Monday, September 30, 2013

Local Advocate Raises National Awareness:  Organizations Created To Help All Veterans Discriminate Against Wheelchair Users

Image by photosbyjenn .  Used under a Creative Commons license.

By Luke T. Bush  (C) 2013


For community advocate Debra Buell it wasn't going to be that complicated.

But it was.

Like many others Debra assumed that the DAV free ride program provided transportation to all veterans to the area VA Medical Center.  This program is jointly operated by two agencies, the DAV (Disabled American Veterans) and the VA (Federal Veterans Administration).  She heard that local veterans in wheelchairs were being excluded from the free ride program because the DAV van lacked either a ramp or a lift.

She approached the problem as just a local situation.  All she wanted to do was to have the van modified, a relatively simple process.

While not a military veteran Debra for many years has pushed for improving the circumstances of disabled people. With her limited mobility she knew firsthand how a wheelchair user has to confront accessibility problems.

But after she did some online research she discovered that outside of a few exceptions the same problem with DAV vans not being wheelchair accessible existed in other localities across the US.  Veterans in wheelchairs were being left at the curb.

To keep their medical appointments these veterans had to make other arrangements such as being placed on a stretcher and then transported by ambulance, meaning a costly ride instead of a free one.  An ambulance ride, explains Debra, from Plattsburgh to the Albany VA Medical Center can cost up to $2000 out of pocket.  Veterans and their communities have to raise the money through charity fundraisers.

She also discovered reports – none so far from New York State – that in some cases a veteran with an ambulatory disability still couldn't take advantage of a VA Medical Center even with ambulance transportation.  Some VA Medical Centers don’t provide a wheelchair or a person to push one after arrival at the facility.

Her online research led to making phone calls to professionals serving veterans across the nation and learning more about the extent of the problem.   What was relatively simple became a complex issue involving organizations at many levels from local to national.

In her online analysis Debra states that while the DAV claims it doesn't discriminate, in fact it is excluding mobility impaired veterans and therefore violating not only federal laws but also the requirements under which it receives grants.

While the Web in a sense "complicated" her advocacy it also provided a way to address the issue on a greater scale.  Under the auspices of North Country Center for Independence (NCCI), a petition was started at, Soldiers left behind...Veterans in Wheelchairs barred from DAV National Transportation Program, to push for all DAV vans to be properly equipped for wheelchair users.

In addition, Debra says, advocates are working towards a change with the DAV written policy pertaining to wheelchair users and the free ride vans, removing the discriminatory restriction that states "ambulatory only/no wheelchairs".   She hopes many people will check out the petition and sign it.  More signatures signify a louder voice.

Through her efforts numerous people have called or emailed her to learn more and to see what they can do.

To Debra the issue may be complicated but at the same time it's simple: as stated in the petition, vans not wheelchair accessible means the most physically disabled veterans are being left out.  No soldier should be left behind.

For more information call the North Country Center for Independence at (518) 563-9058.

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Photographer Versus Pissant

Photo-edited: composite of images taken at the same time and location, in focus clock with in focus moon; also, powerlines in background removed.

By Luke T. Bush  (C) 2013

I try to mind my own business but not everyone does.  Sometimes a person with a camera is a target for comments.

During the summer I was downtown one evening when I noticed the moonrise.  I decided to take a few shots, my lens pointed down the street.  Off to my side in the plaza area two men sat at a table.  I was unaware of their presence until one of them said: "No one better take my picture.  It's an invasion of privacy."

I ignored him.   He repeated the same words a second, even a third, time.  I wasn't there to record his slope-foreheaded coutenance.  Or be baited into a fight.

Across the street on a building corner was one of the police surveillance cameras found in various spots downtown.  The commenter was being recorded/watched.  So much for his uninvaded privacy.

Recently I was in a public place where there was a spider in one corner, down towards the floor.  I was alone at the table, no one else near me.  I wasn't using flash so that wasn't bothering anyone.

I had my back to the others in the room.  At the table behind me three people sat, one of them bloviating about this and that pertaining to his religious faith.  Fine.  I could've cared less.

Without a tripod I was trying to do macrophotography, a feat that takes concentration and patience.  I braced my hands against the table and chair or used a rice bag as a support.  Not as easy as locking down a tripod.  I took a number of shots, knowing that most of them would be misses.

The bloviator said to his table companions:  "He's photographing a spider."  

I kept shooting.

Then he mocked me.  "'Guess what I did today - I photographed a spider.'"

Maybe he thought he was talking behind my back but his voice was still loud enough for me to hear.  Or maybe he wanted me to notice his snide observations and really wasn't talking behind my back in that sense.

When I wrapped up my shooting I moved to another table.  I heard this comment: "There must be another spider over there."

