Journey of dis-Ability:Reflections on How Income Can Benefits Outcomes

Morgan Brown (
Thu, 18 Feb 1999 17:55:21 EST


Below is a forward of my most recent column that
was published in "The Independent" which may be of
interest to you and others you may know.

Morgan <>
Morgan W. Brown =20
Montpelier Vermont USA


-------Forwarded column-------

**(please see the note at bottom of this forward)**

The Independent:=20
A Vermont Publication For Elders And People With Disabilities


Editor: Deborah Lisi-Baker



February-March 1999
Volume 8, Number 1

Page 8 & 9 (full middle spread,=20
these two pages sponsored by=20
Vermont Protection & Advocacy, Inc.)

The Journey of dis-Ability:
Reflections on How Income Can Benefit Outcomes

by Morgan W. Brown with Deborah Lisi-Baker=20

Taking Pen in Hand

Sitting, with much to do and no way to accomplish=20
it; waiting around to use the public access on-line=20
computer before the library closes; I'm left idle=20
with my thoughts, feelings, enduring "severe and=20
persistent" dis-ease, tiredness and cold, damp feet.=20
At the moment there is little more for me to do and=20
nowhere else to go if I were to leave; it is real=20
cold outside.
It is a good thing that I just happen to have some=20
paper on hand; it comes to mind that maybe I can=20
begin to write my next column about the dis-ease I=20
experience. I have to do something. My inability to
change some things in my life leaves me feeling=20
overwhelmed and intensely suicidal-very close to the=20
point of silent, but deadly, action against myself.=20
However, thoughts and feelings about it are very=20
different than actually carrying it through. I have=20
to wonder if it is even safe any longer to write=20
about these thoughts and feelings.
As a person who believes in the dignity of life, the
healing power of friends and community, and the
importance of finding holistic ways to manage my
disability, I know that openly discussing my=20
severe depression makes me vulnerable to forced
treatment. Certainly, it has proven to be dangerous=20
for me or others like myself to write, think or speak=20
about our feelings, thoughts and experiences that our=20
society has chosen to devalue and term as being=20
dangerous -- including those labeled as suicidal. So=20
much for being mutually supported in an empowering=20
manner. This oppression makes it hard for people with
psychiatric disabilities to deal honestly with the=20
reality of emotional and psychiatric disabilities and=20
makes it hard to reach out to others to work through=20
disability issues and emotional pain, especially when=20
someone may be heavily inclined to take that final=20
exit. Asking for help can be dangerous to your health.

It is so ironic, because I do value and love life so=20
intensely. What I realize at moments such as these=20
is that I have to write about it if I want to=20
actively live my life and continue my refusal to be
forcibly treated for the way I feel, think, cope and=20
live. I need to take time to remember and tell others
not to define me by my disability related experiences.
These do not define me or make  me who I am; they are=20
experiences that I sometimes have had to live with.=20
It would help if social and medical practices were=20
more respectful and supportive so that so many people=20
did not have to feel like their only choice was to
accept forced treatment or go it alone, dealing with
these feelings in intense isolation. Fear of stigma,=20
fear of violent treatments, and lack of supportive
and non-intrusive services makes that isolation a=20
reality for many.=20

I want to protect myself against being=20
psychiatrically incarcerated again or forcibly=20
drugged or otherwise treated - as in having been=20
given shock treatment. Can you imagine the terror=20
that can cause, especially to someone who has been=20
traumatized and then re-traumatized by the mental=20
health system that is supposedly in the business of=20
helping people with their "mental health"-not=20
harming them as they so often are inclined to do
regardless of purported good intentions.=20

At this very moment, the fact is, that this pen=20
and paper I am using to convey my thoughts,=20
feelings and experiences are literally saving my=20
life. This act: of speaking out, of being active,
of speaking honestly is a revolutionary and
dangerous act for people labeled psychiatrically
disabled. I know that it is also a healing act.

Housing and Income Security:
The First Defense

My fears come from both my experiences with
violent mental health treatments and my current
economic situation. I am homeless and am about to
go through a Social Security eligibility
re-determination that will affect whether or not
I will continue to receive the small but=20
essential monthly payments I live on. This income
is essential to me because there are many periods
of time when I am unable to work.

