Thursday, August 13, 2009

Stereotypes, stigma, and beaurocratic red tape (SSDI Saga Continues)

As promised, I am (for now, at least), mentioning the negative stereotypes and insulting portrayals of people who live with mental illnesses, when I catch them, on TV, in movies, etc. So last night, not more than a couple of hours after my last post, I was watching Law and Order: Criminal Intent. The police captain said about the "psychotic" boy in this episode: "When I hear psychotic, I think murder."

And that right there says it all, folks. That right there is the crux of the problemo. It ticked me off, of course, but rather than try to forget this incident of flagrant discrimination and ignorance, I decided to make a point of telling you all about it as soon as I got the chance. As the sentence was so offensive, I remembered it so far, and just wanted to share that with you to sort of reiterate what I was saying in my last post.

I also wanted to write again to mention something. I'm getting frequent, little episodes of voices. It's really annoying, and I thought (perhaps too soon?) that this was behind me for the long haul. But it's not severe, either. It could be a million times worse than this. I just hear people whispering while I'm at work. I hear people calling my name. And I still have the classic problem of thinking I hear my phone ringing when it's not (this is something that has always happened to me for years). I get sick of this stuff, because, as you know, I've been doing well with Risperdal, and I wanted to think I was going to never have auditory hallucinations more than a few times per week for the rest of my life, but, of course I knew better than to make that assumption. So, luckily, this doesn't really come as a big surprise.

Also, in another episode of the ongoing, and extremely boring story of my Social Security Saga, I paid a visit to the state's Medicaid office today. And I have to tell you about that. First of all, why is it, exactly, that people who work for offices which issue public benefits to citizens seem to believe that they are superior human beings to those clients who they serve (ie, the citizens of this country who have the nerve to need assistance)? Let me explain what happened.....

A week ago, much like the three or four other times this has happened in the past year, I opened my mail to read a letter from Social Security stating that my benefits had been cut. Again. I then embarked on the endless journey of seeking what this letter was talking about, why my benefits were dropped, and how to fix the situation. After being told by an agent at SSA that "we do not have anything to do with this" and that the State of Florida had decided to no longer pay my Medicare premiums, so I needed to contact the State, I began contacting various social services' and health departments' phone numbers, in a long chain of calls that ended when someone said "If I may give you a word of advice, ma'am, you should just go there in person. It'll be a lot easier." I then decided to do the obviously sensible thing in this situation. Go online.

So I got myself a new application for the Qualified Medicare Beneficiaries program, which was the program that had, for reasons unknown to me, cut me off. I filled it out. Then, today, I took it to the Medicaid office, as, the state of Florida's Medicaid program is the program that runs the QMB program. (As I'm sure you were all aware, just like any other rational person would be!) I then encountered a person who I will refer to as Rude Government Wench, because she is not deserving of a kinder title than that. She told me to go to the copy machine, make a copy of my driver's license and Medicare card, and give it to someone. I gave it to her. She then said, "I CAN'T EVEN READ THIS NUMBER! What's wrong with your card??!!" Um, my card is a few years old and it's a little wrinkled, but no worse for the wear. I can read the numbers on it without a problem, and my vision sucks. So I said, apologetically that my card is old, and I was sorry.

She then said, looking me up and down (I am wearing a dress), "Do you WORK?" Yes. I work. "Well then that's probably why you're not eligible. Your probably have too high an income." No, I work part-time, 20 hours per week. My income was higher than this two years ago and I was eligible then, so I should still be eligible....."I KNOW WHAT YOU DID WRONG!! You didn't turn in your income verification!!" I have no idea what she is talking about now. What income verification? "You were supposed to send in your income verification." I heard you the first time. What are you talking about please? "IF YOU DON'T SEND IN YOUR INCOME THEN IT'S YOUR FAULT YOU'RE NOT IN THE PROGRAM ANYMORE." I think for a moment, about how inane this entire conversation is, and ponder whether or not I want to continue participating in the dialogue with Rude Government Wench. I don't. I say to her, I did not know I was supposed to turn in any information. I did not get a letter asking me for information. I do not know how I was supposed to know that you wanted it. "Well, I don't know what you were dropped for, but it's probably your income. How much money do you make?" I tell her how much I make. "How much do you get in a check?" I tell her. "Well that's probably too high anyway then. You were probably not eligible at all."