No, there wasn't. I just didn't want to sit near an ignoramus who professed to be a religious person, someone who believed in God and caring for others.

Among God's creatures a spider is better company than a pissant.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Songwriter Workshop: Sharing Practical Advice and Original Compositions

With his open guitar case in the foreground Roy Hurd performs one of his original compositions during the second program in the Succeeding In Music workshop series at ROTA Gallery.

By Luke T. Bush  (C) 2013


Be careful what you sign or you might regret it later.

That was one of the observations by local musician Roy Hurd who discussed his music industry background in the second workshop for musicians sponsored by ROTA Gallery.

Adrian Carr hosted the Succeeding In Music workshop.  Besides being a composer and performer Adrian is also adept in studio production.  The program series offers both accomplished and aspiring musicians an informal setting to learn and share experiences.

Participants sat in a loose circle of chairs while Roy discussed his days as a country-western songwriter for Sony.  When he started in Nashville he was green in some areas when it came to the business side but he knew enough not to sign away his performance royalties.   A considerable amount of income can be generated through such royalties, he said, if a song becomes popular with frequent radio airplay.

Depending upon the contact's terms the publisher could keep the performance royalties even if the songwriter and publisher part ways.  That means the publisher would still be making money off the songwriter even though the business relationship had ended.

When it comes to agreeing to any deal, continued Roy, a publisher may tell you that you don't need a lawyer, that they're working in your best interests.   He said you should still consult a lawyer before signing any contract.  If the relationship should end in three years then the performance rights should revert back to you.

Criticism and rejection are common in the industry, said Roy, but you need a tough hide to shrug it off and keep trying.

The workshop also provided an opportunity for composers to try out their original songs and get feedback from the group.  Besides performing with guitars or a cappella, some took advantage of the Steinway piano donated to ROTA.

As other workshop participants listen Justin Wolf performs his new song at ROTA Gallery.

Alison Lutz also plays the piano to share her original work during the Succeeding In Music workshop.

(Left to right): Mary Anne Bukolt performs her song as Roy Hurd and Adrian Carr listen.

Succeeding In Music is held 7PM Mondays at ROTA Gallery, 50 Margaret Street.  The workshop runs until November 18th.  More info at this link or call ROTA Gallery at (518) 310-0205 .

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Honk Your Shoe Horn

A big Thanks! to Miguel who spotted this objet trouvĂ© and also spotted traffic for me while I nailed this difficult to shoot subject sans flash and tripod at night.  His extra pair of eyes meant that I lived to tell the tale.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

All Right Mr. DeMille, I'm Ready For My Close-Up

They say the second time's the charmer.  The grass spider that I've now nicknamed Norma Desmond reappeared and I was better equipped to record the moment.  While I still used the same macro lens I had better lighting from an external flash with a bounce attachment.

(Click on image for larger view.)

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As Seen On The Web

Unless an entomologist corrects me I'm assuming this critter is a grass spider.

(Click on image for larger view.)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Healthcare Transition Burdens Disabled Clients

In September 2011 these demonstrators expressed concerns about Clinton County privatizing its home health care services.


"If we don't fight, agitate, and prod, then we will be forgotten and the system will be shaped by those who don't care all that much about us as people." - Robert Poulin, NCCI Executive Director (email interview)

Getting out of bed.  Taking a shower.  Doing laundry.  Going shopping.  Everyday activities that an able-bodied person doesn't think twice about.

But for many disabled people those everyday activities are difficulties they can't handle alone.  Home healthcare services are vital to their lives.

A number of changes have caused problems for the disabled trying to received the services they need.  Long delays have resulted, making their lives even more miserable.

The Clinton County Department of Social Services (DSS) has received complaints about the matter.

One part of the problem is a decision made about two years ago by the county legislature to shift from operating its own service to HCR Home Care, a private company.  A transitional period is underway, causing the system to slow down.

Robert Poulin, executive director of the North Country Center for Independence (NCCI), is one advocate dealing with the situation.  In an email interview he explained his agency's role with home health care is through a program administered through DSS called Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program (CDPAP).

Robert explained: "The CDPAP program has experienced some dramatic delays in the past six months as the demand for the program has grown..."

He said that other factors are involved besides the switch to HCR.  "The Medicaid Redesign plan and the Affordable Care Act have created a great deal of change and uncertainty."

Also, Robert said, during the switch to HCR New York State initiated a hiring freeze.  Retiring nurses were not replaced.  Now there is only one nurse at DSS to handle all assessments.  He added:  "My understanding is that the DSS nurse has more than 120 cases to work with."

Thus a bottleneck with assessments through one nurse and HCR adjusting to its new role have put disabled clients on hold, sometimes for months.

