Yesterday I finally accessed my HealthEvets website. I had originally signed up for the site several years. I don’t know why I did it. I was probably fairly new in my career as a peer support specialist and was living in rather poor conditions. I had a lot of concerns about being able to access my care team at the VA. It’s one thing to be living in vets housing and you just have to go downstairs to the nursing office to make an appointment. It’s quite another to be off in the community taking care of things and needing to figure out things on my own.
So a lot of things I was doing did not quite fit together. I must have heard about the HealthEvets at an appointment and decided why not? This could be a lifeline. Flash forward to the Obama administration which seems to be making more efforts to promote accessing your health records over the internet. This includes lab tests, immunizations and self reported health data. Curiously, mental health information is not yet available. This may seem a little contradictory given what I said yesterday in my post about the greater emphasis on preventing suicide among vets and active duty personnel.
My latest experience with the HealthEvets program was last week when I went to the VA for a flu shot and a TB skin test required for work. There was a guy near the front door (one of our favorite sayings at work is “shut the front door” which we use instead of cursing) who had a beard that reminded me of the guys on the old cough drop packages. I figured that he doesn’t eat spaghetti or if he does, it was a major production. He also had a prosthetic left hand probably a result of his military experience. As I was passing by him thinking about going back to work, he called out and asked whether I had signed up for HealthEvets. I told him that I had not. So he asked me to come over and it would take just a few minutes to complete the application.
I was more interested in the oatmeal cookies on the table that looked so enticing. The process was fairly quick, as he had promised and he was efficient with his typing. That is, until we came to a glitch. It seemed that I had already signed up for HealthEvets because he was able to find my name. Unfortunately I was unable to recall my answers to the secret questions that I had entered years ago. He gave me the name and contact information for the program coordinator to help me figure out what had gone wrong and sent me on my way.This week I decided to try registering again. This may be typical male behavior. If something doesn’t work the first or second time, we try it again. And again the system said I was already registered. I called the national HealthEvets program and the local office to figure out what I had been doing wrong. They helped me find the answers I had given when I signed up for the program and get access to my records.
By Friday afternoon I had a full report at my fingertips. I also sent an email message to my care team and got a response. I printed out a health card that carry in my wallet and it gives me an added level of protection. I need to find the information about my blood type and add it to the card. This will be handy in case I am unable to speak. I am happy and hoping that the glitch in the system as far as not having access to mental health data will be fixed. After all, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.
I had a variety of emotions yesterday that took me all over the place. I wrote a rather bizarre story about my mother ordering my siblings and me from the Sears catalog. It was a true story but there were a lot of details left out. A lot of Sunday focused on the tragedy in Newtown, and the president’s response. I saw a youtube video after reading several positive reviews on twitter.
I had looked for the speech before I realized I had a copy. I had many mixed emotions about the speech and the powerful of the President’s spirituality. He connects to people in a way that is very moving and feels genuine. And I started saying to myself there was no one else who could have given that speech. We have a horror in this country at the same time more people are buying more guns with higher capacity ammunition. We have unending stories of massacres and smaller scale murder suicides involving abusive men and their loved ones. We also have random acts of violence in which people shoot complete strangers. The common factor is that we resolve our problems through acts of violence.
The president said that this must end. That is true. We must work on an interpersonal level to end violence, we must restrain the police from inflicting violence upon the people who they believe may have committed crimes and we must work as a nation to resolve our differences with other nations without resorting to violence. We can and we must do better.
Posted in African-Americans, death, disability rights, police misconduct, politics, President Obama, prevention, professionalism
Tagged Barack Obama, newtown connecticut, Sears, Sunday, Tucson Arizona
It’s happening now, the new role for certified peer specialists is going on in Milwaukee and I am right on top of it. Let’s be the change that we want to see happen. Certified peer specialists are being added to the programs such as community support programs and targeted case management to which consumers are connected. People in community support programs are considered very changeable and in need of frequent contact, perhaps every day. Targeted case management is less intensive and referrals are very important. We help people look at whet they need in their lives for recovery.
That is the new role and something I am taking on. I have worked in residential settings as a peer specialist since the beginning but opportunities for growth can be limited. That’s why I jumped at the chance to interview for something different. My interview went so well that I was hired on the spot, which I was told almost never happens. So now will be the transition. I will be spending the next period preparing for the next phase of my life: having a livable wage, being able to take vacations and having holiday pay. We all need those things in our work lives, they’re not frills, but necessities.
Only by offering certified peer specialists opportunities for better paid positions can we upgrade the profession and bring about truly recovery oriented experiences for those who give so much to others. The Wisconsin motto is Forward and that is definitely the way to go.
Yesterday I received an email about the mental health task force continuum of care action team meeting. I scurried out to the Milwaukee mental health Complex this afternoon. Although I arrived late I had a major impact. As is customary with these kinds of meetings, I added a little local color. This is due to my background as a Certified Peer Specialist of Puerto Rican heritage. Combined with Polish, of course.
For those who may be unaware, there is a major expansion of Peer Specialist services underway throughout Milwaukee. Employers are posting positions for certified peer specialists and there is a scramble to locate the certified peer specialists who are either unemployed or working outside the profession. At the same time we also need to assess the strengths and weaknesses of Wisconsin peer support system. This reflects the concerns expressed during Empowerment Days in Madison.
We are rapidly evolving from a peer specialist model in which one agency hired the majority of the peer specialists and provided a lot of the training to one in which many agencies hire peer specialists and another entity provides the training. Under the laws of capitalist supply and demand, the increasing number of peer specialists will force lower paying agencies to raise their wages of be left with the lower skilled workers.
