

"It came up in conversation that she had lost her hair due to this cancer," Ciastko told ABCNews.com today. "She pulled at my heartstrings. I've lost a lot of family members to cancer, so I did everything I could to help her."

The shop provided Vega with her wedding dress, a seamstress for alterations, the wig for her wedding, shoes and Ciastko even used her own money sometimes to help the new mom, who said she was struggling financially.

Other community members donated money, wedding photos, plane tickets for a honeymoon in Aruba and a time share for the honeymoon.

Courtesy of Times Herald-RecordJessica Vega is fitted for her wedding gown... View Full Size Courtesy of Times Herald-RecordJessica Vega is fitted for her wedding gown in this undated file photo. Jessica Vega, inset, is seen in her undated booking photo.

"It seemed so genuine. I never questioned it," Ciastko said.

The two developed a friendship and Ciastko remembered getting angry when her husband once asked her if she was sure the story was true.

"I said, 'Who would lie about something like that?'" Ciastko recalled. "I never questioned it and I was floored when it came up that it might not be true."

Months after the wedding, Vega's husband Michael O'Connell called Ciastko and asked her if she was sitting down. When she asked why, he said, "Jessica lied about everything and she's not sick. She pulled the wool over everybody's eyes."

"I didn't want to believe him," she said. "I knew they were going through some issues, but it just kind of spiraled from there."

Ciastko spoke to Vega once after that and Vega told her she was not lying. Ciastko has had no communication with her since then.

"Now, it makes me angry," Ciastko said. "It was very hard. It's pitting someone's worst fears against them."

The couple, who already had a young daughter, married in May 2010 and four months later, Vega's new husband accused her of faking the illness, according to the Time Herald-Record.

O'Connell allegedly discovered that Vega had forged a letter that was supposedly from a doctor to prove her illness. He called his local paper and reported the scheme.

The couple divorced and O'Connell moved to Virginia, but she later joined him there and they had a second child, the paper reported.

O'Connell told the paper that his wife needed mental health treatment, not prison. He could not be reached for comment by ABCNews.com.

Vega was arrested in Virginia on April 3 and extradited to New York, according to the attorney general's office.

She was charged with one count of scheme to defraud, five counts of grand larceny and one count of criminal possession of a forged instrument for the allegedly fake doctor's letter.

"By pretending to have a terminal illness, Vega inexcusably took advantage of the community's hearts and minds, and profited off of their generosity," Orange County Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. "Our office will hold this individual accountable for fleecing the public through lies and deception."
Ciastko isn't seeking reimbursement or taking legal action, but said she has been saddened by the situation and worries about how it could affect others who are actually in need.

"I am very betrayed by what happened. I am. I feel like the generosity of so many people was put in jeopardy, which is what's so sad," Ciastko said. "Unfortunately, I think she maybe ruined it for people that really could use the help."

But Ciastko said she hasn't been jaded by the experience. "Given the opportunity to do it again, I would in a heartbeat," she said.

Vega was arraigned in Orange County Court on Friday and pleaded not guilty. Her bail was set at $10,000 cash or $30,000 bond.

She is expected to be back in court on April 20.

# http://abcnews.go.com/US/york-bride-faked-cancer-score-dream-wedding-honeymoon/story?id=16108726

###

Fake-cancer bride has done her time: She's sentenced, released

{photo: Jessica Vega listens along with her attorney, Jeremiah Flaherty, during her sentencing in Orange County Court in Goshen, N.Y. (Associated Press / May 23, 2012)}

Reported By Dalina Castellanos | May 23, 2012
Los Angeles Times

The bride accused of duping her family, friends and community into thinking she had terminal cancer -- and receiving a dream wedding, honeymoon and gifts because of it -- was sentenced to time served Wednesday and released after two months in jail.

Jessica Vega also must pay more than $13,000 in restitution to the people she victimized, such as the shop owners who arranged for Vega’s free wedding dress, veil and shoes.

"To prey on people's emotions by pretending to have a terminal illness is unconscionable," New York Atty. Gen. Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. "I am pleased that the community members, who felt so compelled to generously help a neighbor in need, will be given back their hard-earned money."

Vega, now 25, launched the scam in 2010 when she walked into a bridal shop in Wallkill, N.Y., and told one of the owners, Keri Ciastko, that her hair was short because of leukemia treatment. In addition to arranging for Vega’s outfit, Ciastko launched the effort to make the dream wedding and honeymoon happen.

"She pulled at my heartstrings. I've lost a lot of family members to cancer, so I did everything I could to help her," Ciastko told ABC.com. "It seemed so genuine, I never questioned it."

Vega was investigated and indicted after her now-ex husband, Michael O’Connell, called Ciastko and told her Vega was not ill.

O’Connell has said the mother of his children has a mental illness and needs help.

Vega pleaded not guilty last month to the scam.

@ http://www.latimes.com/news/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-fake-cancer-bride-20120523,0,705904.story

Disabled still experience transportation disparities - REPORT May 2012

Equity in Transportation for People with Disabilities,” a report by The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and The Leadership Conference Education Fund

Article from Metro Magazine | May 21, 2012

As conferees begin debating how to move forward with the federal transportation reauthorization, two civil rights organizations are highlighting massive disparities in transportation access for people with disabilities.

“Equity in Transportation for People with Disabilities,” a report by The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and The Leadership Conference Education Fund, documents the lack of funding, enforcement and oversight of transportation programs that allow people with disabilities the opportunity to participate fully in community life.

