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The Independent – Autumn 2008

Volume 15, Number 3
Autumn 2008
A Vermont publication for elders and people with disabilities

Table of contents:

  1. Introduction from Deborah-Lisi-Baker: Vermonters Speak Out
  2. Letters to the Editor: The Vermont Interpreter Referral Service
  3. Editorial: Remembering Barbara
  4. COVE & VCDR
    A Call for Change
    News from the Statehouse and Beyond
  5. Fuel and Food Partnership Helps Vermonters Get the Services They Need
  6. Reforms Made to Vermont’s Adult Voluntary Guardianship Statute
  7. Your Vote, Your Voice
    Your Voting Rights as a Person with a Disability
    VCIL Community Speaks Out on Voting
    Registering to Vote
    Special Information for Nursing Home Residents
  8. VP&A
  9. VCIL
    Women Reaching for the Stars
    Poem: Remember the Stars
    Medication Misuse and Side Effects: A Concern for Seniors and People with Disabilities
  10. Disability Happens
  11. Bulletin Board
    Tax-Aide Seeks Your Help
    Outstanding Professional Caregivers Award Ceremony & Reception Set
    Medicare Part D Enrollment Begins Nov. 15

Vermonters Speak Out

Deborah Lisi-Baker presents the Leader of Tomorrow Award to Maureen  Charron-Shea.  Back row from left, students Grace Kirpan, Emma Wade,  Abby Zarotny and Tucker Sargent. Photo by Stefanie Monte.
Deborah Lisi-Baker presents the Leader of Tomorrow Award to Maureen Charron-Shea. Back row from left, students Grace Kirpan, Emma Wade, Abby Zarotny and Tucker Sargent. Photo by Stefanie Monte.

This is our fall issue and the second of two issues highlighting the importance of voting. The theme of Vermont’s campaign to get out the vote is “Your Vote, Your Voice.” As we think about the upcoming election, we also look back at this summer and fall’s legislative activities and share a range of Vermont resources and opportunities.

This summer VCIL held our annual celebration of the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A highlight of this year’s event was the presentation of the 3rd Annual Deborah Lisi-Baker Leader of Tomorrow Award. The award went to students and faculty from Harwood Union High School, who recently produced a documentary titled “Speak Out for Understanding.” The students created a remarkable video using power of personal story to promote communication, awareness and equity for people with disabilities.

Emma Wade, a senior at Harwood, said, “We began as a group of diverse students, a speech pathologist, and a professional videographer in a public school conference room. By finding our common reality and concern, we found the power of truth .”

Maureen Charron-Shea, a speech language pathologist at Harwood and the project’s guru, said, “At its heart, ‘Speak Out for Understanding’ is about the power of individual stories to bring about change.”

As we move toward and beyond this election, may we all find ways to come together, hear each other’s stories, and create needed change. And vote!

Deborah Lisi-Baker, Editor

Letters to the Editor

The Vermont Interpreter Referral Service

The Vermont Interpreter Referral Service (VIRS) provides statewide interpreter referral services for sign language/spoken English and CART services in settings such as medical, legal, mental health, employment, educational, civil and recreational situations. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), all Deaf and hard of hearing people have the right to have an interpreter (or CART services) so they may have equal access to communication in all of these settings.

Be sure and request an interpreter when you first set up the appointment. If the doctor or dentist (or whoever) does not want to hire an interpreter (because they do not know about the ADA), or tells you that you must bring (or pay for) the interpreter yourself, give them VIRS’ number (800-639-1519) and we will explain about their responsibility under the ADA to provide an interpreter when one is requested. Also, call VIRS with the number of the business or agency. We will call them and advocate for you.

You can call VIRS directly on our videophone (802-254-3920) and talk with Janet Parker, who is Deaf and is our Interpreter Referral Specialist. If it is an emergency, after regular work hours, go to the VIRS Web site, www.virs.org, and click on the yellow tab that says “Emergency: How to get an interpreter when VIRS is closed.” That will bring up a list of Vermont interpreters who are willing to be contacted for emergencies.

VIRS has a large supply of “green cards.” These are cards you can give to a hospital or police officer or anyone, telling them how to get in touch with VIRS to locate an interpreter. There is also the VIRS brochure – which explains how to request an interpreter, what the interpreter’s role is, and how to work effectively with an interpreter. If you need either the green card(s) or the brochure(s), you can contact VIRS or VCIL or Vocational Rehabilitation and the cards and/or brochures will be sent to you.

One more important thing: VIRS wants to know which interpreters you prefer to work with and which interpreters you do not want to work with. There is a Consumer Profile Form on the VIRS Web site where you can fill out the names of interpreters you like or don’t like – go to www.virs.org, then click on “Resources for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People,” then click on “*NEW* Consumer Profile Form.” Or you can call Janet Parker on the VP and she will help you fill it out. Staff at the VR and VCIL offices are also able to help with filling out the Consumer Profile Form.

For more information about your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or anything else relating to advocacy and interpreting, visit the VIRS Web site, call us, or stop in for a visit at 130 Austine Drive (Holton Hall), Suite 110, Brattleboro, VT 05301. We are open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and we are happy to help in any way we can.

Nancy Groff
Director, Vermont Interpreter Referral Service
Brattleboro

Editorials

Remembering Barbara

Barbara Leitenberg

by Deborah Lisi-Baker

I met Barbara Leitenberg in the early 1980s when she was still writing for the Senior Herald and doing related work for the State Office on Aging. I went to interview her on public policy issues and I still remember approaching her doorway through the maze of corridors in the State Office Complex and seeing her look up at me from a room with more piles of paper than open floor space, She sat on the floor to talk, surrounded by her work, and we discussed everything from long-term care policy and assistive technology to her thoughts on the fledging Vermont Center for Independent Living and our favorite writers.

A few years later, the Vermont Developmental Disabilities Council and the Vermont Assistive Technology Project gave startup funds for a new idea: a newspaper that would bring together senior and disability news from diverse organizations and places in Vermont. A year or two after it started, Barbara and I were selected to be joint editors of the new publication, The Independent.

Barbara loved interviewing Vermonters. She had a way of saying “yes” when she was listening to you, a yes that so clearly said, “Tell me more.” As her more recent co-worker Sarah Lemnah told The Burlington Free Press, Barbara loved to delve into any topic. Throughout her life she interviewed hundreds of Vermonters – going to state offices, small senior centers, farms, old homes on back roads and senior housing complexes in Vermont towns. I remember her striding out into the world, camera and notebook in hand, gazing around at each new person and place, so interested and attentive.

