veterans with disabilities

DNL & the VA: Working Together

Disability Network/Lakeshore (DNL) works hand-in-hand with the VA in a program called Independent Living (IL).  The IL program is part of the VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation Program and focuses on helping veterans with service connected disabilities find meaningful, sustainable careers.

For veterans who are unable to return to work, the program helps identify accommodations, assistive technology, and community-based services that enhance independent living skills.  That’s where DNL staff come into the picture.

Susan Jones and Christine Wistrom work as Independent Living Specialists coaching veterans via peer support services.  Having lived with disabilities themselves, Susan and Chris can lend emotional support and guidance to veterans for coping with their disabilities.  They connect with veterans several times a month, both by phone or computer and in a face-to-face visit.  They assist the veterans in identifying goals for what they’d like to achieve and developing a plan to reach those goals.

DNL staff work to help troubleshoot problems the veterans may be encountering in their everyday lives, such as scheduling medical appointments or locating information about assistive technology devices that can increase independence.  Following the philosophy of DNL, they focus their efforts on “teaching to fish” rather than doing things for veterans.  They want veterans to know they are capable of handling their own problems, but also understand the DNL staff members are there to provide guidance and support when needed.

Some of the services provided in the IL program may include: 

·         Evaluation and counseling to determine needs and identify goals

·         Consultations with specialists to identify special needs such as medical therapies, or rehabilitation

·         Information and referral to resources such as health care services, special technology and equipment, community living support, and family counseling

·         Information and referral with home modification programs such as the
Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant, and Home Improvement and Structural Alterations (HISA) grant. 

The IL program allows veterans to receive up to 24 months of support. 

Eligibility requirements include:

·         Having received a discharge that is other than dishonorable

·         Having a service-connected disability rating of at least 20% from the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA)

·         Applying and being approved for Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) VetSuccess services. 

For more information about the IL program or for other veteran-related questions, please contact Susan Jones or Chris Wistrom at 616.396.5326.

Emergency Preparedness Planning For The Homeless

Homelessness is a growing problem in the United States, and all too often those who find themselves living on the streets are disabled American veterans and/or the elderly.  When your income is so low that you can’t afford to pay the rent and eat too, then living on the street becomes a reality.  Many of the homeless find the “golden years” are anything but golden.

There are certainly valiant efforts being made to reduce or eliminate homelessness, but for those people still living under a freeway bypass or in a garbage dumpster, life becomes a dangerous existence indeed. 

Have you ever thought about what happens to the homeless when disaster strikes? 

Many of these individuals are coping with mental illness; even if they make it through a disaster, putting their lives back together may be more than they can cope with.

Part of Emergency Preparedness Planning involves “sheltering in place.”  This is a term used to indicate that it is dangerous to be outside (because of radiation, toxic fumes, etc.), and the best practice is to remain in your home with the windows and doors sealed until the “All Clear!” is given. 

So what happens during and after a disaster to those individuals who are homeless?  Or, if your shelter is the local Rescue Mission where you are required to leave during the day -- how do you shelter in place when you have no place?   

What may be worse is that veterans living on the street are often there as a result of having PTSD.  An emergency, or even emergency responders, may trigger PTSD symptoms.  The sound of sirens and alarms from rescue workers can trigger flashbacks.

So what does a homeless person with a disability do when an emergency arises?  

That is something that needs to be addressed in our local emergency preparedness plans.   Shelters must be made available to homeless people too.  Perhaps even more important, our homeless individuals need the supports necessary to help them get back on their feet and take their place in society again before a disaster strikes.  We hope that time isn’t far off.