The collected findings demonstrate that federal and local policymakers have failed to fulfill the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and provide equal access to affordable transportation for all communities through federal surface transportation legislation. Among the findings:

• Many public transit systems — particularly older rail and bus systems, as well as Amtrak —are still inaccessible to people with disabilities.

• Paratransit services required by the ADA are plagued by poor oversight, high costs to transit agencies and woefully inadequate service.

• Taxi services continue to be out of reach for people who use wheelchairs, both due to discrimination by drivers and because of physically-inaccessible cabs.

• Enforcement of ADA compliance remains spotty.

• Significant access problems remain for people living in rural communities.

The report includes recommendations for ensuring that the next surface transportation reauthorization bill can begin to meet the needs of all individuals living in the U.S.

“This report underscores how much the civil rights community has at stake in the transportation debate,” said Wade Henderson, president/CEO of the Leadership Conference Education Fund. “Because of inadequate funding and enforcement, countless people with disabilities can’t reliably vote, work, attend medical appointments, or enjoy full independence.”

Mark Perriello, president of AAPD, commented that “access to transportation is a prerequisite to full civil rights for people with disabilities. The goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act — economic power, independent living, political participation and equal opportunity — can only be realized with affordable, accessible transportation systems.”
For the Complete Report visit:
http://www.civilrightsdocs.info/pdf/transportation/final-transportation-equity-disability.pdf

@ http://www.metro-magazine.com/News/Story/2012/05/Report-Disabled-still-experience-transportation-disparities.aspx

7 percent hiring quota for qualified people with disabilities - new Department of Labor proposal | May 2012

A new Department of Labor proposal could require federal contractors to adopt a 7 percent hiring quota for qualified people with disabilities.

By Toddi Gutner | Business on Main - msn

When Asbury Automotive Group launched its cafe concept for training and employing individuals with autism last December, employees felt they were helping to change the lives of autistic young adults.

“In turn, they have changed all of our lives,” says Melissa Corey, public relations and communications manager for the company, which operates 79 car dealerships in the Southeast. The concept — called Café Blends: Blending Autism Into the Workplace — focuses on hiring employees with Asperger’s syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism, to run cafes at designated dealerships.

Asbury Automotive Group’s initiative is very timely. The comment period just closed for a new Department of Labor proposal that would require federal contractors and subcontractors to adopt a 7 percent hiring quota for qualified people with disabilities. While it’s primarily aimed at the largest companies and universities, many small businesses may be affected as well.

An estimated 22 percent of the nation’s workforce is funded through federal contracts, says Barbara Otto, CEO of Think Beyond the Label, a public-private partnership that helps build a pipeline of qualified disabled candidates who can meet the hiring needs of businesses. The number of Americans with disabilities, as protected under the broad definition of the Americans with Disabilities Act, represents nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population.

Assessing the cost impact for businesses

A debate is raging over the DOL proposal, with opponents claiming companies that service government contracts will incur increased labor costs and reduced productivity. Proponents say that while there may be some increased costs, they won’t be so extreme.

Employers strive to accommodate all of their employees, so accommodating a worker with a disability is no different, says Paul Hippolitus, director of the Disabled Students’ Program at the University of California, Berkeley. An estimated 56 percent of the 22,000 accommodations made over the course of 30 years reportedly cost employers nothing, according to the Job Accommodation Network. The rest averaged $500.

For accommodations that are more expensive, public agencies like the United States Department of Veterans Affairs' Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service help pay for equipment or other assistive devices if they lead to employment. There are also many state and federal programs that offer worker opportunity tax credits, as well as architectural and infrastructure tax credits, to businesses that accommodate employees with disabilities, says Otto.

As for health care costs, “in 42 of the 50 states, there are programs that enable workers with disabilities to pay a premium to be in a state-sponsored program, which alleviates the fear that a lot of small-business owners have about costs,” says Otto. Eligibility for these programs varies across state lines.

For Café Blends at Asbury Automotive Group, the company hired a daily job coach for 20 hours a week to help its employees on the job. But “they [the employees] work so independently that the job coach is barely needed,” says Corey.

There are also plenty of not-for-profit agencies, such as New York State’s Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals With Disabilities (VESID) and NISH, that provide support services like training and job placement for the disabled. “We use them and partner with them when we are looking for opportunities,” says Michelle Benjamin, CEO and president of Benjamin Enterprises, a managed labor provider.

And there are many organizations that specialize in supporting disabled people looking for jobs and connecting them with other organizations. These include Springboard Consulting and programs like Warriors to Work, which is run by the Wounded Warrior Project, a group that assists injured service members. As with all hiring situations, aligning qualifications with job requirements is key. “The job needs to match the business goals as far as the function and duties — as well as a level of performance from the individual,” says Benjamin.

Asbury Automotive Group contracts with Nobis Works, a nonprofit that provides job training and employment for people with disabilities. The agency knows the capabilities of each employee and can help match the right person to the right job.

So how can small businesses accommodate new workplace diversity rules? Damon Hill, program director at Cole Vocational Services and partner of the MENTOR Network in California, has these recommendations:

- Bring in experts. Have an expert who works with disabled people educate small-business owners to ensure they understand that people with developmental disabilities are capable of performing various job tasks.


- Adjust hiring processes. In order to conduct an effective interview, business owners should adjust their hiring processes. For example, they might consider using visual demonstrations or work performance assessments.


- Create manageable tasks. Employers can accommodate workers with developmental disabilities by offering lighter work duties or a check-off list, job coach support, special equipment based on duties, a rearranged work area, or routine job assignments.