Today, The Independent goes to the press courtesy of special computer software, which we have used to lay out the complete document. In the early days of The Independent, we divided the articles that needed to be written and then Barbara would collate them on her kitchen floor, creating an old-fashioned mock-up of each page by cutting and pasting columns of text and placing them where they needed to go. The large final product got mailed to the press where it was printed. I remembering watching her lay out pages this way: trying on a certain placement of text before she taped it in place; sorting different photographs in her hands, choosing the best one for a story. Barbara was a gifted craftswoman of the news. She liked finding a happy turn of phrase or the right quote and figuring out the best way to lay out each issue of the paper. She loved honoring people’s lives through her stories and she was fascinated by the day-to-day practice of public policy and social engagement in ordinary people’s lives.

When she chose to retire from The Independent, she did it to have more time to travel, to be with her family, but she did not stop writing and studying the world and she never stopped giving herself to the experience of life – even as she moved toward her death from cancer. John Barbour, director of the Champlain Valley Agency on Aging, told the Free Press, “I saw her two weeks ago, and she clearly knew she was dying and she said it was fascinating and interesting.”

That sounds so much like Barbara.

A Call For Change

by Dolly Fleming

Editor’s Note: These remarks were delivered by the Community of Vermont Elders’ executive director at the organization’s annual meeting on Oct. 3.

Yesterday I participated in Public Assets Institute’s conference, where they focused on the three-legged stool of a healthy nation and state: public structures, sustainable economy and engaged citizens. Public structures refers to the physical structures such as roads and bridges, but also the organizational, health care and social structures and infrastructures necessary for a healthy, working society. We tend to take these for granted, do not invest sufficiently in them and even can be oblivious to them. We also can forget the vital role that government plays in ensuring that these public structures are in fact in place, adequately resourced and functioning well.

One example cited had to do with a revitalized city and community. A survey facilitator asked a focus group participant why it was that this city was thriving, compared with other more depressed communities. His reply was: “I don’t know – I think it’s just a cool place to live.” He was unaware of the fact that it was the result of 10 years of work and a comprehensive revitalization agenda and commitment.

If we apply that to our specific field of aging and related missions and issues, we quickly realize that aging in Vermont with dignity and security doesn’t just happen by itself. It is the result of constant, collective hard work – long-term care and home and community-based infrastructures, organizations, supports and services. It is not simply a matter of personal behavior – that too is essential but not sufficient. It also requires public analysis and policy development, collaboration, vigilant advocacy and engaged citizens.

For 28 years, the Community of Vermont Elders (COVE) has made major contributions to the quality of life here in our beautiful state. COVE in fact benefits all of us, not just those categorized as seniors. Our state and citizens are enriched, sometimes even rescued when we collectively ensure that elder’s needs and interests are protected and promoted.

The word advocacy means to come to the aid of . And the “voc” references vocal – to give voice to. Advocacy and advocacy organizations and structures and actions are essential elements of especially two legs of that three-legged stool concept: public structures and engaged citizens. And our legacy needs to be sustained and nourished now more than ever. We cannot be satisfied with only legislative and policy accomplishments of the past.

Anyone’s lack of dignity and security diminishes all of us. It can become too easy to distance ourselves from those (even our very neighbors) who are experiencing injustices, oppression, pain and loneliness. I think it is too easy to lump elders into a demographic concept and category and leave them in this nameless, faceless, age segregated crowd. Personalization and integration of “seniors” in our daily civic lives are necessary – otherwise elders become an abstract population. Anonymity can have a dulling effect on us. When people are abstract and distant, as opposed to present and beloved, it can result in far too little pressure or incentive for change. Necessary change for social justice.

We need to personalize, humanize and organize. Put faces to our policies. Recognize our loved ones who reside in the underbelly of waiting lists or in the fragile and precarious margins of eligibility.

When we as an organization (and I mean more than the small core of a 501c(3), board and 3.5 FTE staff, and policy consultant) and a community “inhabit the breadth and depth of our compassion” and sense of social justice and social responsibility – then great things can happen. Let me say that again. When we inhabit the breadth and depth of our compassion and sense of social justice and social responsibility – great things can happen. We need to start with the vision of dignity, security and well-being – then we can move on to the policies, programs and budgets. The vision, the aspiration and our commitment need to be the driver of those policies, programs and budgets, not the other way around.

Robert Greenleaf wrote “Servant Leadership” and in it he says: “The first order of business is to build a group of people, who under the influence of the institution grow taller and become healthier, stronger.” May we do that from within and reflect that into our larger communities. Thank you for the privilege and honor of working with all of you. We need each other.

News from the Statehouse and Beyond

by Michael Sirotkin and Deborah Lisi-Baker

The legislative session does not begin till January but lawmakers, the administration and advocates have been busy. The following comes from Community of Vermont Elders (COVE) and Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights (VCDR) updates, as well as news from our congressional delegation. Both COVE and VCDR are participating in many of the summer study committees and monitoring budget and policy issues. Here is a combined report from COVE and VCDR on these issues:

Program Funding Update

State Revenue Shortfall Leads to More Cuts: The state’s revenue shortfall caused the Legislature to implement significant reductions to the state budget before the Legislature went home in early May. Even after the legislative session ended, the administration and the Joint Fiscal Committee of the Legislature agreed on an additional series of budget cuts affecting state-funded programs and staffing. Cuts to senior and disability programs included reductions in funding for the home care, elderly/disabled transportation, the Choices for Care waiver, the Attendant Services Program and funds for developmental and mental health service agencies. All of these were approved by Joint Fiscal and are in the process of being implemented. Additional cuts may be proposed in November and again in January when the new Legislature meets.

Home Fuel Assistance Funded: Vermont’s congressional delegation helped win approval of increased funds for low-income home heating funds. The spending bill recently passed includes $2.57 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Sen. Leahy’s Web site highlights that “recently over $5 million in emergency relief was released and is going to Vermonters.” We still need the state of Vermont to continue to supplement these federal dollars in order to meet its goal of helping to pay at least 60 percent of the average fuel bill.

Good News on Expanded Food Stamp Eligibility: Earlier this month, the governor signed into law an important change in the rules for food stamps. The administration has eliminated the asset test and raised the gross income eligibility guidelines for food stamps. The state’s decision to raise income eligibility guidelines from 130 percent of poverty to 185 percent of poverty (about $18,700 for an individual) and to remove any asset limitations (currently one can only have $3,000 in assets) will mean that these newly qualified households could see on average around $1,000 more in assistance each year. This change represents a major new benefit for seniors comparable to what we have been able to do in such areas as pharmacy, Medicare cost sharing assistance, and telephone lifeline.

Transportation Blues: We attended last month’s meeting of the Public Transit Advisory Council upon which COVE has a statutory seat. Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, public transit agencies around the state are struggling with the cost of fuel, health care, etc. The state’s transportation fund is also struggling and there seems to be less money available for these agencies in their time of need. We have just learned that the commercial side of public transit – Amtrak and Greyhound – may also be curtailing services.