At the same time, we need to pay more attention to the problem of peer specialists as employees. One of my recommendations to the Continuum of Care Action Team is to focus more effort in that area. I brought out examples of peer specialists who were extremely poor listeners and did not last long as employees. We need to create support groups in Milwaukee and possibly other cities where peer specialists can talk among ourselves. In addition we need to create a telephone line people can call to talk with someone about their professional struggles with someone who has experience in the field. This is the natural evolution of our profession. As the Wisconsin motto says, forward.
I am Kenyatta Yamel a certified peer specialist in Milwaukee. I have 8 years of experience as a peer specialist working in supported apartment programs developed to fill the gap of safe affordable housing for people living with mental illnesses. I was also a peer specialist at the Crisis Resource Center that was created as an alternative to hospitalization.
I am a Vietnam era veteran which was a key factor in my recovery from mental Dis-Ease. After experiencing a series of losses, including jobs, my marriage and my housing, I turned to the Veterans Administration for help 10 years ago. While I was living in veterans housing I learned about peer support. I joined a committee that was meeting to develop peer support in Milwaukee and Waukesha County. The fact we have come this far is a testament to survival.
Because of the low wages I earned, I was unable to secure safe affordable housing, even being evicted from a slum dwelling. The roaches followed me to my next residence, which was incredibly humiliating. My teeth deteriorated and started to bleed due to the lack of dental insurance. And I had to rely upon food stamps and financial aid from college to pay my bills. I was often miserable and depressed. And I was truly a candidate for anti-depressants.
I don’t want any more peer specialists to endure these kinds of horrors. We need livable wages so that we can afford our medication or wholistic health services. We need position that offer professional respect and collaboration with clinicians and most importantly our peers. And finally we need to be able to see peer support as a chosen profession not one into which we were thrust by accident. We embrace certification the way we help our peers embrace recovery.
I tell consumers to look upon diagnosis as a snapshot. So it is with tonight. I want everyone to think of this gathering as a picture. Remember this picture when you look back 5 years from now on how far we have come. With your help, we will go there together. Thank you.
VA Medical Center in Long Beach, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have been encountering the “ick factor” lately regarding my upcoming colonoscopy at the Veterans Administration. If I conducted a poll of my readers I would probably find fewer than 5 who would declare that having a colonoscopy or a pap smear ranked among their most favorite things to do. You know, right behind shopping for spring outfits and swimming. Neither one of these procedures were included in that wonderful song My Favorite Things.
And yet both of them are so vital to our survival. It’s so much better to have a pap smear or a mammogram if you’re a woman. However, after having said that, there is always a risk of a false positive or negative result from early detection. However, with me, all I could think about in terms of a colonoscopy was pain, violation and ick all accompanied by a loss of control. These thing led me to cancelling a couple of appointments with the VA.
But finally I decided this year would be different. I called the VA and after some prodding secured an appointment. By this same time on Thursday it will all be over. Today I spent a few nervous moments preparing myself. This included listening to instructions from a medical professional about the preparations I must do tomorrow. I will be filling myself up with a lot of liquid, taking some strange pills and spending a lot of time near the bathroom. They recommended having a driver bring me to and from the hospital
After calling and emailing I found 2 people willing to volunteer. While thanking the helper I did not choose I mentioned how unnerved I felt about going through this in the first place. His response was very comforting. He had one a few years back and was told his colon was in great shape. Moreover he described the procedure as being painless. I also texted back with my significant other and she volunteer to come over after the colonoscopy to offer comfort and perhaps prepare a meal. I was told I will probably be groggy and not a good risk at the stove.
So I have two helpers who understand that I have fear. And I have my conscious mind urging me on. “You can do this, Kenyatta. We’ve got your back.” Indeed, I shall.
One of the most exciting changes in mental health advocacy has been the emergence of Brenda Wesley at National
Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Greater Milwaukee. She is director of Outreach and two of her main projects are a play Pieces in my own voice about the struggle of people with mental illness and ASK, an outreach effort to the African-American community. ASK is an acronym for access, seek knowledge.
African-Americans like me have several barriers with regard to mental health. Among these are a lack of culturally competent helpers, meaning that we encounter white people who expect us to act like them when we are anxious, poor and short of resources. The programs we encounter make us resist because we’re used to doing things our own way. Wesley has devoted a lot of her time to assisting her sister Betty, whose story was documented in a Milwaukee Magazine article.
African-Americans commonly have multiple challenges such as police records, substance abuse problems, a history of hanging around the wrong people, low self esteem and sexual abuse backgrounds. Quite frankly, we don’t know what “normal” means. I know because I’ve been on both sides of this issue as a provider and a consumer/resister. You can bring us to recovery, but it doesn’t mean we’ll accept it.
We need to see more talented African-Americans hired as mental health advocates and all levels of this field. It’s time to break through the old girls and boys network and have some new blood to invigorate this movement. It’s a matter of simple justice. Those who have the fewest resources and face the most difficult challenges are African-Americans and other people of color. So how are these individuals going to be helped by people who don’t know anything about those experiences and can’t relate to them? This is not your mother’s NAMI and that’s a good thing.
I believe that NAMI has done the best in Milwaukee in terms of outreach to under-served populations. The programs that they began and which Brenda is involved with help reduce the fear people have of seeking more understanding about the nature of mental health. I spoke with a white friend about the play Pieces that Brenda wrote and she said she would have loved to see it because she wanted to learn a new perspective on this issue. While there is a value in hearing white middle class people tell about what happened to them, for others, they may be unable to relate to such stories. That is where having a broader conversation can be helpful.
Applying the idea of diversifying the mental health work force in Milwaukee, I would like that work force to reflect the background of those of us seeking mental health. That change is more likely to take place with the example of role models like Brenda and the staff of the Black Health Coalition.