- Provide a trial period. For workers with developmental disabilities, employers can provide a trial period to see how they are able to perform duties, or even an internship where employment options become enacted after a certain period.
Asbury Automotive Group’s program was so successful that the company opened a cafe at another dealership in March. “They have been doing an amazing job running the cafes,” says Corey. “We’re looking to scale this at more dealerships.”

----
@ http://businessonmain.msn.com/browseresources/articles/print.aspx?cp-documentid=33627390#fbid=O2uO9wjNy0-

Toddi Gutner is an award-winning journalist, writer and editor and currently a contributing writer covering career management issues for The Wall Street Journal.
Read more articles by Toddi
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Friday, May 25, 2012

Virgin America fined $100,000 penalty for Incomplete Disability Complaint Reports | May 24, 2012

DOT Fines Virgin America for Incomplete Disability Complaint Reports, Not Properly Responding to Complaints

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today assessed a civil penalty against Virgin America for filing incomplete reports with the Department about complaints registered by passengers with disabilities and for not responding adequately to these complaints. The carrier was ordered to cease and desist from further violations and assessed a civil penalty of $100,000.

“We expect airlines to respond individually to disability-related complaints and to report those complaints to us,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “These are important parts of our rules protecting the rights of passengers, and we will continue to take enforcement action when they are violated.”

DOT rules require airlines to record disability-related complaints, categorize them by the type of disability and nature of the complaint, and submit an annual report on these complaints to the Department. If a single consumer correspondence covers more than one issue, each issue must be counted as a separate complaint. In addition, if an airline receives a written complaint alleging a violation of the Department’s disability rules, the carrier must provide a written response within 30 days that specifically discusses the complaint, gives the carrier’s view of whether a violation occurred, and states that the complaint may be referred to DOT for an investigation.

In July 2011, the Department’s Aviation Enforcement Office conducted a routine on-site inspection at Virgin America’s corporate headquarters, where it reviewed all disability-related complaints received by the carrier. The Enforcement Office found that in many instances, Virgin America failed to provide a written response that addressed the consumer’s complaint. In addition, Virgin America failed to properly categorize and account for all the disability-related issues that were raised in the complaints the carrier received during 2008 and 2009. As a result, a number of complaints were missing from Virgin America’s annual reports submitted to the Department in 2009 and 2010.

The consent order is available on the Internet at www.regulations.gov, docket DOT-OST-2012-0002. The Department’s annual report on disability-related air travel complaints may be found at http://airconsumer.dot.gov/publications/gateway1.htm.

-END-
@ http://www.dot.gov/affairs/2012/dot6012.html

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Illinois Medicaid Disaster - House votes $1.6 billion in cuts | May 24, 2012

Illinois House passes bill to cut $1.6 billion from Medicaid

BY DAVE MCKINNEY Springfield bureau chief | Chicago Sun Times

SPRINGFIELD — Four-year-old Celestia “Letty” Young, unable to talk, walk or even sit up on her own because of a rare muscle disorder, knew nothing of Thursday’s votes in the Legislature that could decide whether she stays in the only home she has known or is permanently forced into a hospital against her parents’ wishes.

Those votes came when the Illinois House and Senate sent Gov. Pat Quinn a package of $1.6 billion in budget-driven Medicaid cuts that its sponsors say are necessary to avert the collapse of Illinois’ burgeoning health-care plan for the poor.

“We believe this will save the Medicaid program,” said Julie Hamos, director of the state Healthcare and Family Services department.

Hundreds of thousands of low-income Illinoisans would see their access to health-care services curtailed or ended, and hospitals and nursing homes would be reimbursed less by the state under a plan designed to help close a $2.7 billion gap Quinn has identified in the state’s Medicaid program.

Included in those cuts is a provision affecting 536 children with “medically fragile” conditions who live at home on ventilators or who require around-the-clock nursing care, like Letty Young. For the first time, their families would be asked to share more in the state’s costs for their children’s highly specialized services, saving the state $15 million.

Hamos told reporters that families in the agency’s Medically Fragile/Technology Dependent program will have to begin paying $400 a month co-payments, on average.

“We thought it was fair, in the world we live in, that there be some co-payments,” Hamos told a House panel Thursday.

But Myra Young, Letty’s mother, said that isn’t something her family can afford and may necessitate moving her daughter, who was born with congenital fiber-type disproportion, permanently from their two-bedroom condo at North and Clark into a hospital under a different Medicaid program that would ultimately wind up being more costly to the state.

“My daughter was in the hospital for her first nine months. She was diagnosed at about 2œ months old. She couldn’t breathe on her own. She had no muscle tone. She struggled to keep her eyelids open. She had no movement,” Young said.

“The cost-sharing is not really an option. We can’t afford it,” Young said. “There’s no way for families — my family — to be able to do this. The costs are so exorbitant. How they think that’s the place to make the big cuts is just unbelievable.

“This isn’t the life we expected,” she continued. “I think a lot of people don’t realize this could be them. This is a spontaneous, genetic thing. It could be anyone. People need to get behind us. This could be their loved ones.”
Young’s daughter isn’t the only face of this unprecedented round of Medicaid cuts.

The legislation sponsored by Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago) — which went to Quinn after passing the House 94-22, with one voting “present” and the Senate 44-13, with two voting present — also would scrap one of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s signature programs, Illinois Cares Rx, which helps about 180,000 low-income seniors buy medications.

Additionally, the plan would reduce eligibility for another Blagojevich-era health-insurance program for the poor, Family Care, which would affect 26,400 people.

“This is not a bill that goes without pain,” Feigenholtz said.