Legislative Study Committees and Policy Committees

End of life and pain management summer study: The legislative committee held its second meeting on Sept. 22 at the Statehouse. The co-chairs, Sen. Ginny Lyons and Rep. Bill Frank, set an agenda mainly encompassing issues around chronic pain treatment and management. Their overall strategy is to address the committee’s broad charge chronologically across the lifespan – therefore starting with pediatric issues and chronic pain. Witnesses, including physicians, state officials and citizens, described the tension between adequate prescribing and the risks of the pain medications being diverted for illegitimate or illegal uses. Several witnesses indicated that most physicians are ill-trained in assessing and treating chronic pain, and suggested that educational requirements, such as exist in California, might be in order. The next committee meeting will be an all-day meeting on Oct. 29 and will largely focus on end-of-life and palliative care issues. Improved access to hospice and pain treatment at end of life are areas ripe for committee attention and action.

Long-Term Care Partnership Insurance: This is a new kind of LTC insurance, which would allow those who buy the product to protect and retain a certain amount of their assets if they ever needed to apply for Medicaid assistance. In order for these policies to be sold in Vermont, the Legislature must first pass authorizing legislation. Last year the administration and the insurance industry fought hard for such a law, but many consumer groups had concerns about what these insurance polices would look like and how they would be marketed.

The result was a summer study, which has been meeting every other week. Discussions thus far have centered on agent training, minimum benefits, enforcement powers within the insurance departments, etc. Because of bad experiences seniors have had with the marketing of Medicare supplement policies, as well as Part D prescription drug policies, there is naturally a high level of angst with the state supporting the sales of these long-term care “partnership” policies.

We have begun raising questions as to why these policies cannot be standardized down to a manageable number of plans, so that confusion in the market place can be minimized; and seniors can make apples-to-apples comparisons based on price and service.

Guardianship: Another summer study we were successful in establishing last session was the Guardianship Education, Improvement, and Accountability Task Force. The charge of the task force is to assure the protection of the rights and well-being of individuals under guardianship, including improving guardian accountability, and to improve training of and otherwise support guardians in the execution of their guardianship duties.

Hearing on the Changing Face of Long-Term Care: The study on direct care workers, which came about as a result of COVE’s legislative efforts, was not completed until mid legislative session this year. As a result it did not get the attention we had hoped for in January. We were finally able to get a hearing this month on long-term care before the senators and representatives on the Health Access Oversight Committee, where the study was discussed at length. We believe we were successful in getting the committee’s attention to prioritize direct care workers’ need for work force training and health care assistance funds. Both pots of money are healthy and looking for people to assist; and direct care workers are clearly in need of health care coverage and more training to improve their working environment. So we may have found a good fit.

Work Incentive Study Begins: The Legislature asked the administration to convene a task force to identify ways to improve Vermont’s work incentive policies, particularly as they relate to accessing Vermont’s Medicaid program for individuals with disabilities who are working. The Division of Vocational Rehabilitation is in the process of contracting with someone to help with the data collection needed for this project. A report is due to the Legislature in January.

Other Policy Updates

Choices for Care Waiver Renewal: The Choices for Care Program funds both nursing home and community-based services for eligible seniors and individuals with disabilities. The state funds this program through a federal waiver which will be up for renewal next year. COVE and VCDR have met with DAIL and others around the frozen “waiting list” and what the actual level of waiver savings are, and how they are being used. COVE suggested that the Legislature ensure (which they did) that a formal stakeholder group be established to look at these questions and how they might impact any renewal of the waiver in 2010. DAIL has held its first two meetings with this group. COVE and VCDR were both in attendance.

While most people agree that the waiver has served to expand long-term care services in Vermont, the question still remains as to whether the waiver has met its commitment to use all of its institutional savings to improve home and community based services. Certainly a challenge of any waiver renewal will be to bring more transparency and less confusion to this reinvestment question.

Medicaid Advisory Board: COVE continues as a statutory member of the Medicaid Advisory Board which meets monthly and is charged with policy advice for the state’s Medicaid program. Of late we have established five subcommittees in an effort to be more proactive rather than reactive. The following work groups are ongoing: Budget Process; Dual Eligible; Provider Reimbursement; Mobility Devices; and Consumer Input. This past month we heard from the head of OVHA that Medicaid was looking at a $40 million deficit in FY 2010 and that it was still unclear whether further Medicaid cuts would be needed for November (see rescissions above) or in the budget adjustment act in January.

Medicare Supplement Premium Increases: United Healthcare and Blue Cross/Blue Shield have filed for Medicare supplemental rate increases to be effective Jan. 1, 2009. Blue Cross is asking for approximately 5 percent on average and United Healthcare is asking anywhere from approximately 6 to 10 percent depending on the policy. Fortunately, the Senior Citizens Law Project will again represent COVE in the actuarial hearings. We just received word that the insurance department has raised the cap on what the Senior Citizen Law Project (SCLP) can receive for fees by about a third, which makes it more feasible for them to provide us this important legal representation.

Direct Care Worker Registry: Both COVE and VCDR recommended the development of a registry for consumers, workers, families and employers and helped advocate for state funding to start this service and continue to monitor the development of this service. The Department of Disabilities, Aging & Independent Living (DAIL) is managing that contract with a firm called Rewarding Works. The registry is scheduled to be launched Oct. 21, 22 and 23. The first task is to get as many direct care workers as possible to post their services on the new Vermont Rewarding Works Web site.

Senior Centers: COVE is meeting with representatives of senior centers and Sen. Sanders’ office to explore state legislation which would define a full service senior citizen center. Apparently, New Hampshire has a similar law which has enabled its senior centers to more readily qualify for state funds and other benefits.

To share your concerns or for more information on how you can get involved,
contact COVE or VCDR:

COVE
P.O. Box 1276
641 Comstock Road, Suite 4
Montpelier, VT 05602
Phone: 802-229-4731
E-mail: cove@vermontelders.org
Website: www.vermontelders.org

VCDR
11 East State St., Suite 2
Montpelier, VT 05602
Phone: 802-223-6140
E-mail: vcdrvt@gmail.com
Website: www.vcdr.org

Fuel and Food Partnership Helps Vermonters Get the Services They Need

A new partnership is helping Vermonters during hard times. This initiative is part of the governor’s Fuel and Food Partnership, a broad coalition effort to help Vermonters access heating fuel, gasoline and food programs in Vermont. Vermont 2-1-1, an Information and Referral program of the United Ways of Vermont, is the entry point for Vermonters to connect with existing resources food and fuel resources.

