Friday, May 31, 2013

People Who Use the Economy as an Excuse to Exploit the Disability System

People Who Use the Economy as an Excuse to Exploit the Disability System

I find it telling that nearly every person I know has one family member, friend or acquaintance that has learned to exploit the disability system to avoid work.  The prevalence of such antics increases exponentially when the economy is struggling and people can earn more sitting at home watching TV than going to work.  These fraudsters make it more difficult for those that are truly disabled from working because of catastrophic injury, congenital disabilities, insidious disease or birth defects.

Unfortunately, the bleeding hearts and our broken litigation system create an atmosphere where it is relatively easy for clever individuals to act as leeches and such the blood and money from those honest, hardworking souls that believe in playing by the rules.  Those who proffer the view that expanding the safety net is necessary will argue that the disabled are exploited and paid less than able bodied workers. But the critical question is what constitutes a disability in America.

The Americans With Disabilities Act was well -intended legislation that attempted to create a level playing field for those with disabilities. However, the definition of what qualifies a person as having a disability is ever morphing.

Objective vocational experts can verify that many people deemed disabled can, in fact, work at sedentary jobs and can provide data to show what specific jobs a person with a particular background can perform and at what salary ranges. But all it takes for a person to be labeled disabled from work for Social Security Disability is a physician to certify that a person can’t work because of a particular condition or injury. The most exploited condition that I have seen is the emotional or psychological trauma from alleged post-traumatic stress syndrome. Really, unless someone has been in a war zone, survived 9/11, was at the Boston Marathon bombings, experienced a plane crash or watched a spouse or child die from a freak accident, PTSD is not likely. I’ve seen people go on disability because of PTSD after falling down some stairs or out of a chair. PLEASE!

I agree that not everyone has the same capacity for dealing with pain or adversity and that some individuals have greater motivation than others. But I personally know amazing people that continue to work while undergoing chemotherapy or radiation, treatment for chronic illnesses such as lupus, return to work within 6-8 weeks after open heart surgery or a discectomy or hip replacement surgery.

It is time to re-evaluate the disability system. Many people have pain, emotional trauma, job set backs, accidents, and yes, disabilities, and yet get up everyday, head to a job and contribute to society.  And a weak economy shouldn’t be an excuse for increasing the disability rolls as an alternative for Welfare. These programs should be last resorts – not a right.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

My Oh So Steep Landscaping Learning Curve

My Oh So Steep Landscaping Learning Curve

When we first moved to the rocky clay filled ridge that we now call home in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, I naively thought that we could till a bit of ground, enhance the rocks and clay with organic materials, plant flowers, shrubs and trees, do a little watering, and sit back and wait for Mother Nature to do the rest and present us with a beautiful yard. My, was I self-delusional and uninformed.

Naturally, as one who eyeballs where to hang a picture on the wall instead of measuring, I made certain assumptions that proved to be…..wrong.  As a city girl who could not manage to keep a houseplant healthy, horticulture had never been something I’d studied. I really thought one could buy a plant at Lowe’s, dig a hole, pop that puppy in the ground, and wait for the flowers to bloom.

The azaleas died. The rhododendron died. The cherry trees died. The Bradford pear died. Even the viburnum planted by the builder failed to thrive. The Day Lilies survived, but even walnut trees don’t kill Day Lilies. What I had seen of Virginia was lush and green. Did we live in the only spot that spurned plant life?

So, it was time to perform some research and determine what plants would not only survive but thrive in our uninviting environment.  I came to discover that my preconceptions were wrong and that Virginia had numerous microclimates and terrains that were uninviting to planting anything but grapes. That is why the state is developing an up and coming wine industry.  But, grapes were not on my immediate agenda. I wanted flowers, trees, shrubs and groundcover that created a lush landscape.

I studied, experimented, researched and began to learn what would work, what might work, and what just wouldn’t work. Add to the terrain, we have to be concerned with deer munching our tasty greens. That created another facet of research.

After seven years we are seeing progress. I’ve learned to look for plants that tolerate clay soil, wet feet, and drought. I’ve mulched, amended, enhanced, fertilized and transplanted. It has been worth the effort. When I see the roses bloom, the coneflowers and black eyed-Susan’s brighten the landscape, and smell the honeysuckle, I feel joy and contentment.

Now, this weekend, off to pick up my next selection of Day Lilies from the Thumper Day Lily Farm!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

My Accidental Career

My Accidental Career

This is the annual ritual of university and high school graduations that spawn any number of articles about the challenges that graduates have ahead of them in this economy. Those delivering commencement speeches or writing editorials for the various new organizations point out that times have changed, that one must seek opportunity, and reminisce about those heady days or yore when American manufacturing jobs afforded anybody with a high school education a path to a solid middle class life.

But it has been a very long time since the manufacturing industry provided that path to relative comfort. The writing was on the wall back in the 1970’s during the gas lines when smaller Japanese cars started making inroads into the American automobile monopoly.

Times were not all that promising when I graduated from my university in 1980 with a degree in French. Granted, I knew that Chinese or Arabic would have been more valuable; however, I tested out of numerous credits in French, which provided an accelerated avenue to graduation, which was particularly appealing with my parents having two more college bound offspring directly behind me.