Hamos’ agency also would be authorized to hire a firm to determine that everyone on Medicaid’s rolls is eligible by weeding out those with out-of-state addresses; those making too much to qualify for Medicaid; those who are deceased, and anyone over 19 in the All Kids program.

Estimates place that total as high as 300,000 people; if that many people wind up being excluded from Medicaid, savings to the state could reach $350 million.

While the legislation had backing from Republicans and Democrats, it didn’t pass without a litany of complaints from black and Latino lawmakers, who bitterly complained that those in society’s lowest strata would bear the brunt of the cuts, leaving many without life-saving drugs or treatment they need.

“There’s lots of things we can do, ladies and gentleman, without putting elderly and disabled people out on the street without their health care,” said Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago), who urged closing corporate tax loopholes and raising other taxes to lessen the scope of the cuts.

“I’m begging you, please let us do something different,” she said.

One of the money generators that is part of Quinn’s plan is a $1-a-pack increase in the state’s 98-cent-a-pack cigarette tax, but that plan remained stalled Thursday amid opposition from Republicans.

But in a related health-care vote, the House and Senate did pass legislation that would permit the state to seek a federal waiver to position Cook County to draw higher reimbursements from Washington under the new federal health-care law.

But on the cuts, Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago) condemned Quinn and the sponsors of the Medicaid cuts package for abandoning the poor.

“I think this is a moral disgrace,” said Meeks, pastor of Salem Baptist Church. “We do have a moral obligation to the least of these. That’s how you measure a society. You don’t measure a society on how it treats its wealthy citizens. You measure a society on how it treats its poor.

“When we push that green button,” Meeks continued, referring to the voting switch lawmakers push to cast “yes” votes, “are we pushing people into the grave? That’s the question we really need to seriously ask ourselves.”

@ http://www.suntimes.com/12753459-418/illinois-house-passes-bill-to-cut-16-billion-from-medicaid.html

Disabled Protesters call on CME to teturn $1 billion in tax breaks to save health care services in Illinois | May 23, 2012

Mike Ervin's complete speech in front
of the Chicago Mercantile Exchang


####

Reporting Susanna Song for CBS2 Chicago

CHICAGO (CBS) — Wednesday was a day of protests in Chicago, with activists lining up against everything from tax breaks to teachers’ contracts.

As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, about 200 protesters composed of senior citizens, people with disabilities and health care workers demonstrated Wednesday morning, marching a couple of blocks to the Board of Trade at LaSalle Street and Jackson Boulevard. Several of them were arrested.



The group marched a couple of blocks to the front of the Chicago Board of Trade, blocking the intersection of Jackson Boulevard and Financial Place. They also linked arms in a human chain and blocked the main entrance to the Board of Trade.

The protesters are angry that the CME Group, which runs the Board of Trade, was given tax breaks that by the State of Illinois that will exceed $1 billion over the coming decade.

Gov. Pat Quinn approved the tax break last December, after the CME Group threatened to leave Illinois over an increase in the state’s corporate tax.

Protesters say they are angry that the state has now proposed to slash $210 million in programs that provide health care services to seniors and people with disabilities. They are calling for CME officials to give them back the tax breaks.

“Our message to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange is loud and clear,” said protester Mike Ervin. “Give it back!” He led the protesters in a chant.

“We have tried everything else to resist the cuts in home health services in the State of Illinois, and in spite of that, they gave the tax break for these people at the CME, and the tax break is not justified,” said protester Jim Rhodes.

Police allowed the protesters to block the street for about 15 minutes or so, but when they told protesters police, about 15 refused to do so. They were arrested and taken away.

In response to the protest, the CME Group said: “The recent Illinois tax changes were not an incentive, but rather a solution to a tax code disparity that left CME Group on unequal footing with other Illinois companies and exchanges. This necessary adjustment allows CME Group to remain competitive with other global exchanges and helps solidify Chicago’s place as the risk management capital of the world.”

@ http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2012/05/23/protesters-to-cme-group-give-your-tax-break-back/

Illinois to close developmental centers provoke fear ; both sides in this debate share there thoughts | May 24, 2012

Plans to close developmental centers provoke fear
Article By Bruce Rushton | Illinois Times

Judging by a slight smile that stays even as her eyes close and the snoring begins, Kathy likes the feel of sunlight on her face as she stis with her mother in a park near Jacksonville Developmental Center.

She is 48 and began life with a cerebral hemorrhage, either before she was born or during delivery, says her mother, Sharon Pfeiffer. Kathy cannot walk and speaks only a few words. She is prone to pneumonia. A series of surgeries put her into a sitting position. A rod inserted in her spine counteracts scoliosis, her hands stay clenched. Nourishment comes via a feeding tube. She’s lived in state institutions since she was 10 years old and has called Jacksonville Developmental Center home since 2001.

Her future is uncertain.

The state wants to close Jacksonville Developmental Center by autumn, the first step in shutting down four of the state’s eight institutions for the developmentally disabled during the next three years. Gov. Pat Quinn wants 600 Illinoisans who are among the state’s most vulnerable citizens to move into the community instead of living in state-run centers. Possibilities include group homes or, perhaps, two or three developmentally disabled people living together in households with families.

“WE ARE IN SEARCH OF PEOPLE WHO WANT TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN SOMEONE’S LIFE!” screams a Springfield Craigslist advertisement placed by a company in search of “home care providers” willing to take in developmentally disabled adults and assist with hygiene, cooking, transportation and “life skills” in return for tax-free annual stipends. “We will provide all necessary training and support.”

The notion that state employees at institutions could be replaced by care providers recruited on Craigslist frightens some families.