Food Stamps Available to More Vermonters

Over 30,000 additional Vermont households are eligible for food stamps as a result of the administration’s decision to eliminate the asset test and raise the gross income eligibility guidelines for food stamps. These changes are set to take effect Jan. 1, 2009. In addition to calling 2-1-1 or talking with a local state agency or service organization, Vermonters can also find additional information on two Web sites: www.vtnohunger.org and www.vermontfoodhelp.com.

Looking for More Heat this Winter?

Fuel Assistance can help low-income Vermonters pay part of their home heating bills. You might be eligible if you:

  • Own your home or rent your home
  • Pay for your heat directly or if your heat is included in your rent
  • Rent a room in someone else’s home
  • Live in public, subsidized, or Section 8 housing and your rent includes the cost of heat

The best way to find out if you are eligible for assistance is to apply. Applications are being accepted until the end of February. But the sooner you apply, the sooner you will get assistance if you are eligible. In some cases the earlier you apply, the bigger your benefit will be.

For a one-person household to be eligible for Fuel Assistance, that person’s income must be under $1,084 a month after allowed deductions are made. For example, if someone in the household is elderly or disabled, $150 a month is deducted from their income. If someone has income from a job, 20 percent of the income is not counted. The best way to find out if someone meets the income guidelines is to complete the application and mail it to the Fuel Assistance Office.

Call the Fuel Assistance Office, toll-free at 1-800-479-6151 and ask for an application packet.

More about 2-1-1:
Help is Just a Phone Call Away

In addition to helping with fuel and food questions, 2-1-1 links Vermonters to other Vermont programs and resources. Vermont 2-1-1 is a statewide, confidential information and referral service for streamlined access to community resources. 2-1-1 is the number to call to receive person-to-person assistance to help you find answers to your questions and we will work with you toward finding help. Dialing 2-1-1 is a local call from anywhere in Vermont and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Dial 1-866-652-4636 toll-free in Vermont. Interpreter services are available. The 2-1-1 database is available online at www.vermont211.org.

Reforms Made To Vermont’s Adult Involuntary Guardianship Statute

by Jackie Majoros

Vermont’s adult involuntary guardianship statute gives the state the authority to step in and assist and protect individuals who no longer have the ability to make their own decisions. Guardianship can be an effective tool. But, individuals under guardianship may lose the right to make important decisions about their medical treatment, finances, living situation and their lifestyle.

The reforms passed by the Legislature last session in Act 186 create a guardianship system that not only protects and assists individuals, it also maximizes the individual’s autonomy and independence.

Changes in the law that help promote autonomy and independence:

  1. Under the new law, guardianship will be based on a functional definition of disability rather than on labels like “mental retardation,” “mental illness” or “developmental disability.” These terms were removed from the law.
  2. The new law substitutes the term “person” or “individual” for the term “ward.”
  3. The petitioner must explain what alternatives to guardianship have been tried and why they have not worked.
  4. The probate court must conduct a criminal and abuse registry background check on all proposed guardians. (The court may waive this in special circumstances.)
  5. The term “total guardianship” is removed from the statute. Judges are required to order the least restrictive guardianships. The individual retains all powers not granted to the guardian.
  6. The guardian must encourage the individual to participate in decisions and must help the individual develop or regain the ability to make his or her own decisions to whatever extent possible.
  7. The individual has the right to obtain independent legal representation. (However, the court must approve any legal fees.)
  8. If an individual nominates a guardian in a will or advance directive, the court must give preference to (but is not required to select) the nominee.
  9. Procedures for temporary emergency guardianships are clarified and the law puts time limits on ex parte and temporary orders.

Another important change in the law involves the guardian’s authority to make medical decisions. The former law was outdated, confusing and gave little direction to individuals under guardianship, guardians, agents, health care providers, advocates and judges. Act 186 clarifies the role of the guardians, the rights of the individual and the process for making medical decisions.

Changes in the law that clarify how medical decisions are made:

  1. The new law explains that an advance directive “trumps” or takes precedence over the guardianship. When an individual has an advance directive, the authority of the agent and the instructions remain in effect and the agent has sole responsibility for making health care decisions (except, if the advance directive is revoked or modified by the court in response to a separate petition challenging the validity of the advance directive or the authority of the agent).
  2. The guardian and the court must make medical decisions based on what the individual would have wanted. They cannot substitute their judgment. If they cannot determine the person’s wishes, then they may make decisions based on what is in the best interests of the individual.
  3. The law explains that medical powers include all medical and dental treatment.
  4. Guardians may give or withhold consent to medical procedures without prior court approval except: for a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order unless the individual is likely to experience cardiopulmonary arrest before approval could be obtained; or before withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining treatment unless it is impracticable to obtain approval before the need for the decision; or if the individual objects (on any grounds) to the guardian’s decision, or; when the court requires prior approval for a specific surgery, treatment or procedure in the initial order or any time after the appointment of the guardian.
  5. When prior court approval is required, notice must be given to all parties, and the court must conduct a hearing.

These reforms put individuals and their preferences, wishes, values and beliefs at the center of every guardianship. They reflect a significant change in how we view guardianship and the role of guardians and how we treat individuals who, at some point in their lives, may need the protection and assistance of a guardian.

Jackie Majoros is Vermont’s Long Term Care Ombudsman.

Study Committee on Adult Guardianship Established

“Guardianship shall be utilized only as necessary to promote the well-being of the individual and to protect the individual from violations of his or her human and civil rights. It shall be designed to encourage the development and maintenance of maximum self-reliance and independence in the individual and only the least restrictive form of guardianship shall be ordered to the extent required by the individual’s actual mental and adaptive limitations.” – from H.617

H.617, enacted in the last session, included a mandate for a Guardianship Task Force to study ways for improving guardian accountability, assuring the protection of rights and well-being of persons under guardianship, and training and supporting guardians in the execution of their guardianship duties.

The committee held an initial organizational meeting Sept. 12. The committee is reviewing the adult guardianship laws and related guidelines and is exploring ways to improve monitoring and reporting while making reporting activities easier for guardians and giving individuals with guardians greater involvement in the process. Michael Sirotkin, COVE legislative lobbyist, summarized current activities in a recent Community of Vermont Elders (COVE) update: “Thus far we are focusing on making reporting forms to the probate court simpler and more uniform; providing additional training and educational materials to guardians; investigating technology improvements for the probate courts; and looking at best practices from across the country in protecting assets and improving court enforcement and oversight systems.”

Community organizations participating in the study include two representatives from the Vermont Association of Probate Judges, the Community of Vermont Elders, Green Mountain Self-Advocates, the Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights, Vermont Legal Aid, Vermont Psychiatric Survivors, and Vermont Protection & Advocacy.

VCDR is interested in hearing from individuals under guardianship and from family members of individuals under guardianship. If you have suggestions on how to improve reporting and training and support services relating to guardianship, please e-mail us at vcdrvt@gmail.com or write us at 11 East State St., Suite 2, Montpelier, VT 05602.