A disabled person contacted me via email about this situation.   Due to an injury adding to pre-existing physical limitations the client couldn't take a shower for long periods of time.  The client needs an able-bodied aide to help get out of bed and provide assistance with using the shower.

Home healthcare does save money, Robert Poulin noted, as compared to nursing homes and hospitals.

He observed: "The system is stressed, but that doesn't mean that it's OK for our needs to go unmet. We have to continue with advocacy efforts every day and do our best to shape a changing system to something that benefits us."

Robert concluded: "This is the time for our voices to be heard, this is the time for complaints to be filed, this is the time for us to demand that the system changes to not only save money but to also better serve our needs."

For more information contact NCCI at (518) 563-9058.  Website: .

(Comments about this article can be made below or by emailing .)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Disabled And Disregarded: Petition Raises Awareness


You would expect a van for disabled veterans would include a lift or ramp for wheelchair bound vets.


Advocates for the disabled Debra Buell and Michael Sherman circulated a petition Friday evening during the Battle of Plattsburgh event in downtown Plattsburgh to address this problem.

After the intent of the petition was explained, a signer would typically respond: "I didn't know that.  I thought those vans helped out all disabled vets."

Recently a local radio station, WOKO-FM, held a fundraiser for a new DAV (Disabled American Veterans) van to transport vets for medical appointments at the Albany VA Center.  While the station raised the much-needed funds, Debra observed, it was unaware that the van was not equipped with either a ramp or lift.  This meant only ambulatory vets could get free rides on the van.

At Trinity Park in downtown Plattsburgh advocates Michael Sherman (left) and Debra Buell discuss collecting signatures for a petition to raise awareness about a transportation problem some disabled veterans face. 

Vets dependent upon wheelchairs for mobility, she said, are forced to use ambulances at great cost.  Despite fundraisers to cover the ambulance bills, these vets still can't make all of their appointments.  The situation has existed for about ten years, she added.

According to her research the under-equipped vans are a nationwide problem, not one just in this region.

Debra said copies of the petition would be delivered not only locally but also to state and national entities responsible for the needs of disabled vets.   For example, the local, state and national DAV were on the mailing list as well as county, state and federal representatives.

Michael Sherman added that it was common sense for the vans to have ramps or lifts added.  The people who signed the petition, he said, agreed with him.

Debra said the petition was online on Twitter and the online response was positive, electronic signatures from people up and down the eastern seaboard.   The first step was awareness, she explained, that would hopefully lead to fixing the problem.

For more information, contact the North Country Center for Independence at (518) 563-9058.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Peace Vigil: Red Lines And War

PLATTSBURGH CITY, NY - Monday  9/9/13

It's a matter of lines not to be crossed.

On August 20th, 2012 President Obama stated that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government was a "red line" that wouldn't be tolerated if violated.  He suggested the US would seriously consider military action against any aggressor using such weapons.

During the conflict in Syria it's alleged that the government did use chemical weapons against rebel forces.  Obama's red line had apparently been crossed.*

Time for another war?  Not if local peace activists have their say.

Mary-Alice Shemo (right) speaks to other peace activists during the vigil she organized against US military involvement in the Syrian conflict.

Monday evening around twenty people gathered at the Greenway – the open park area next to the ROTA Gallery – to prepare for a vigil.  Flattened cardboard was crudely torn into blank signs.  Spray paint and magic markers were used to write messages urging the US to stay out of Syria.  Candles in paper cups were lit, symbolizing hope, light against darkness.

Then the group gathered along the Margaret Street side of the Greenway, displaying their signs.  NO WAR IN SYRIA.  WAR IS A RACKET.  MORE PEACE.  Sometimes during the vigil a car horn was honked, the passing driver showing solidarity with the group.

Songs for peace were sung.

The organizer of the event, Mary-Alice Shemo, shared her thoughts on the possible military incursion into Syria.  She expressed concern over the out of control US national debt, that another war like Iraq and Afghanistan would bankrupt the country sooner.  Money, she added, should be spent on services like Social Security and Medicaid instead of cutting such programs.

Then she asked others to share their thoughts.

The consensus was that the chemical attacks that reportedly killed 1,400 Syrians was tragic but US military intervention was not the answer, it would only turn the situation into a greater tragedy.

Among the comments one woman said that if the US started sending missiles into Syria more countries would get involved, possibly resulting in World War III. "How will this help the women and children, the innocent people?" she asked.

Referring to Obama's justification for war, the woman concluded: "This red line has got to go.  Red lines shouldn't start wars. This is my red line: No."

* It should be noted that Obama now says that his statement referred to the world's "red line," not his own.  So if I royally screw up anything at this blog, remember that it's not my blog, it's the world's blog.  Ergo, the world made the mistake.  After all, the world at large gets blamed for everything else.