“Without melo-dramatizing it, this will mean deaths and imprisonment and homelessness and so on,” says Kevin Burke, a member of the Illinois League of Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled, which opposes closing the institutions where folks like his son Brian live. “This plan is reckless. It cannot be emphasized enough how truly radical this is.”

Brian, 42, has lived in institutions since he was 15, first in Georgia, then in Illinois when he turned 21 and his parents went looking for a state that offered the best care available for adults with developmental disabilities. Four tries at living in the community didn’t work, according to Burke and his wife, Rita.

Brian, who lives at the Choate Developmental Center in Anna, is a nice guy most of the time, they say, with a compulsion to drink fluids, smoke cigarettes and make audio recordings of music. But he loses his temper for no apparent reason. He punches both people and windows, his parents say. While he was living at home, the Burkes say windows broken by Brian numbered in the hundreds.

“He would run across the room and break a window, afterward he would say ‘Why did I do that?’” Kevin Burke says. “Our son, if you put him in a home like the one behind you across the street, one of these days, he’s going to walk out the door and punch someone in the mouth.”

Brian’s siblings learned to hold him back when he flew into rages and, in the process, learned patience and empathy, his parents say. The Burkes say they tried everything, even forming a Boy Scout troop for Brian’s benefit before finally sending him to live in a place with employees paid to take care of him around the clock, someplace they consider safe.

The cash-strapped state says that closing institutions will save as much as $12 million a year. Math like that has parents like the Burkes suspicious. They say they don’t believe that the state can save money by putting folks like Brian in the community. In any case, they say, the state is treating people like their son more like numbers than human beings.

But some advocacy groups for the developmentally disabled applaud the planned closures.

“It’s not only a good idea, it’s really the way we should have been moving the system 20 years ago,” says Tony Paulauski, executive director of The Arc of Illinois, a Frankfort-based advocacy group. “My recommendation to the governor and his teams is to close all the institutions – we don’t need them anymore. … No fewer than 14 states have no institutions. In the next five years, probably half the states won’t have institutions.”

While the Burkes fret at ads on Craigslist for home care providers, Paulauski sees no problem.

“It is just an ad,” Paulauski says.

Ultimately, Paulauski says, families who have guardianship of people in institutions have the right to reject proposed alternative living arrangements.

“The family is going to have the choice about where the person is going to live and who’s going to work with them,” Paulauski says.

So far as Paulauski is concerned, institutions are confining places where the developmentally disabled live in isolation. It is better, he says, to have the developmentally disabled living throughout the state, close to families and friends and churches and ice cream parlors. Those who oppose closing developmental centers are using scare tactics, he says.

“I’ve seen this firsthand – I’ve seen people move out of institutions, and they’ve flourished,” Paulauski says. “The governor needs to be given an award for putting this process in place.”

But Pfeiffer says the state hasn’t made sufficient plans for Kathy and other folks who will have to move if the Jacksonville Developmental Center is closed.

“If it’s going to happen, they need to do it right,” Pfeiffer says. “I haven’t seen evidence that it’s going to be done right.”

@ http://www.illinoistimes.com/Springfield/article-10060-leaving-homes.html

###

Ability Chicago does support the closing of state institutions, in a responsible manner. The Arc of Illinois and there executive director Tony Paulauski have our complete support and confidence that this endeavor will be done in a manner of a responsible transition to community living.

EEOC’S Authority upheld by Court - Proceed on Behalf of Disabled Victims | May 15, 2012


Court Affirms EEOC’S Authority to Proceed on Behalf of Discrimination Victims Even If Not Yet Identified Individually


Judge Denies Defendant Employer’s Motion for Summary Judgment
CHICAGO – A federal judge has affirmed the authority of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to proceed with actions on behalf of discrimination victims even if they had not yet been individually identified before lawsuit was filed, the agency announced today.

Judge Ruben Castillo of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois has issued an order denying an employer’s motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit brought by the federal agency under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). (EEOC v. United Road Towing, N.D. Ill. No. 10-cv-06259; Order, 5/11/2012, J. Ruben Castillo.)

In its motion for summary judgment, the defendant employer contended that EEOC failed to satisfy the administrative requirements provided for by the ADA. Under the law, before filing a lawsuit, the EEOC must investigate allegations of discrimination to determine whether there is probable cause to find that there has been a violation and, thereafter, attempt to resolve any violations found through a negotiation and conciliation process. Specifically, the company argued that EEOC failed to specifically identify class members who suffered discrimination, failed to individually investigate the experiences of unidentified class members, and failed to engage in the statutory conciliation process on an individual basis with respect to each class member separately.

In its opinion, the district court rejected these arguments, declining to judicially review the adequacy of the EEOC’s administrative processes, including investigations and conciliations. Relying on existing case law precedent, Judge Castillo wrote, “[C]ourts may not review EEOC administrative investigations to determine whether a particular investigation sufficiently supports the claims that the EEOC brings in a subsequent lawsuit.”

The court also rejected the argument that EEOC had failed to conciliate in good faith by not specifically identifying class members during conciliation. The court noted that the EEOC had communicated to the defendant that it found reasonable cause to believe that the law had been violated with respect to a class of disabled individuals. Accordingly, the court found that the defendant was aware, or should have been aware, that conciliation efforts encompassed class members. Finding summary judgment was not warranted, the district court said that it would “nevertheless” stay proceedings in the case for 14 days to afford the parties an additional to time to reach a negotiated resolution. The EEOC noted that such stays are routine in such cases, and indicated that it did not object to additional time for negotiations.

