Several weeks ago, I visited a consumer to see how he was doing since being released from the hospital. He’s a Viet Nam Veteran and, due to Agent Orange, he’s coping with some involved medical issues. One of those issues is diabetes and unfortunately he’d had to have part of his foot amputated.

I asked if he’d done any thinking about emergency preparedness planning. He said no, and to my surprise, he seemed uncomfortable with the question. Undeterred, I asked if he knew what the most common disaster in Ottawa County was. He didn’t, so I told him: flooding. He nodded slowly. I talked about preparing for disaster ahead of time, and I gave him several tools he could use to begin his preparations. That’s when I saw it: fear etched in his face. He made it very clear that he did not want to discuss the topic further. He politely thanked me for coming and told me he’d look forward to our next visit.

As I drove home, I thought about what had just happened. This was a proud man who, when called on, stepped up to defend his country and his family. Now he wasn’t able to defend himself or his family or his loved ones. It was no wonder he was frightened. I’d brought something new into his home – the prospect that he might be reliant on someone else to defend and protect him.

So, how do we overcome that fear? The only way is for people with disabilities to be part of the planning process for responding to emergencies. We have to take back some of the control we lost when we became disabled. We have so much to offer!

We have well-developed survival skills or we wouldn’t be here. If people think that because they don’t have a disability they won’t need our input, they need to think about the people who ran the Boston Marathon and those who were in the Twin Towers as the bombs went off: they weren’t disabled when they left the house that morning either. Who would be better suited to help figure out ways to cope than those who have already been there? Do you know what the real fear is? It’s just the fear of knowing ourselves. And the one thing I do know for sure…I’ve never seen anyone more courage than the Veterans I work with. When he’s needed, I bet my veteran will be there…and I know we’ll be better off having him on our side!


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