So, I enjoyed my freshman year, which was more a social experiment than an academic success, spent my second year in England and France, and then for my final year took 20-24 credit hours per quarter to graduate in three years.  In my naiveté, I fully expected to land a job with the Foreign Service and work as a low-level diplomat or translator. However, President Carter saw fit to freeze all government hiring just before my graduation, which put a real crimp in my plans.

Returning to my parents’ home after graduation was not an option. I am still amazed at the attitude of young people today who believe that is a good idea. Once one graduate with a degree, one should be independent. And that means accepting any job that will pay the rent. I interviewed with any company that would consider a liberal arts major – even if I didn’t fully appreciate the intricacies of the job.

To my amazement, I was offered a position as a claims adjuster trainee for the now defunct in the USA Commercial Union Assurance Company.  The job paid $12,500 per year.  Unbeknownst to me, I was getting a company car. I’d never heard of a claims adjuster. The insurance industry was a foreign concept to me. But I accepted the challenge, learned to investigate, evaluate and negotiate claims, and developed the tools needed to handle complex coverage and catastrophic injury claims. What was once a foreign concept has become a career at which I have excelled.

The lesson – don’t limit your options. Investigate every opportunity. Be open to something unfamiliar. Embrace challenges.  Make your own way. Do not return home and allow your parents to support you. That is not the American way. That is not what independent adults do.  Adults figure out how to live without parental support. Adults understand that one doesn’t start at the top and that sometimes, it is necessary to live in an apartment next to someone who has recently been paroled from the Indiana Women’s Prison after serving time for murder. 

I found my career by accident. The early days weren’t always easy. But the rewards have ultimately been worth it.  I am grateful for my opportunities, for the challenges, and for the blessings that brought me to the place I am today - which is where I am supposed to be.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Honoring Those Who Have Served – Lest We Forget the Origins of Memorial Day

Honoring Those Who Have Served – Lest We Forget the Origins of Memorial Day

When I was a child, Memorial Day was more than just the start of the summer season, the official blessing for wearing white shoes, and the Indy 500. There were parades to honor the fallen hero, the soldier, sailor, airman or marine who had given his life in the service of his or her country. We laid wreaths on the graves of those who has served, watched parades with marching WWI, WWII, and Korean War veterans, laid flowers on the graves of our own loved ones and flew the American flag from every porch. There were no three-day weekends. Memorial Day was always, reliably, on May 30th.

Memorial Day, originally Decoration Day, was first observed to remember the sacrifices of those who had died on both sides of the American Civil War on May 30, 1868.  General John Logan, who was serving as the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, set forth his proclamation in his General Order No. 11.  The proclamation was meant as a way to show respect to and honor the dead of both sides.  The General Order read in part:

The 30th day of May 1868, is designated for the purpose of
strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of
comrades who died in defense of their country during the late
            rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village,
and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own
way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the
purpose among other things, "of preserving and strengthening
those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together
the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late
rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were
the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo
of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with
sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the
nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute
to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely
on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and
going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of
avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a
free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of
life remain to us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred
remains and garland the passionless mounds above them
with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them
the dear old flag they saved from his honor; let us in this solemn
presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they
have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the
soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.

Now, I admit to being a fan of three-day weekends, cookouts, and strict rules regarding the wearing of white shoes (which really flatter nobody); however, we should not lose sight of the meaning of Memorial Day and the need to honor those who have paid the ultimate price so that we can live our lives as free people.  

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Teaching Children to Appreciate Art

Teaching Children to Appreciate Art

One of the casualties of the “No Child Left Behind” legislation is the concept of a well-rounded education. A well-rounded education provides young people with the opportunity to find creative outlets and an opportunity to succeed if they are not adept at math and science.  And if they are intellectually gifted, exposure to the arts enhances the life experience. It gives students the chance to communicate with people with different interests and to appreciate that which transcends the written word or an algebraic formula.

Not everyone is wired the same way. Some are adept at sciences. Some love the written word. But there are those that are only able to communicate through the abstract, music, sculpture, painting, or use of one’s hands. Art can be therapeutic.

Just as our education communities recognize there are those students who excel at learning by doing and vocational training, there are those who appreciate and understand the ethereal, the arts such as music, dance, painting, sculpture, woodworking.  Our education system has morphed to a place where these studies have been eliminated as non-essential.

But I believe exposure to the arts feeds the soul. I was fortunate. My parents took my siblings and me to art museums and concerts; my dad played the piano and they played records of show tunes and classical music on the stereo.  We saw plays; they read to us; they took us on vacations to see the great landmarks of our country; they emphasized we did not have to appreciate everything the world had to offer, but they wanted us to know what the world had to offer. Not every child has the good fortune that I did.  But I firmly believe that every child in our public schools should have the opportunity learn about art, historical artifacts, music and dance.  This should not be expendable, but an integral part of every child’s education. Appreciating the arts bring enjoyment to life.  And many art museums are free.  But young people need to know about art to even want to visit a free museum.  Return this valuable facet of a well-rounded education to our schools.