“The EEOC takes seriously its statutory duty to investigate and attempt conciliation ofcharges prior to filing suit, and believes it fully satisfied both duties in this case,” said EEOC General Counsel P. David Lopez.“We are pleased that Judge Castillorejected the defendant's invitation to scrutinize the sufficiency of the EEOC's investigation. This ruling follows the well-established view that a judicial inquiry into EEOC's investigative process is improper because it deflects the efforts of the court and the parties from the main purpose of the case - to determine whether the defendant violated the law.We are likewise pleased that the judge agreed that our conciliation effortswere sufficient to seek relief for all victims in this case.”

The EEOC Chicago District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.


PRESS RELEASE 5-15-12
@ http://www1.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/5-15-12.cfm

RIP Illinois Medicaid - Due to Severe Cuts - Mock funeral held | May 24, 2012

Mock funeral held to protest proposed Medicaid cuts

By JUSTIN GLAWE Of the Journal Star


PEORIA — A group of about 20 people conducted a "funeral" for programs and services they say will die if the $2.7 billion in cuts to Medicaid proposed by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn are made.

They took aim, specifically, at what they called an unfair flat income tax, as well as tax breaks given to corporations like Caterpillar Inc., which earned a record $1.55 billion in the fourth quarter of 2011.

"These cuts would not be required if Illinois' tax structure were more fair," said Mari Stewart, a 32-year-old volunteer for the Service Employees International Union. "We have corporations and the wealthy reaping the benefits of the tax breaks, while the poor, seniors and the disabled are asked to make the sacrifices."

To make up that $2.7 billion, the income tax rate on those earning $100,001 or more would have to be raised to 6.8 percent from 5 percent. That percentage increase is based on the 2010 net income of those earners, provided by figures from the Illinois Department of Revenue. The state income tax was increased from 3 percent to 5 percent - a 66 percent increase - in 2011.

The group of stakeholders - made up of several people with disabilities, child and health care workers and members of the families they serve - gathered outside the Department of Human Services, 2301 NE Adams St., on Wednesday afternoon to voice their concerns.

Linda Davies, a child care provider, would lose her sole source of income if such cuts are made. Thousands of others like her would face similar situations, she said, and she has a response to those who think she's just looking out for her own best interest.

"Isn't everybody?" she asked. "We don't want to see wealthy people and companies done wrong. We want them to be able to live and do what they want to do. We just ask that we be able to do the same. We're looking out for the best interest of everybody."

Davies charges $14 a day per child for her care. That's compared to what she says is an average of about $45 per day per child at most day care facilities. She says the mothers of the six children she cares for, all single-parent homes, likely would have to quit their minimum wage jobs to take care of their children.

"We don't want food stamps, we want to work and take care of ourselves," Davies said. "Without this assistance, these moms wouldn't be able to afford child care."

Davies says it's time for the state of Illinois to address the budget shortfall, and its effects, in a different manner.

"We keep cutting from the bottom. Let's cut from the top for a change."

@ http://www.pjstar.com/news/x1347547536/Protest-stages-mock-funeral-for-proposed-cuts-to-programs-and-services

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

U.S. Labor Department Announces Disability Employment Application Challenge - Deadline August 23, 2012

US Labor Department seeks submissions for disability employment app challenge

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy today announced the launch of its first disability-related application challenge, which is designed to generate innovative tools that will improve employment opportunities and outcomes for people with disabilities.

Nearly 22 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and 39 years after the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, people with disabilities continue to be employed at much lower levels than those without disabilities. The goal of the app challenge is to promote recruitment resources for employers, develop job training and skill-building tools for job seekers, facilitate employment-related transportation options and expand information communication technology accessibility.

"I am thrilled to announce the Labor Department's first disability employment app challenge. Using today's technology, we hope to inspire creative and innovative solutions to the pressing employment-related problems faced by people with disabilities," said Kathy Martinez, assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy.

Submissions should provide access to important data and resources; attract users with different skill sets and language preferences; be accessible (that is, compatible and interoperable with assistive technology commonly used by individuals with disabilities, such as screen reading and speech recognition software); and consider partnerships that will ensure sustainability of the app. In addition, they should be targeted toward a variety of audiences such as students, teachers, employers, career counselors and workforce professionals, as well as individuals with disabilities working or seeking work at all levels in a variety of salaried and hourly jobs.

Awards with cash prizes — totaling $10,000 — will be given to the top three submissions, including the grand prize Innovation Award, the second prize People's Choice Award, and the third prize Above and Beyond Accessibility Award. The winners will be featured prominently on ODEP's website, http://www.dol.gov/odep/, as well as at http://disability.gov and through other public outreach vehicles.

Contestants must register for the contest on the Challenge.gov website by creating an account at http://challenge.gov/users/login.
Each registrant will receive a confirmation email and may then enter a submission via the "Post a Submission" tab at http://www.disability.challenge.gov.

Submissions must be entered between May 23 at 12 a.m. EDT and Aug. 23 at 11:59 p.m. EDT. Late entries will not be eligible for prizes.

News Release
ODEP News Release: [05/23/2012]
Contact Name: Bennett Gamble
Phone Number: (202) 693-4667
Release Number: 12-1046-NAT

http://www.dol.gov/opa/media/press/odep/ODEP20121046.htm

2012 State Medicaid Rankings | May 23, 2012

Arizona offers the best Medicaid services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities while Mississippi provides the worst, according to United Cerebral Palsy’s 2012 report “The Case for Inclusion.”

