For the past year, I have lived in the Philippines on the Southern coast of Luzon Island. This article is to reflect on this travel as a lawyer, disabled person, and American citizen, and what I will do when I get home. People in the Philippines are very friendly and usually will strike up a conversation with you about where you come from, how long you are in the Philippines, and what you do.
Being Disabled in the Philippines
The disability access features in the Philippines are not very good and even new sidewalks don’t have any proper curb cuts and telephone poles and other objects routinely block travel if you are mobility impaired or use a wheelchair. I found myself acting with hypervigilance so as not to trip on uneven surfaces or hit my head on low-hanging objects.
The Philippines have the kind of warm, tropical climate that would make maintenance of accessible features quite easy. I am from the United States North, near Chicago, and the snow and water expansion damage breaks up sidewalks and other features fairly quickly with the melt/freeze problem. A sidewalk that would break up in 10 years in the Chicago region would last 30 or even 40 years in the Philippines.
It is really a matter of implementing standards the first time. Going back to reworking earlier errors is costly and time-consuming. Hopefully, the national government takes stronger interest, because not being able to travel around makes the whole society less friendly and more discriminatory. That’s why we have the ADA standards issued by the U.S. Access Board (www.access-board.gov). See, www.ada.gov
Medicare and Medicare Access Abroad
Now that I am preparing to return to the USA, I should say that living on SSDI disability pension leaves one destitute. I came to the Philippines on an ADA settlement with the American Bar Association, but $1,163 per month is not enough to live on without health insurance, and Medicare and Medicare Advantage are not available overseas.
I believe we must ensure that Medicare does cover every American citizen no matter where they travel, no matter where they live. It is not difficult to set up an overseas claims system, and this is long overdue. One should be able to provide the documents and the foreign currency amount, and Medicare or Medicare Advantage should pay it within days directly into a U.S. bank account.
I have had the benefit of a home health aide for the past year and she has made my life much easier. I applied for a repatriation loan to help me move back to the USA, but a frustrating thing happened. After I provided all my paperwork (twice, because the Embassy lost my email the first time), the Embassy in Manila asked me to get a certificate of fitness to travel from a doctor. I went to the hospital, got tests, and my internist doctor created a certificate saying I could travel to the USA.
Great, right? That means I am not prevented from traveling, at least on its face. But the Embassy had a secret agenda. Asking me to demonstrate that I am not prevented from traveling was interpreted as meaning my disabilities are not severe enough so that I would need a home health aide or escort. A trick to save money on my LOAN.
This is the classic “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. If my doctor had said I am not fit to travel, I would not be allowed to travel. If my doctor says I am fit to travel, suddenly the Embassy thinks my permanent disabilities no longer affect me. You be the judge: www.andrewudstraw.com
I made a Federal Tort Claims Act complaint to the State Department legal office in DC. Nobody should be subjected to such a rotten trick again. I believe this program should be revamped to remove any possible discrimination and ensure that someone like me never gets treated that way again. But, to get back home, I decided that my NECESSARY home health aide will get her ticket from my SSDI in July. We were at the American Citizen Services desk, both of us, and I explained my disabilities and how severe they are. I expect an apology and compensation under FTCA.
I come back to the USA ready to gather signatures and get on the ballot for U.S. House in Vermont. It takes 500 signatures as a Democrat, but I will get more to fend off challenges. Indiana, incidentally, requires no signatures for the same office. When I briefly ran as a Disability Party candidate in IL-8, the requirement was over 13,000 signatures.
I have a lawsuit in Vermont to get compensation because the Illinois State Board of Elections would not admit that the ADA, Title II, applies to elections and my requested accommodations for my broken legs were rejected. When I win, I will take the money and use it to run for Congress in Vermont. Then I will propose standardization of signature systems to protect disabled candidates in the ADA. Calling on the phone to get permission to sign from a voter needs to be allowed nationwide. The telephone record showing the calls is the audit trail. With this goes a right for every candidate to have a list of the voter phone numbers on the voter rolls.
ADA reform is high on my agenda, as is court corruption reform and relief for poisoned civilian family members of veterans and civilians poisoned on military bases. Reforming welfare programs will likely be my first target, to ensure these patriotic poisoned families can live dignified lives instead of experiencing poverty and humiliation. Welfare makes sure needy and deserving individuals and families do not fall through the cracks when they don’t know they were poisoned or otherwise disadvantaged due to someone else’s fault. I’ll see you in Vermont!