“Tabula Rasa” by VESID (part I)


I’m multiply disabled so I get Social Security Disability, Medicare, Medicaid, HUD Section 8, Food Stamps and HEAP.  I am a tax-user.  You all are paying to support me, so I figure you and I ought to talk about this, just like my cousin talked to her parents when they were supporting her.  You should know how VESID works, just like Uncle Dick and Aunt Peggy knew how Mary Lou worked.

I have spent most of the day dealing with VESID issues.  VESID is New York State’s Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities.  I think of VESID as the agency that’s supposed to turn tax-users into tax-payers.  They think of themselves differently: 

“The Mission of the Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities (VESID) is to promote educational equity and excellence for students with disabilities while ensuring that they receive the rights and protection to which they are entitled; assure appropriate continuity between the child and adult services systems; and provide the highest quality vocational rehabilitation and independent living services to all eligible persons as quickly as those services are required to enable them to work and live independent, self-directed lives.”

Well, okay.  I have a learning disability, so I don’t understand much of that.  What I have is called executive functioning learning disability.  It’s like I have an orchestra inside my head, but there’s no conductor.  All languages are foreign languages to me.  How to Program a VCR—that’s a foreign language.  So is How to Fill Out the Medicaid Recertification Form.  Likewise, those telephone answering trees you get when you call agencies are strange to me.  I can’t learn from textbooks, either.  Fact is, if somebody else structures the information then I don’t understand it.

But the funny thing is that if you give me a blank sheet of paper, I can write good stuff.  I’ve been doing it since I was eleven years old, so I’ve gotten really, really good at it.  I’m a storyteller.  I tell stories about people and how things don’t work:  how Time Warner and Medicaid and democracy and the Christian church don’t work.  So I guess that what I’m here to tell you is how VESID doesn’t work.

As I said, I’ve gotten to be a really, really good writer—sometimes called brilliant—but I can’t figure out how to submit my stuff to publishers, so I’m not only brilliant but also seriously poor.  That’s where SSD, HUD, HEAP and all those other initials get involved.

About ten months ago, I got diagnosed with this learning disability, which I never knew I had even though it had kept me unsuccessful all my life.  Seven years ago, a neuropsychologist (who has Asperger’s syndrome) did some testing, reported that I have an I.Q. of 139 and failed everything because I was “poorly motivated, bored and engaged in avoidance.”  Ten months ago, I got some new testing.  The doctor (who has attention deficit disorder) diagnosed me with this executive function learning disability and said that I “demonstrated fierce motivation and tenacity to obtain [my] goals despite how difficult it was for [me] to be successful . . .”

Then the doctor gets to the good stuff:

“Ms. Woodlen has repeatedly impressed both me and other people with her outstanding writing ability.  She has an extraordinary talent for applying abstract reasoning to complex social relationships.  She has used both her reasoning and writing skills to significantly change the provision of some services for people with physical disabilities, which she also has.  Ms. Woodlen has a vast catalogue of impressive essays, which she has shared privately, that are relative to contemporary social issues.”

So, about nine months ago, I went to VESID and said, “Yo!  Give me a hand here!  Help me get all this sorting and organizing stuff figured out so I can get published, have an earned income, and start paying taxes.”

VESID, in short form, said, ‘No.  We don’t do arts, so we will make you a receptionist.’  The first thing that’s wrong with that is it’s what my VESID counselor wants me to do, not what I want to do. 

The New York State Commission on Quality of Care runs a Client Assistance Program (CAP).  The CAP’s brochure says,

“Do I Get to Choose My Employment or Career Goals?  Your employment and career goals should reflect your interest and abilities. . .  If you believe your IPE [Individualized Plan for Employment] does not reflect your interests and abilities, call CAP.”

The second thing wrong with making me a receptionist is that according to the dictionary a receptionist is “a person employed to greet telephone callers, visitors, patients, or clients,” which means I’ve got to go out there somewhere to do this greeting.  That would be a problem for me because I have some major medical issues that preclude me getting out of bed and going places.  I haven’t worked full-time outside the home since around 1989.  Who does VESID think is going to pay me to receive people in my bedroom?  Trust me, Governor Spitzer would not pay $80,000 for this opportunity.

So I tell the VESID counselor that I don’t want to be a receptionist; I want to be a published author.  ‘No,’ she says, ‘we don’t do that.’  So I sigh, and ask for the CAP brochure.  There is no doubt in my mind that we’re going to have to get down and dirty about this sooner or later.

I go home and the VESID counselor sends me a ton of papers to read and sign.  I can’t.  I’ve got this learning disability thing going on.  But I try.  I try until I’m beside myself with anxiety, then I email the counselor and explain that I can’t do this.  She replies with a lengthy email in which she gives me directions on how to do it.  What makes her think I will understand what is written and sent on the Internet if I don’t understand what was written and sent in the envelope?

So I go out and get a little job all by myself.  I work six hours a week checking student I.D.’s at a university dormitory.  The kids, my boss and I all get along fine.  Then the counselor sends me an email saying that if I can’t figure out the papers, then I probably shouldn’t be working at all.  VESID is supposed to help me get a job; VESID won’t help me get a job; I get a job without help, then VESID tells me I shouldn’t be working.  Okay, this is the kind of thing about which I write stories.  (To be continued)

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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