Your Voting Rights as a Person with a Disability*

What does disability mean? There are many different meanings of the word disability under different laws. When we’re talking about voting rights, a person has a disability if the person has a medical, cognitive or mental health problem that makes it very hard or impossible for the person to do important life activities, such as walking, talking, seeing, hearing, lifting, concentrating or communicating.

If you have a disability, you have:

  • The right to vote (if you are otherwise qualified)
  • The right to access your polling place
  • The right to receive reasonable accommodations for your disability

When we talk about reasonable accommodations to vote, we mean actions the government can take to help a person with a disability fully participate in the voting process, such as installing ramps into a polling place so that someone using a wheelchair can get into the polling place, or hiring an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter to help a person who is Deaf or hard of hearing who communicates using ASL to register to vote. A reasonable accommodation cannot cost so much that it makes it impossible for the government to do its other necessary work and must be directly related to overcoming the barrier to full participation due to a disability.

If you need accommodations to assist you with voting, you may:

  • Contact your town clerk to request accommodations
  • Bring a person of your choice into the voting booth with you for assistance (not your employer or union representative)
  • Ask an election official for assistance with marking your ballot
  • Ask an election official to bring a ballot to your car
  • Bring a magnifying glass or other devices to help you use the ballot
  • Bring a list of candidates into the voting booth to help you
  • Ask for another ballot (maximum of three) if you make a mistake

If you experience problems with voting, you may contact:

  • Vermont Protection & Advocacy at 800-834-7890
  • Vermont Secretary of State’s Office at 800-439-8683

* Information from Vermont Protection & Advocacy’s “2008 Voter’s Guide for People with Disabilities.” To obtain a copy, call 1-800-834-7890 or 1-802-229-1355 (voice) or 1-802-229-2603 (TTY).

VCIL Community Speaks Out on Voting

The “Whys”

“I vote because I am a woman and I know what my great-grandmothers had to fight to give me and my daughter the opportunity to officially vote our opinions.”
– Kim Brittenham

“We have the freedom to vote and there are many countries where people do not. I take voting very seriously and feel fortunate to have the right, the privilege and the opportunity to vote, and the ability to make the choice of party affiliation. Voting is having a voice in government; it is our most important constitutional right. Make a difference. Vote.”
– A Brattleboro peer

“The reason I vote is because it’s a way for people to hear my concerns and a way to express my voice . My disability is not a reason to not vote, it is the reason I do vote.”
– Ericka Reil

“It is important for me to vote because it is one of the things I can do to effect change. I also believe that one person/one vote can make a difference.”
– Joyce Werntgen

The “Wheres”

“I vote at the polling place because I love the experience of seeing my neighbors, co-workers, family and friends flowing in and out of City Hall. I feel a part of the whole community. For me, voting is similar to going outside in the first snow of the season just to talk to neighbors and strangers about the weather.”
– Kim Brittenham

“I like voting at the polls. There is such an energy there.”
– Ericka Reil

“I definitely prefer to vote at the polling place with my neighbors and see very clearly, in a very physical way, the democratic process in action. This year, I will be in Arizona on Election Day, so I will be voting by absentee ballot for the first time in my life. I will miss being able to cast my ballot in Montpelier on Nov. 4 and it will be very interesting to be in John McCain’s home state when the winner is declared.”
– Joyce Werntgen

“I prefer to vote at the polling place. I have voted by absentee ballot, but only as a last resort.”
– Helen Johnke

Memories and Musings

“The first voter I registered was 87 years old and voting for the first time because he feared the Republican ticket after a lifelong career with the CIA.”
– Kim Brittenham

“In 1984, Rev. Jesse Jackson, the first serious black candidate, ran for president of the United States. There was a lot of racial prejudice in my family and neighborhood after his bold move onto the national political stage . Jackson might not have won, but he was a first, and there always has to be a first!”
– A Brattleboro peer

“The first time I took my son to the polls with me, he was so proud that the voting official let him put the ballot in the box. When I explained it was his first time at the polls, they said to him, ‘Thank you, sir, for helping us with the elections.’ He had such a smile on his face and ever since then he goes with me to vote. For him it’s a treat.”
– Ericka Reil

“In the past several national elections, I feel that the will of the people hasn’t been followed because voting machines were tampered with and efforts were made to discourage certain groups from voting, thus skewing the vote in a manner inconsistent with voters’ intent. Stolen elections seem to have become a reality. Even so, it is important that we all vote and consider candidates that are best for the jobs. It is our right and responsibility to do that. If we do not get involved, we allow theft of the elections to continue.”
– Helen Johnke

Registering to Vote*

If you want to vote, you must be registered. The registration deadline for the Nov. 4, 2008, election is Wednesday, Oct. 29, at 5 p.m. To register to vote, you must:

  1. Be a U.S. citizen
  2. Be a resident of the Vermont town where you plan to vote
  3. Take, or have previously taken, the Voter’s Oath (formerly called the “Freeman’s Oath”)
  4. Be 18 years of age or older (or will be 18 on or before the day of election)

To register, you need to complete the “Application for Addition to the Checklist” (voter registration form) and make sure it is returned to the town/city clerk’s office in the town or city where you live. There are several places you can do this: at your town/city clerk’s office; at the DMV (when you register your car or when you get or renew your driver’s license); at voter registration drives.

Call Vermont Protection & Advocacy, your town/city clerk or the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office if you have any questions.

* Information above from Vermont Protection & Advocacy’s “2008 Voter’s Guide for People with Disabilities.” To obtain a copy, call 1-800-834-7890 or 1-802-229-1355 (voice) or 1-802-229-2603 (TTY).

Special Information for Nursing Home Residents

You have the right to vote! If you have moved to a nursing home and you did not previously live in the town the nursing home is in, you need to register to vote with your new town clerk if you want to vote in the upcoming election. Check with the administration staff at your nursing home and ask if someone at the facility can register you to vote.

All towns will send you an absentee ballot, but you need to request one. Call your town clerk and he or she will send you a form to request an early or absentee voter ballot. If you need the phone number for your town clerk, contact the Vermont Center for Independent Living at 1-800-639-1522 or go to http://vermont-elections.org/elections1/town_clerks_guide.html for a complete listing.

Vermont Protection & Advocacy Announces FY 2009 Priorities

Vermont Protection & Advocacy, Inc. (VP&A) is a private nonprofit agency dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of people with mental health and disability issues. We are empowered (and funded!) by the federal government to investigate abuse, neglect and serious rights violations. Our 11-member staff teams with the 10-member staff of the Disability Law Project of Vermont Legal Aid (DLP) to create the cross-disability legal protection and advocacy system for Vermont.

