Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Getting Government Help (Part Three)

  Now that funds are so tight, government resources for the mentally ill are getting thin on the ground. Just because you qualify doesn't mean you'll get them. Here's the third installment of my 3-part series on struggling with bureaucracies:

Phrases to use when you hit a wall: “What is your name?” (write it down, in front of them. People act differently when they know they will be held responsible.) ”Is there someone else I can talk to?”  “Can I speak with your supervisor?” (If the supervisor/manager/boss is out, ask , “When can I reach him/her, then?”) Or, try calling another day, and speak to someone else. Not everybody has the same information – or the same chip on their shoulders.
If you are completely stuck? Memorize this one: “If you were in my shoes, where would you look next?” And then get the number. Inside numbers are often much more efficient than the general numbers, especially if they give you a specific person or department. Another reason to always write numbers down.
Always follow the rules. Read the fine print. Do not lie. If you play by their rules, they can’t throw you out.
It took me two years to get Disability. On appeal, they were going to say ‘no’ again because I had earned more money than their maximum in only one month out of the entire previous year. I studied the figures and saw that the month in question was a month with five weeks - and thus had one extra paycheck! I was not earning more per hour or more per month. It was just a longer month.
When I pointed that out to the investigator, I won my case.
Use reason. Use their own rules against them. Use the system’s loopholes. Read the fine print. There are such things as public-assistance lawyers to help you with this. Find one if you need one.
 It can be OK sometimes to leave something immaterial out of your answers. I once had my doctor look over a Disability Review form, and he said I should cross out the information that I took long walks every day. He said in their minds, if I could exercise, I wasn’t very sick. Ludicrous, but true. So I left that sentence out. It didn’t change the basic facts of my condition.
Having a doctor or experienced friend look your stuff over, if you can, is a good idea.
But don’t outright lie. If you get caught, the game is over. You have just made things harder for the next person in line, too.
Being in trouble does NOT excuse you from ethics.
Follow through to the bitter end. If they say ‘no,’ but there is an appeal process, then appeal! Some agencies routinely say ‘no’ just to weed people out. They may give you bogus reasons such as, “You can walk and follow instructions. Therefore you are employable.” (True story. Happened to a friend of mine, completely incapable of supporting himself for the last few decades.) Get a doctor on your side, and go for the second round. If there are community-service lawyers in your area, get one.
Do not call or show up while upset or symptomatic. Reschedule. This one is self-explanatory. The only exception is if you are in the throes of trying to prove how sick you are. In that case, a picture is worth a thousand words. But bring someone to interpret you.
Never give up.
I know this sounds like a lot, but think about it this way: How much is a free income and medical care, for life, worth to you? If someone said, “Look, the deal is, you have to work for us for two years, and it will be a really nutty two years, but after that you’ll never have to work again; we’ll just feed you, give you money”…would you do it? Hmmm?
Don’t be ashamed, and don’t have false pride. The American public, as a majority, over numerous decades, has decided that some people need to be helped, and is willing to pay for some of it. You are entitled to these services, if you can prove your case.
And keep your ears open. There are all kinds of services out there which are never advertised. For instance, if you were wondering how to afford the yoga class I recommended, go the YMCA and ask, and you will find that they offer scholarships for low-income people. Or, for instance, some charities help with deposit fees on apartments if all you have is one month’s rent. Some cities have groups that will actually pay for your pet care, or offer you help cleaning your apartment. The gas and electric company once paid my entire several-hundred-dollar heating bill, the worst bill of the winter, on proof of low income and my promise not to re-apply for a year. (This service was called REACH. I don’t know if it still exists.) There are telephone discounts, public-transportation discounts, and free mammograms for low-income patients, in some areas.
The point is, you have to stop being proud and ASK. Say, “I have a disability and a low income. Are there any special programs to help me out?”
 Trade info like this with friends, and listen to any services they know about – make a note even if you don’t need it now. You may someday. I keep a file called Community Resources full of these snippets and leads. They’ve saved me and my friends over the years.
You can do this. I did. Just keep good records and be very, very patient.
If you can’t do it, find someone who cares enough, show them this section, and ask for help.

The above is an excerpt from the book Is There Room For Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness, copyright 2010 by Deborah Fruchey. Available on, on Kindle, as an Apple iBook, or by request at your bookstore. See the link for a short video about the book, or visit