I continue in this inane conversation despite my internal knowledge that is futile. I say, I was eligible last year and the year before. My income has GONE DOWN. There is no way my income was too high now. "You need to do another application, I guess. I think your income is too high." I look at Rude Governmment Wench. I think about strangling her. No, really, I don't. I think about what a rude person she is, and how odd it is that she is assuming by looking at me that I make too much money to be deserving some measly government benefits that don't even add up to two hundred dollars a month to pay for a Medicare premium, that I obviously don't need since I'm making so much money and all. I think, perhaps you should live a day in the life of a person with a disability and see how much fun it is and how rich you get, wench. I tell her, I already did another application, and I pull it out of my purse. She says, "OH you already DID IT? WELL..." As IF the fact that I know how to use a computer, go on the internet, find the application, print it out, fill it out, and bring it there without someone holding my hand during this process is proof in full that I have no disability and am making a lot of money and I don't need these benefits. I leave.

In my car, I scream. I scream at Rude Government Wench. I say, "YES, I ACTUALLY DO DRESS LIKE A PROFESSIONAL FOR MY JOB THAT IS TWENTY HOURS PER WEEK. YES, I DO KNOW HOW TO USE A COMPUTER WITH A MODERATE LEVEL OF PROFICIENCY, PERHAPS EVEN A HIGH LEVEL. I KNOW HOW TO READ, TOO. I KNOW HOW TO USE THE INTERNET AND PRINT OUT AN APPLICATION. YES, I HAVE A JOB. I MAKE A TINY BIT OF MONEY THAT DOES NOT COVER MY RENT AND BILLS. DOES THIS MEAN I DON'T HAVE SCHIZOPHRENIA???!!!!! NO..."

I drive and scream and scream and drive for about five minutes. Then I feel better. I know I can always go online later and complain about this incident on my blog, after all. No need to be a screaming maniac in a car, alone. But, really, I don't want to bore you readers with any more of this saga. So, I'll stop now. And, yes, I know that it is horribly sexist to use the word "wench", but anybody who doubts my feminism doesn't know me well. I had to use that word. The worse ones are more offensive. I just write about this, in truth, to illustrate to people what life is like on government benefits, even when you only are on them because you absolutely have to be (which is probably the case with most people who receive them), and you wish you didn't need them, but you unfortunately do. The myth of the welfare queens really is just a myth.

5 comments:

The Medcalfs said...

Jen- That was an awful experience. I hope you get it taken care of because it really really upset me that you went through that. You know we are waiting on the result of the appeal with my son with SSDI. Will let you know when we find out if we have to get a lawyer. That seems the normal course of things here in TN.
Janet

Wanderer62 said...

Jen, I don't know how you deal with all the red tape. I'm pretty sure that I would be clueless. At least you have the determination and courage to face your problems when they arise. The only reason that I don't have to deal with any of this particular stress that you have to deal with is because of my family's wealth, but I'm pretty sure that won't last forever and then I'll be in a lot of trouble. I still don't understand a system that penalizes someone for getting a part time job and keeping it. That kind of motivation, especially for someone with a disability, should be rewarded. As always, I respect you.

Kate

thedevilandtheschizophrenic said...

Jennifer--
Just wanted to say that this is a really amazing blog, and you are an amazing person and extremely gifted writer. I teach college courses occasionally (at least I did)and you are way more talented than 99% of the students I've had. It will really be a tragedy if you never finish your degree. Keep up the inspiring work!
--Sophie

Handsome B. Wonderful said...

Ugh. We just can't seem to get over these stereotypes. I've said before that the mentally ill are the last minority still allowed to be discriminated against.

Imagine saying something similar in relation to gays and racial minorities?

I'm also tired of hearing people talk about schizophrenia as if it's multiple personality disorder or D.I.D. I hope you get somewhere on the SSDI. It's such a pain in the ass.

ACDesign said...

Jen,

No one should be forced to endure this stigma. Keep writing. I hope others will get to hear your story in order to understand your courage.

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