This past year VP&A was busy defending the rights of people with disabilities both in individual case work and in systemic change. Of course we can’t list everything here that we have done this year but such a list of important activities would cover quite a range of issues:

  • VP&A helped settle a claim of employment discrimination against an individual with a psychiatric disability by obtaining a cash settlement.
  • VP&A continued to work at the Vermont State Hospital to enforce patients’ rights to be free from unnecessary seclusion and restraint. We have pursued a number of grievances on behalf of clients, appealing some to the highest level within the department and are beginning to get positive rulings at that level. VP&A is also participating on an advisory committee to the federally funded effort to reduce seclusion & restraint at the VSH.
  • We have been very engaged at the Woodside Juvenile Detention Facility’s detention unit, where we have monitored Department for Children & Families’ efforts at improving facilities, treatment, screening, accommodations and training of staff.
  • We continue to monitor our settlement agreement with the Department of Corrections that requires an outside expert to evaluate the department’s compliance with new policies to protect prisoners who self-harm. We have taken an active role in prompting the department to create and implement an ADA policy and training curriculum to help assure that people with disabilities in correctional facilities will be supervised and cared for by individuals who are aware of the special requirements and protections for inmates with disabilities.
  • We continue to do outreach and monitoring at all the designated psychiatric hospitals in Vermont, as well as reaching out to residential and community care homes. We are continuing our outreach efforts at events like the Green Mountain Self Advocates’ Voices for Choices Conference.
  • Of particular interest in this election year is work we have done to inform and engage people with disabilities in the civic life of our communities! We have registered voters with disabilities, conducted accessibility surveys of polling places and are working on a project, in collaboration with UVM’s Center on Disability and Community Inclusion, to determine what the actual barriers to registration and voting are and what VP&A can do to eliminate these barriers.
  • VP&A has just published an in-depth “Voter’s Guide for People with Disabilities” with all sorts of information about voting, including sections explaining the statewide offices and highlighting statements by the candidates. We also co-sponsored, with the Vermont Association for the Deaf, VCIL and AARP, the only gubernatorial debate in southern Vermont this year! If you would like to see this debate, moderated in ASL by Dr. Anne Potter of the Austine School for the Deaf, visit the Web site: www.wptz.com/video/17609301/index.html.
  • Working under the Protection and Advocacy to Beneficiaries of Social Security (PABSS) program and the Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Traumatic Brain Injury (PATBI) program we have helped individuals overcome barriers to employment and have reached out to veterans.
  • VP&A advocacy was key in the Rutland Regional Medical Center’s decision to eliminate its practice of transporting individuals with mental health issues by sheriffs using hard shackles, an achievement of which we are very proud!

Please visit our Web site, www.vtpa.org, to see more of the range of work we do, to read some of the reports we have produced, and to learn from some of the disability-related materials we have produced!

VP&A is once again publishing the priorities adopted by our board for the current fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2008-Sept. 30, 2009.) We would welcome your thoughts about how our unique system can best serve people with disabilities. VP&A publishes formal priorities for the Protection & Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness (PAIMI) program, the Protection & Advocacy for Developmental Disabilities (PADD) program and the Protection & Advocacy for Individual Rights (PAIR) program. Together these programs allow us to advocate for individuals whose disabilities basically fit the definitions in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The priorities are the basic guidelines that are formed with input from our advisory councils, our board of directors, our staff (VP&A and DLP), and most importantly, the community at large. Send us comments on the following and you can help us stay connected to the community we serve! VP&A and its partners do work with limitations! Please understand that we cannot assist everyone who calls, but we try to refer people to other agencies who could assist them.

How can you make your voice heard? Contact VP&A:
1-800-834-7890
Please visit our Web site at www.vtpa.org

2009 Priorities for Protection & Advocacy for Individuals With a Mental Illness (PAIMI)

Priority 1: Investigate individual cases of abuse, neglect, and serious rights violations in inpatient facilities (VSH, designated hospitals, designated agencies, emergency rooms, facilities for minors), prisons/jails, and community settings.

Priority 2: Reduce the use of seclusion, restraint, coercion and involuntary procedures through systemic efforts. Continue systemic work to create culturally competent, trauma-informed, violence free and coercion-free mental health treatment environments.

Priority 3: Reach out to community settings, designated facilities, emergency rooms, prisons/jails, residential and therapeutic care homes. Monitor conditions and educate residents about rights and self-advocacy. Engage in systems work to improve conditions.

Priority 4: Advocate for self-determination and access to alternative treatment options and community integration. Use legal advocacy to enforce and expand rights across the State of Vermont.

2009 Priorities for Protection & Advocacy for People with Developmental Disabilties (PADD)

Health Priority Area

  • People with disabilities have access to needed health care/long-term care; children with mental health needs will receive needed services and supports.

Education Priority Area

  • Students with disabilities are not harassed, are not subjected to Restrictive Behavior Interventions, and are not unlawfully disciplined, suspended or expelled from their educational program. Students with disabilities receive an appropriate transition from school to employment and independent living. Resources permitting: Students with disabilities are identified, evaluated, and receive a free and appropriate public education and related services. Federal and Vermont entitlements and procedural protections are preserved.

Quality Assurance Priority Area

  • Olmstead: People with disabilities have access to appropriate services/supports in the least restrictive, and most integrated, settings.
  • Children in institutional and other residential and alternative educational settings will receive protection and advocacy services.
  • Access to Developmental Services for children and adults with developmental disabilities.
  • Guardianship: Protection of legal rights in guardianship proceedings. People with developmental disabilities do not have unnecessary guardianships.
  • SSI: Access to and preservation of SSI benefits for income-eligible children under age 18 or turning 18 whose benefits are terminated on the basis of disability. Maintain maximum SS benefits for adults who are disabled and working.
  • Title II ADA: Increased accommodations for people with disabilities in government services, higher education, Reach Up, judicial and corrections systems – including people with disabilities who have been victims of crime, and parents with disabilities in the child protection system.
  • Title III ADA: Individuals with disabilities will have increased access to businesses open to the public.
  • Communication Support Project (Joint priority with DDC and UCE): People with developmental disabilities receive communication support in judicial and other proceedings.
  • Self Determination: People with disabilities make meaningful and informed choices about their services and supports.
  • Abuse Neglect & Exploitation: Adults and children with developmental disabilities living independently, in institutions, or in parental, family, group or developmental homes, are free from abuse, neglect or rights violations.

Housing Priority Area

  • People with disabilities receive needed accommodations in housing.

Employment Priority Area

  • People with disabilities will not be discriminated against in hiring, employment and advancement.

Transportation Priority Area

  • People with disabilities have access to accessible transportation.

2009 Priorities for Protection & Advocacy for Individual’s Rights (PAIR)

Health Priority Area

  • People with disabilities have access to needed health care/long-term care.