Homelessness is something I have experienced in=20
one form or another off and on for twenty five=20
years. Currently, I have been homeless since July=20
1997. Despite my many experiences with it, I=20
haven't gotten very good at coping with it. It=20
takes a lot out of me when I am homeless. A place=20
of your own with your own belongings can be so=20
very crucial. It certainly is for me. Just as=20
important though, is having some sort of livable=20
income on which to survive.=20

For the last eleven years I have been subsisting=20
on Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) from the=20
federal government and Aid to Aged, Blind and=20
Disabled (AABD) from the state of Vermont. For=20
nearly two full years I had to wait during the=20
first go-around before I finally began receiving=20
my SSDI and SSI. I went through all the patent=20
denials of my case and then was finally approved=20
for payments by an Administrative Law Judge.

Facing A No Win Situation

Four years ago I endured a re-determination. Back=20
then, I was worried about losing my income and=20
losing my section eight rental voucher (which I=20
had because I was a person with a disability=20
living on a very low income). Without these I=20
surely could not afford rent for my apartment. It=20
was a real hard time for me wondering what would=20
happen if and when I got cut off from disability
benefits. In the end, I didn't lose my benefits.
Now I am, once again, facing a review. The State=20
of Vermont's disability determination office set=20
up an exam with a psychologist to test for my=20
emotional disability. Once again, I am facing=20
the possibility of losing the small amount of=20
income that has helped me live independently,
manage my disability, and contribute to my
community in several ways as a volunteer. It
brings up a lot of issues for me because I know=20
that I want to work. I do a lot of community
service when I can, but can't maintain regular
employment. I know that continued Social=20
Security benefits are part of the safety net
that may help me go to work someday. The=20
quality of the questions on the test was so=20
extremely low. If that is what they are now=20
using to determine disability, then I am in BIG=20

Since I received my first check, I have had=20
setbacks and problems of course, but I haven't=20
been incarcerated in a psych unit again. Does=20
that mean that I am improved and that I don't=20
have a disability any longer? -- No! I do have=20
the same disability.  Having the benefits has=20
improved my living situation and hence my=20
quality of life. Not surprisingly, that has=20
lessened some of my stress. Before I received=20
my disability benefits, I was in and out of=20
psychiatric "units" so often that they should=20
have had a shuttle bus for me as they whisked=20
me back and forth between psych wards and the=20
community I lived in. I know first hand the=20
importance of having an income to survive on=20
and what is like to not have one.

The fact that the government changes its=20
definition of disability does not mean the=20
effects of the disability go away. So while=20
I began to do better in some regards, this=20
doesn't mean that I no longer have a
disability. It just means I have some of the
supports I need to cope. What good will it=20
do for me or for society to just cut me and=20
others off as is happening to so many right=20

Today people who have been thrown off the rolls=20
or denied entry onto the rolls of SSDI,=20
SSI/AABD, Medicare and/or Medicaid medical=20
insurance are now left with nothing. If a person=20
with a disability can't live independently in=20
the community because they are no longer=20
supported, then they end up with the possibility=20
of either being institutionalized or=20
re-institutionalized. Of course, the government=20
doesn't seem to mind footing the bill for that!=20
Go figure!

Taking a Stand
We can do better. People with disabilities=20
certainly deserve much better. I believe it is=20
a great goal to employ or re-employ people with=20
disabilities. However, to cut people off of=20
benefits, especially children who can't be=20
expected to be employed in their youth, without=20
giving them the supports needed to prepare for,=20
find, and maintain employment and an income that=20
is enough to live on is unconscionable. I also
believe that people with cyclical and episodic
conditions need to have the opportunity to=20
create work opportunities without jeopardizing
their income, health insurance, and baic health
and well-being. Let's make the Social Security
disability system work for people.
Are we going to do something about this and=20
take a stand together on it or just be=20
indifferent to each other until it is either=20
your or someone in your family's turn? I could=20
simply struggle in silence through what may=20
prove to be my turn or I can do as I am now;=20
writing about it and fighting it. However, none=20
of us can do  it alone. If others do not stand=20
with us in our time of urgent need and work with=20
us as we fight for our rights and for our very=20
lives, then what?
We don't need pity, spare change, soup kitchens=20
or food shelves, homeless shelters, nursing homes,=20
group homes, care homes, or state, private or=20
general hospital psychiatric gulags. What we=20
need is to work together with others in a mutually=20
supportive fashion so we may all truly experience=20
the "Freedom and Unity" (Vermont's Motto) that so=20
many have fought so bravely for, whether on the=20
battle field or in non-violent activism. We can=20
make a difference if all of us to act today and=20
take a stand for people in need. Because income=20
can indeed benefit outcomes.

The Journey of dis-Ability is an exclusive column
writtent for The Independent by Morgan W. Brown.
Morgan is a writer, poet, artist and activist. To
contact by e-mail:


-------End of forward--------

** Note: **=20

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