NSCIA Front Lines: Advocate of the Year; VA Benefit Assist

Advocate of the Year: Finn Bullers

On Christmas Eve 2013, Finn Bullers’ case manager knocked on his door and informed him that KanCare, Kansas’ new managed care program, had reversed its decision to limit him to 40 hours of care a week and had reinstated his around-the-clock care. For Bullers, who has Charcot-Marie-Tooth, a form of muscular dystrophy, the news was a chance to keep living his life and avoid a nursing home.

KanCare’s reversal didn’t happen because of an abundance of holiday cheer, it happened because Bullers, 49, led a relentless campaign to expose the hypocrisy behind KanCare’s decision. He has brought the same tenacious approach to a number of other key advocacy issues, including the battle to preserve access to complex rehab technology, the fight to ratify the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and more.

In honor of all of his advocacy efforts anfinn Capitol Hill, legislative and policy conference in Washington, D.C., June 22-25, 2014.

“Finn deserves to be recognized with United Spinal’s Advocate of the Year 2014 award for all his years of effective advocacy, not only in his own state of Kansas, but across the country,” says Alex Bennewith, United Spinal’s vice president of government relations.

Bullers’ path to advocacy started during his undergraduate years studying journalism at Iowa State. Working on the student newspaper, he got a first-hand glimpse of the power of information. Upon graduating he began a three-decade career as a newspaperman, reporting and editing for a number of prestigious Midwest newspapers.

His mobility, voice and dexterity deteriorated because of his disability, but he kept working until it simply got too difficult in 2009. Little could he have known that his professional experience as a reporter had perfectly prepared him for a new career as an advocate.

‘It’s really only a two or three degree shift into advocacy,” he says. “Advocacy allows you to use the adjectives more freely, but you have to do it as responsibly and fairly as you would in the environment of traditional journalism. I get the same thrill from both.”

A creative advocate can also choose from a wider array of tactics, something Bullers showed when he challenged Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and Secretary of Aging and Disabilities Shawn Sullivan to work a shift taking care of him to see why his full-time care was so imperative.

When they inevitably said no, Bullers used it as an opportunity to “put a dent in the hypocrisy of Governor Brownback’s message of caring,” saying he had passed on a “real opportunity to see the work that was being done by caregivers.”

Bullers made sure everyone in Kansas knew what he was dealing with and its implications for the rest of the state. He did interviews with local reporters, blogged extensively and testified at every opportunity.

“They put the target on the wrong guy,” says Bullers. “With the help of other advocates and organizations like United Spinal, I was able to make [KanCare and the state] realize the error of their ways.”

“Finn makes it easier for his adversaries to do what he wants them to do than what they want — that makes him a great advocate,” says James Weisman, United Spinal’s general counsel.
Bullers is excited about the next chapter in his career as an advocate.

“Now that I have got my bases covered, I can be strong to fight another day for the tens of thousands of Kansans that don’t have a voice or the mental acuity to figure out all the BS that is out there,” he says. “I’m building bridges with mayors, councils on disability — I’m getting out within the greater Kansas City area and trying to convince everyone that I’ve got your back and you’ve got mine.”


VA Benefit Assist

HeatherBy Heather Ansley
VP of VetsFirst

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides a wealth of benefits and services for veterans living with disabilities. VetsFirst knows that for many veterans, access to VA services and benefits are a lifeline. Unfortunately, too many veterans and their families do not know how to access these services and benefits.

To help these veterans and their families, VetsFirst provides online tools that will allow them to be successful in receiving needed financial and health benefits from VA.

One of these tools is an online assistance center that helps individuals who need answers about how to receive benefits and services from VA. Our online portal, Ask VetsFirst, allows anyone who has a question about veterans’ benefits to receive the answers they need. Submitted questions are assigned to and answered by staff members who have specialized expertise in VA benefits and services and related programs for veterans and their families.

VetsFirst receives a wide-variety of questions regarding how to access VA benefits. Some of the areas we typically receive questions about include how to apply for VA disability compensation, how to access long-term services and supports through VA, and how to receive assistance with housing modifications. Often, we are able to provide the information that will help a veteran or family member understand the benefits available to them. When providing information isn’t enough, we provide resources to allow veterans or their family members to connect with a VA-recognized veterans service organization that has a presence in the community where they live.

Ask VetsFirst is an important tool for veterans and their families to understand the benefits they have earned and deserve. Recently, one satisfied user replied that he was very happy to have connected with someone “who knows VA from A to Z.” We are honored to share our years of experience in helping veterans access VA benefits and services through a portal that broadens our ability to share this information.

VetsFirst has other online tools that provide information about how to access VA benefits and services. Specifically, VetsFirst’s website includes knowledge books that provide detailed information about how to apply for VA disability compensation, what it means to appeal VA’s decision on a claim for benefits, and how to access VA health care. Our knowledge books are designed to help veterans learn more about their benefits and how they can receive those benefits.

Through these resources, VetsFirst continues to assist veterans and their families in receiving the benefits they need to reintegrate into and remain a part of their communities. Please visit www.vetsfirst.org/ask-vetsfirst to submit a question to Ask VetsFirst or review one of our knowledge books.

VetsFirst is a program of United Spinal that advocates for the programs, services and disability rights that help all generations of veterans with disabilities remain independent. Our advocacy focuses on ensuring access to Department of Veterans Affairs financial and health care benefits and housing, transportation and employment services and opportunities. Find out more at www.vetsfirst.org.

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