Quality Assurance Priority Area

  • Olmstead: People with disabilities have access to appropriate services/supports in the least restrictive and most integrated settings.
  • Maintain maximum SS benefits for adults who are disabled and working.
  • Title II ADA: Increased accommodations for people with disabilities in government services, higher education, Reach Up, judicial and corrections systems – including people with disabilities who have been victims of crime, and parents with disabilities in the child protection system.
  • Title III ADA: Individuals with disabilities will have increased access to businesses open to the public.
  • Abuse Neglect & Exploitation: Adults and children with disabilities living independently, in institutions, or in parental, family, group or developmental homes, are free from abuse, neglect or rights violations.

Housing Priority Area

  • People with disabilities receive needed accommodations in housing.

Employment Priority Area

  • People with disabilities will not be discriminated against in hiring, employment and advancement.

Transportation Priority Area

  • People with disabilities have access to accessible transportation.

For information on any of our programs feel free to contact us:

Vermont Protection & Advocacy
141 Main St.
Montpelier, VT 05602

1-800-834-7890
(802) 2229-1355

Visit us on the Web at www.vtpa.org

Defending and advancing the rights of people with disabilities and mental health issues.
Vermont VP&A is the Protection & Advocacy System for Vermont

HELP GOVERNMENT FEEL THE POWER OF THE DISABILITY VOTE!
2008 IS AN ELECTION YEAR AND YOUR VOTE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

Voting gives you the power to decide who will be making decisions about issues that matter to you. You can choose candidates who support your views on housing, education, health care, Americans with Disabilities Act enforcement, transportation, community and rehabilitation services, jobs and a lot more!

Vermont Protection & Advocacy Can Help

One of Vermont Protection and Advocacy’s most important projects is assisting individuals with disabilities who are interested in voting. With federal funding from the Help America Vote Act of 2002 we are working with disability service providers, advocacy groups, town clerks and individuals to register voters with disabilities and increase participation in the election process.

For more information or to register to vote contact us at 1-800-834-7890 or visit us online at www.vtpa.org

Women Reaching for the Stars

by Ericka Reil

Every other Wednesday at the Vermont Center for Independent Living, you will find women meeting in the conference room. At first glance, you may think that the women have nothing in common. But if you listen to the conversations and personal thoughts they share with each other, you will see that they have everything in common.

The group is called Women Reaching for the Stars, and that is what they are doing. Women working together to solve everyday problems and talking about what it is like to be a woman with a disability.

They are a mixed group. Different ages, different disabilities, different personalities. But everyone listens and everyone is heard. Some women when they first started to come were afraid to utter a word. Now they are speaking up, giving advice and helping new women in the group feel empowered.

One woman came to a meeting saying that she could not do the activity that day, and through encouragement and support started to say, “I can.” That was met with a round of applause. The woman then said that she could not wait for the next meeting and that she would bake something for “her friends.” Another woman who never talked at the first few meetings found her voice at the third and organized a holiday party. She even went to everyone in the group to convince them that at the holiday party there should be Secret Santas.

If you are a woman with a disability and are in Montpelier on a Wednesday evening, come over to the Vermont Center for Independent Living and see if Women Reaching for the Stars is for you. Please contact Ericka at 229-0501 for more information.

Remember the Stars

Through the gray roses of
our curtains

through the gray roses
of night

we birth the morning

the sun & us

listen to the light

urging us
to hold the hand
of the child
of ourselves

help her

help him

to remember the stars

to dress warm

as we venture out
over frosted pebbles and rocks

to keep her

to keep him

through the clocks of cold.

From Phyllis Rachel Larrabee’s 2007 poetry collection, “Under the Influence of a 100-Watt bulb.”

Medication Misuse And Side Effects: A Concern For Seniors And People With Disabilities

by Samuel E. Liss

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in a two-part series by VCIL’s Vice President. This article describes why seniors and people with disabilities are at greater risk of drug abuse than is the general population. The next article will focus on how to reduce those risks. The articles reveal general principles regarding drug cautions and risks, particularly as they affect those of us who are elderly and have disabilities. They are intended for general educational purposes and do not substitute for one-on-one consultation with one’s professional caregivers.

All among us are subject to risk when medication is prescribed and needs to be taken for a given condition. After all, the “benefits vs. risks” principle is paramount in medicine. There are never guarantees; it is the best judgment of the medical professional – along with crucial input from the patient during patient-professional discussion – that prevails as to whether the benefit of a given medication outweighs the risks.

Very often, the prescribing medical professional will not be aware of the best choice of medication for a particular individual until the medication is actually prescribed and taken by the patient. Despite accurate diagnosis, complete patient medical and drug history and available drug literature, the professional cannot specifically assess a medication for a particular individual beforehand.

Different individuals may react differently to the same medication. For example, allergic (hypersensitivity) reactions, unbeknownst beforehand, may develop. Unusual (idiosyncratic) reactions, peculiar to the individual and not dose-related, may develop. Furthermore, the degree, type and number of adverse “side effects,” which are dose-related, differ from person to person – some individuals may encounter severe adverse drug reactions with a relatively small dose; for others, the same medication may produce no significant therapeutic or beneficial effect with a relatively high dose.

There are many reasons for the latter, but, very important is the way the liver processes medication. Critically important in the way the body metabolizes and detoxifies substances, are chemicals present in the liver, called enzymes; liver enzymes vary in amount, etc., from person to person and vary in the same person at different stages in their lives. The type and amount of these enzymes present often explain how a particular person responds or reacts to a specific drug. These enzymes also are critically important in explaining drug-drug interactions – that is, how one or more drugs affect other drugs that the same individual is taking at the same time. In turn, drug-drug interactions may cause a less than desired therapeutic effect for one or more drugs or may significantly increase the risk of adverse reactions and toxicities!

It is also important to keep in mind that there are four important aspects to the way our bodies “handle” medication: absorption, distribution, metabolism and elimination (for short, ADME). A problem at any phase can adversely affect the way medication interacts with our bodies.