Find out where your state stands in the ranking of the 50 states and the District of Columbia:

1. Arizona
2. Michigan
3. California
4. New Hampshire
5. Vermont
6. Massachusetts
7. Connecticut
8. Washington
9. New York
10. Pennsylvania
11. Maryland
12. Idaho
13. South Carolina
14. New Mexico
15. South Dakota
16. Delaware
17. Nevada
18. Montana
19. Hawaii
20. Florida
21. Georgia
22. Oregon
23. Missouri
24. Maine
25. Louisiana
26. Minnesota
27. Wisconsin
28. Colorado
29. West Virginia
30. Alaska
31. Kentucky
32. Rhode Island
33. Alabama
34. Ohio
35. Wyoming
36. Kansas
37. New Jersey
38. Oklahoma
39. North Dakota
40. District of Columbia
41. Nebraska
42. Tennessee
43. Iowa
44. North Carolina
45. Utah
46. Indiana
47. Virginia
48. Illinois ***
49. Arkansas
50. Texas
51. Mississippi

For United Cerebral Palsy visit: http://www.ucp.org/

Illinois lawmakers approved Law targeting abuse of disabled parking | May 23, 2012

• By Associated Press


SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers want to get tougher on fraud and abuse of parking privileges for disabled people.

They've approved a bill adding an additional $100 to the fine for people who use a disabled-parking placard that doesn't belong to them.

The bill also goes after people who forge placards or obtain real ones through fraud. The penalties would be doubled, to $1,000 for a first offense and $2,000 for a second.

The measure would limit the number of disabled people who qualify for free parking. In the future, only people with disabilities that keep them from putting coins into a meter or paying at a parking garage would be granted free parking.

The measure was sent to the governor's desk Tuesday.

America leads the way on support for disabled children - Interview Dr Alexa Posny | May 22, 2012

Alexa Posny, Obama's adviser on disabled young people, gives her verdict on the UK's changes to special needs provision

Article by Saba Salman | The Gaurdian - guardian.co.uk,

As a girl, Alexa Posny often played with a boy in her neighbourhood. They had, she remembers, much in common: "We were more alike than different; we had fun together. He liked playing in the sandpit as much as I did."


The only contrast between them, which became apparent when Posny started school in Wisconsin in America's midwest, was that her friend had Down's syndrome. In the 1950s, special needs provision at mainstream schools was unheard of: Posny started school; her playmate never joined her.

More than 50 years later, the memory helps to drive her work as assistant secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), a role to which she was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009. She is, in essence, Obama's expert on young disabled people. Her office, under the Department of Education, must ensure that children and young people with disabilities have the same opportunities as their mainstream peers at school and beyond.

Posny's remit has resonance in the UK following the Queen's speech, which outlined an overhaul of special needs provision, including a US-style extension of educational support up to age 25 for young disabled people.

Currently, many young people with autism and other learning disabilities have no appropriate educational support after school. This post-16 black hole was highlighted in Finished at School, a campaign last year by the charity Ambitious About Autism, which runs the specialist TreeHouse school in London and which invited Posny to speak about her work at its recent annual lecture.

The controversial reforms for England and Wales include proposals for new education, health and care plans for special needs children, and the chance for parents, rather than councils, to control their children's special educational needs budgets.

Posny's work is governed by the US's 1990 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, providing early intervention, special education and related services for more than 6.5 million disabled young people up to the age of 21. So what does she make of the changes?

Post-school plan

She refers to American disability rights legislation, describing the reforms as "headed in the same direction we [America] have worked on for over 40 years ". She compares the UK's personal budget to America's individualised education programme (IEP), "where parents are a major part of decision-making". An IEP determines support at school, with a post-school transition plan for employment or education. While American parents are not given budgetary control, "they are a determining factor in the needs of the child – engaging the parents is absolutely important".

One huge contrast is that, in America, responsibility for young people and learning disability is housed in one department with a wide-ranging, holistic approach and a single, accountable figure of authority: Posny. OSERS covers special education, employment and research through, respectively, the Office of Special Education Programmes, the Rehabilitation Services Administration, and the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

In the UK, disability issues fall across several departments. The Office for Disability Issues "offers support and advice to civil servants across government", but lacks the breadth and profile of Posny's department. Parents seeking diagnosis and support for their children must navigate disparate agencies, from health to education to social services.

The Queen's speech reflected this disjointed approach, offering progress on special needs education but nothing on related comprehensive social care reforms. Public sector funding cuts, meanwhile, are eroding support for society's most vulnerable individuals.

Posny offers no criticism, but says the way the US has allocated responsibility to a single department since the 1980s allows for a "focus on outcomes" such as "people having a good life, and that means they're gainfully employed".

However, she admits that America experiences the same postcode lottery as the UK. Kansas state might only have 10 annual appeals from parents challenging what the state deems "free appropriate education" for learning disabled children; Pennsylvania might have hundreds. I wish we didn't have that in common," she says. "Some parents would like us to provide more services. We must provide free appropriate education – it doesn't mean we have to provide to the maximum extent."

Posny's thoughts on "appropriate education" are interesting given how she dealt with the needs of her son. His mild speech and language difficulties were apparent by the age of three – "He spoke like he had marbles in his mouth." Rejecting his primary school's offer of special education, Posny drew up her own "behavioural intervention plan" including rewards for good behaviour. The decision was rooted in Posny's belief in inclusion: "I figured I could do it on my own. I also wanted him to stay in the general education classroom."

Posny's son was never diagnosed with a condition, although she says it was probably attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. She elaborates: "It's not the label that makes the difference; it's what that the child needs that makes the difference." Now 28, he is an engineer.

