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Monday, August 10, 2009

A little bit about the Independent Living Plan

I wrote this today in response to an email on a veterans list I'm subscribed to. Someone was asking questions about the Independent Living Program. The Independent Living Program falls under the VA's Vocational Rehab Program and is probably one of the VA's best kept secrets. Used properly, it's a great program. Getting into it is not so easy. First, you have to know about it. Second, you have to apply for Vocational Rehab to get into it. Many veterans are not aware that they can apply to Vocational Rehab even if they are outside the 12 year window after they have been discharged from the military. They aren't aware that they can use Vocational Rehab a second time. They think that since they used Vocational Rehab when they first got out of the service to get a college education they are not eligible to use Voc Rehab a second time. WRONG ANSWER folks.

If your circumstances have changes since the first time you went through the program, you can reapply to Voc Rehab. Read my email response below. If you have questions after you read it, leave me a comment and I'll get back to you.

To get into ILP you first have to apply to Voc Rehab. If you are outside the 12 year window and you used Voc Rehab to get an education like I did when I retired in '94, you can still apply if your circumstances have changed drastically since the last time you were enrolled in Voc Rehab.

I applied to Voc Rehab in October 08 at the same time I applied for 100% IU. I did it as a show of good faith at the urging of my VSO. I didn't have a good experience with Voc Rehab the first time around and I was reluctant to reapply. The first time around my Voc Rehab counselor was very unresponsive to my needs. It wasn't just me either. It was all the veterans at the University I was enrolled in. We all knew each other and of course we all talked on a regular basis. She rarely returned phone calls and getting something we needed out of the program was like pulling teeth. My VSO insisted so I did what every good soldier does and I followed orders and I applied.

I am glad that I reapplied. So far, this is the best thing that has happened to me. I went for my first Voc Rehab orientation last November 08. After about two hours of a general orientation, I sat down with a counselor for a one on one. She had access to my medical records and she had reviewed them extensively. She knew what my service-connected disabilities were and she also knew what my other health issues were. The really great thing about Voc Rehab & the ILP is that it doesn't just focus on your service connected disabilities. Voc Rehab looks at the total person and all your health issues.

My counselor and I talked at great length about what I expected from the program. I told her about my first experience with Voc Rehab and why I was so reluctant to reapply. Because I have so many health issues going on, my counselor and I decided together that the best plan for me was to go into an extended evaluation. The way I was in November, I was in no shape to attempt to go back to school. The plan was for me to work on my health and attempt to get healthy enough to go back to school.

After several months, my health has continued to decline so my counselor issued a Feasibility Letter stating that I am not a candidate for continuing education or retraining nor am I a candidate for gainful employment due to my overall health issues. She sent a copy of that letter to the VARO & I sent a copy of it to be included in my claims packet as additional evidence to support my claim for IU.

The next step was to start me in the ILP. My Voc Rehab counselor did the paperwork to have a Rehab Social Worker interview me in my home to evaluate my needs. That was done in July. The social worker spent about 2 or 3 hours with me. She walked through my house to see what I needed in terms of renovations for handicapped accessibility. She has requested that a Rehab Engineer come to my home because my bathroom needs some major work. Voc Rehab will pay for all of that.

The social worker also requested that I be given a laptop computer. When I sit at a desktop computer, my knees, legs and ankles swell up tremendously making it painful and difficult to walk. She's also recommended that Voc Rehab give me a mobility scooter since I'm having such a hard time getting one from the VA Hospital. On top of that, I have requested a recumbent stationary bicycle so that I can get some cardio exercise, a lift chair since I have a hard time getting out of chairs, and ergonomic furniture. According to Bruce McCartney, I can request just about anything that I want, within reason of course, and if it fits into my plan, I should get it. If I decide I want to take up photography as a hobby, I can request a camera. ILP will pay for a camera. You are only limited by your imagination.

The purpose of ILP is twofold. It's designed to get you back into the community as a productive member of society and it's designed to help you get what you need to live more independently. I can't drive anymore. The nearest bus stop is exactly one mile from my house. I can't walk to it. I have a regular wheelchair, but my shoulders are so screwed up that I can't roll myself to get to it. Basically, unless a friend or my caregiver take me somewhere, I have become very isolated in my home. The computer is my link to the outside world. My Voc Rehab counselor is trying to get me back into the community. That's one of the goals of my plan.

I have an appointment on the 17th of August to sign my ILP plan so I'll know more then. I'll be happy to keep you posted on the details if you'd like. I just started a blog. I'm new to blogging but I thought it might be an easy way to chronicle my battle with the VA rather than inundate the lists with long emails like this one. I'll add the link to my signature once I get it up and running.

If you have any more questions, feel free to ask them. The Independent Living Program is out there. As it says in the article, it's just not advertised. It falls under Vocational Rehab. Too many veterans think that because they are outside the 12 year window or they have already used Voc Rehab, they can't use it. I'm here to tell you, you can go back into Voc Rehab. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't use it twice. Don't let anyone tell you that because you're outside the 12 year window you can't apply. I retired from the Army in 1994. It's 2009. You do the math.

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