The risk of drug abuse, in the very general sense, is markedly greater among elderly and disabled population of individuals for many reasons:

  1. Increased incidence of chronic disease; the range of malignancies (i.e. cancers) and neuromuscular diseases is also increased in these populations.
  2. Thus, there is an understandable increase in the use of multi-therapy (i.e. use of greater number of medications, both by prescription and over-the-counter, to treat a greater number of conditions); a greater number of medications means a greater chance of adverse reactions, drug-drug interactions and toxicity! It also means a greater chance of medication error!
  3. There tends to be decline (often expected) in efficient physiological function (e.g. GI changes, urinary incontinence, impaired renal and hepatic efficiency) hormonal function and hearing and sight); and an increase in tendency toward dehydration.
  4. The aforementioned decline affects absorption (e.g. swallowing impairments, decreased GI motility, generally; decreased digestive enzyme action, etc.); distribution (e.g. impaired by dehydration and decreased cardiac output); metabolism (e.g. less efficient degradation by liver); and elimination (e.g. decreased rates at which medications are “cleared” from the body due to less efficient kidney and liver function); in very real terms, impaired absorption may mean that a person may not be getting the proper dose of the required medication; renal and hepatic impairment may mean that the risk of toxic effects of a medication increase greatly.
  5. Mental confusion with age, debilitation and multi-therapy may lead to inappropriate (sometimes dangerous) medication use (e.g. overdosing, failure to take needed medication, etc.); depression and anxiety, which often accompany chronic illness, may also contribute toward inappropriate medication use. It must also be stated that certain mental states (e.g. depression, mania) may also alter physiological function which, in turn, affect how drugs are metabolized.
  6. Tendency toward a compromised nutritional state – which may contribute toward confusion and, generally, a greater number of adverse reactions (for example, by negatively affecting the immune system and bringing about weakened physical state).
  7. The tendency toward self-medicating (e.g. by alcohol, illicit drugs or unproven dietary remedies) may lead to serious adverse drug interactions and toxicity.

Disability Happens

By K.K. Wilder

Obesity: Obsession and Disability

As a fat woman, I’ll readily admit that obesity is a major health problem. Vermonters are way down on the list of those afflicted (Alabama is close to the top), but we are right up there with the rest of the country when it comes to obsessing about it.

A total realist about the awful health risks obesity poses, I don’t find myself wanting to join “Fat is beautiful” groups or the NAAFA (National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance), although I admit to reading Big Beautiful Woman Magazine for many years to find articles on self-esteem and tips on fashionable clothing for us queen-size women.

Sometimes, though, I tire of slender or average size people saying mean-spirited words against themselves if they are 10 pounds overweight or judging those of us who are actually fat.

“Do I look fat in this?” is a common no-win question women ask each other or their “significant others.” More than once I’ve heard a plaintive cry from behind the curtain in a dressing room. “My, God! This makes me look FAT!” Many people say that being fat is the last disability where it’s still OK to make fun of those afflicted. A recent widely-published news piece even went so far as to say it’s catching! If your friends stop calling, maybe they’re afraid of being exposed to your overweight.

Oh, how I suffered from the barbs and stings of being a fat kid. When I was young, childhood obesity was nowhere near the numbers it is today. Back then, whenever the classroom pictures were taken, I was always the biggest child in the room. Now, 15 percent of American children are not just chubby; they’re dangerously obese.

Why?

Ask five people on the street and they’ll give you five different answers:

  1. They watch too much TV and play too many video games.
  2. They are lazy and not expected to do any work around the home.
  3. Their parents constantly give them sweets as rewards.
  4. They have the “fat gene.”
  5. They are given rides everywhere instead of walking.

It goes on from there – from blaming schools, to society, to fast food restaurants, to too much availability of food, and fast food restaurants on every corner.

Meanwhile, diabetes type 2, which used to affect mostly middle-aged overweight adults, has risen upwards of 40 percent in kids as young as 8 or 10 in the last 15 years and arthritis, which used to affect mostly elderly people as a “wear and tear” degenerative joint disease, is setting in at ever decreasing ages because young bodies are carrying around so much extra weight.

I don’t profess to have the answers. I can only speak from my own experience that all the dire predictions the medical field predicts will happen to people who are overweight have happened to me. So why am I telling you all this?

Because of one very important lesson I learned during my many decades as a fat person: Putting a children on “diets” leads to ongoing life problems with food. Obsessing about being fat – as individuals, in families, in fashion, and as a society – just causes more eating problems, from anorexia to obesity to “yo-yo” syndrome.

I was taken to my first diet doctor at age 9. He stood me before him, looked me up and down, and said, “My goodness, but you are so fat!” Already painfully aware I was nothing like my slender parents and ridiculed by my classmates, I now knew what was wrong with me: “You’re a glutton,” he continued. “You’re fat because you make a pig of yourself.” Granted, my mom never took me back to him again, but that particular doctor was only the first in a long line of professionals who would let me know I was somehow “bad” and “disgusting.” The yo-yo dieting began there and helped me lose hundreds of pounds in my lifetime, gaining a little more as each “diet” came to an end.

Diets don’t work. You’ve heard it over and over. Diets don’t work. Only lifestyle changes work and as often as we fat people have heard it, the old adage is true: If we take in more calories than we burn, they get stored as fat.

As a columnist who writes about living with disabilities, there are many stories I’ve shared with you. As a fat columnist who has developed disabilities directly due to being obese, one point I hope you’ll remember is this: Children who are encouraged to get up and move as much as they are able and who are taught to eat healthy food are children who quite probably won’t grow up to suffer from obesity-related health problems.

K.K. Wilder can be reached through this newspaper or at KKWilder@aol.com.

Bulletin Board

Tax-Aide Seeks Your Help

Tax-Aide Seeks Your Help

AARP Tax-Aide, the nation’s largest free tax-return preparation program, needs volunteers.

  • Volunteer tax counselors are trained in cooperation with the Internal Revenue Service. Other volunteer roles include local, district, communications and technology coordinators.
  • From Feb. 1 to April 15 each year, at nearly 7,000 sites nationwide, Tax-Aide helps some 2 million taxpayers file their federal, state and local returns, with special attention to taxpayers 60-plus.
  • To learn more about Tax-Aide and volunteering, go to aarp.org/money/taxaide or call toll-free, 1-888-687-2277.

Outstanding Professional Caregivers Award Ceremony & Reception Set

As part of the 3rd Annual Professional Caregiver Appreciation Month, come help honor and celebrate Vermont’s outstanding professional caregivers, Nov. 12 from 3-5 p.m. at the Statehouse in Montpelier. All nominees, nominators, Vermont Association of Professional Care Providers members, professional caregivers and other interested stakeholders are invited.

RSVP to Susan Gordon at 802-229-4731 or vapcp@vermontelders.org.

Medicare Part D Enrollment Begins Nov. 15

Need help deciding which Medicare prescription drug plan is best for you? The specialists in the Agency on Aging for Northeastern Vermont’s SHIP (State Health Insurance Counseling) Program are “Part D experts” and can help you. The enrollment period for the Part D program reopens on Nov. 15 and concludes on Dec. 31. If you need information or help, call 1-800-642-5119 and ask to speak with a health insurance specialist.

To find out about other disability or senior programs, activities, and services, contact the Senior Helpline (1-800-642-5119) or the I-Line at the Vermont Center for Independent Living (1-800-639-1522)
SUBMISSION DEADLINE

Submissions for the next issue must be received by January 16, 2009