Posny also oversees the Rehabilitation Services Administration, which administers grant programmes to support disabled people into work. Compare this with England where, as reported in a recent National Autistic Society (NAS) survey, 35% of adults with autism say they experience bullying or discrimination at work, and 43% say they left or lost a job because of their condition.

Posny's belief in educational integration extends to the world of work: "The key is self-sufficiency; often in sheltered workshops people don't earn enough money to live on their own." She adds: "In a sheltered workshop, you're never exposed to the rest of the world and I'm not sure how fulfilling the jobs are."

She suggests an American pharmacy chain as an example of a retailer that employs disabled people. Isn't there a risk of tokenism, of people being relegated to shelf-stacking and collecting shopping trolleys? She disagrees: "They're not just doing the bagging." The key, she adds, is helping businesses to support the employment of disabled staff, which might be as simple as providing a different kind of chair for someone with a disability.

This focus on self-sufficiency and employment is, she adds, partly a response to the challenge of the ageing population, "because we cannot rely on the parent carers who worry, 'Once I'm gone, what's going to happen?'"

Economic slump

According to 2011 figures, more than 2 million people with disabilities in the US have found work through the vocational rehabilitation programme over the last decade. Is her work threatened by the economic slump and spending cuts? Posny says that, while some discretionary grant programmes have been affected, formula grants (linked to legislation) for children and young people with disabilities are untouched, and there is even some increase in funding. The US government's estimated 2013 budget includes $463m (£293m) for early intervention services, a $20m increase on last year.

Come 2013, however, Posny might be out of a job if Obama is not re-elected. She is candid: "I've had 23 different jobs, I don't think I'll have a problem."

She says she is proud to have witnessed America become a place where children "don't know what it's like to go to school without kids with disabilities". This, she says, again invoking the memory of her childhood friend, "has happened in a generation".

@ http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/may/22/alexa-posny-us-disability-special-needs-adviser?newsfeed=true

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Medicaid - Illinois Legislators offer $240 Million in cuts ; well below the cuts Gov. Quinn proposed | May 22, 2012

Crain Communications, Inc.
By Andrew L. Wang

(Crain's) — Ten days before the end of the spring session, Democrats in the General Assembly introduced a bill Monday that would reduce Medicaid reimbursements by $240 million, less than proposed by Gov. Pat Quinn but large enough to help fill a gaping budget deficit.

The reductions are well below the $675 million in cuts Mr. Quinn proposed in April as part of a plan to reduce a budget shortfall of $2.7 billion in the federal-state health care program for the poor.

But lawmakers found savings elsewhere in the program, which means rates don't need to be trimmed as much as anticipated, said Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), who introduced the measure, which is technically an amendment to an existing bill.

“We didn't talk rate cuts until the bitter end,” she said.

At an afternoon news conference, Mr. Quinn signaled his support for the bill, urging legislators to approve it before the end of the current session May 31.

“We are now in the red zone,” the governor said, employing a football analogy. “We've got to make sure we put the ball across the goal line.”

House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) supports the bill, a spokesman for his office said in an e-mail.

Even a spokeswoman for House Republican Leader Tom Cross expressed some guarded optimism.

“It appears to be a good start, including $1.6 billion in cuts and reforms, but we are still reviewing it,” the spokeswoman for Mr. Cross, whose district includes southwest suburban Oswego said in an email.

The new budget plan would put a heavier burden on affluent hospitals.

Ms. Feigenholtz's bill calls for a 3.5 percent cut for services by hospitals that are not considered safety-net or critical-care facilities, a bigger reduction than for other health care providers.

Another $100 million in funding is expected to be raised by a separate bill to increase the assessment that hospitals pay to support Medicaid, Ms. Feigenholtz said. That assessment falls on hospitals that don't treat a large percentage of Medicaid patients.

A spokesman for the Illinois Hospital Association, which represents more than 200 hospitals and health systems in the state, declined to comment, saying the organization was still evaluating the bill.

A 2.7 percent cut would be imposed on other providers, including nurse practitioners, chiropractors and physical therapists. Physicians, dentists and federally qualified health centers are exempted from rate cuts.

The bill also exempts critical-care and safety-net hospitals from any rate reductions.

That news was welcomed by a coalition of Chicago-area safety nets that in March offered its own plan to reduce the Medicaid budget.

“Lawmakers are hearing loud and clear that safety-net hospitals play a critical role in treating the poor and underserved,” a spokeswoman for the Association of Safety-Net Hospitals said in an e-mail.

But the bill requires a dramatic reduction in services offered by Medicaid, which would save about $1.36 billion. Among the programs to be cut are dental care for adults; Illinois Cares Rx, the prescription drug program for seniors. The safety-net hospital coalition has supported cutting back on services as a way to avoid fee reductions.

About $300 million in increased funding has already been authorized via legislation passed Friday that preserved funding for child-care services for poor families and earmarked money to help pay off the state's overdue bills.

Another key piece is $700 million expected to be raised with a $1-per-pack increase on the cigarette tax, Ms. Feigenholtz said.

The bill was passed in the State Senate on March 28 before it moved to the House, where it is expected to be voted on today or Wednesday, Ms. Feigenholtz said.

Mr. Quinn has been arguing since his Feb. 22 budget address that Medicaid cuts were necessary to stave off a collapse of the sprawling $14.3 billion program and reduce the state's $9.2 billion backlog of unpaid bills.

Earlier on Monday, the libertarian Illinois Policy Institute published its own proposal for reducing the Medicaid deficit through more efficient management, rather than cutting reimbursement cuts or increasing the cigarette tax.

Greg Hinz contributed.

@ http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20120522/NEWS03/120529941/state-democrats-offer-240-million-in-medicaid-cuts