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William J. Studebaker

William J. Studebaker, Granger, IN

My name is William Studebaker and I had the honor of serving in the United States Army from February 1954 thru February 1956.  I was trained to be a Medical Laboratory Technician in Fort Sam Houston, Texas and later was transferred to Fort Ord in California.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Army and working in the lab.

When I was 21, I woke up totally blind.  Being so young I was more upset about missing participating in a camp ping-pong tournament than I was with my blindness.  The Veterans Administration diagnosed me with multiple sclerosis.  I was fortunate enough to regain my vision and finish my stint with the Army.  I was also fortunate to be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while in the Army but I didn't realize until much later how fortunate I truly was.

I am now considered to be 100% service-connected disabled because I am legally blind and because of the multiple sclerosis.  I am in a wheelchair always, have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and am receiving treatment for prostrate cancer.  I receive all medical treatment through the Veteran's Administration Hospital either in Indianapolis (my primary) or Fort Wayne (dental).  The VA has been outstanding in its care of me and in addressing my changing health and making certain I receive the adaptive devices I require to remain as independent as possible.  Prior to my health decline I was a high school science and biology teacher in California for 17 years.  I later returned to college and earned a masters' degree in Blind Rehabilitation Teaching.

In January 2006 I received a letter from a Mr. Alan Munn of the National Service Office of Paralyzed Veterans out of Indianapolis.  Mr. Munn requested that I give him a call.  I was surprised to receive his letter as I felt that my health needs were being monitored closely at the VA Hospital.  My wife, Julia, called Mr. Munn.  Mr. Munn informed her that due to my health decline I could be eligible for an increase in my monthly benefits.  He asked my wife several questions regarding my independence – or lack thereof – and was surprised that my wife took care of all my needs including dressing me, bathing me, sometimes feeding me.  He scheduled a physical for me on February 14, 2006 at the Marian VA Hospital.

I was also working with a Michael Buescher of the Fort Wayne Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment office through the VA.  Mr. Buescher and Mr. Munn both advised my wife and me to apply for the SAH grant.  Why?  They explained that the grant would allow us to make adaptations to our home to make it safer and more wheelchair friendly.  Our house is only 10 years old but it was not built to accommodate wheelchairs or a man who tends to fall out of his wheelchair.

Mr. Winston Hunter, Special Adapted Housing Agent from the Indianapolis Field Team, contacted us and scheduled a home visit on November 16, 2005.  He did not tell my wife that I needed to be at the visit and I spent the day at my office (adult day care).  Mr. Hunter toured the house and had my wife fill out paperwork and watch a video about the possibilities the grant had to offer regarding home adaptations.  Calls and paperwork between Mr. Hunter and my wife persisted through April of 2006 when Mr. Hunter requested a meeting with me.  No problem as we are down in Indianapolis at least three times a month for my medical appointments.  Mr. Hunter needed to see me in person as proof that I was indeed in a wheelchair and agreeable to the potential house modifications.

We had a Mr. Louis Seago, a local contractor, come to our home and sit down with us and listen to our ideas and why we wanted to make certain changes.  Mr. Seago offered several suggestions also including lowering the thermostat so that I could reach it to set it from the wheelchair.  Paperwork continually needed to be updated, resent, explained, waivers were signed, etc.  It was a lengthy process but everyone involved knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

Work on widening our hallways and doorways and adding a ramp off of the master bedroom began in December 2006.  A mild winter enabled Mr. Seago's crew to put our ramp in January.  They also put in French glass doors from the master bedroom to the ramp as the old sliding doors did not accommodate my wheelchair. 

In January, Mike and Scott, Mr. Seago's crew, were widening the doorways from the garage into the hallway with the washer and dryer that leads into the house.  They moved the dryer vent around to the side so that the vent was out of the way and the dryer could be pushed back closer to the wall.  This may not seem to be a big deal but it was a huge deal in my story and why this housing grant was so beneficial to my wife and me.

On the morning of January 12th, 2007 I fell while transferring from my house wheelchair to my "outdoor" wheelchair.  The house wheelchair is called a quickie and it isn't as wide as a traditional wheelchair.  Nor is it as sturdy which was why we could only use it in the house.  We were in a hurry to leave for work.  We leave every morning by 6:35 so that Julia can drop me off at my office before she heads over to her office 45 minutes away.  I neglected to put the brakes on my quickie wheelchair.  When I stood up to transfer, the quickie rolled backwards and I panicked and fell hard to the tile floor.  Julia was in front of me holding the outdoor wheelchair and assists me into that chair by grabbing my hips and helping to rotate my hips.

Julia tried to pick me up herself several times.  I weigh about 215 pounds and Julia weighs about 108 pounds.  She is strong but I am dead weight.  I could not put any weight on my right leg.  Julia went and got the Hoyer lift the VA had dispensed to me about eight years earlier to help get me up off the floor when I fall.  Thanks to the dryer being moved back again the wall the lift fit easily in the laundry room and Julia was able to crank me up and put me into a wheelchair and take me to work.  I complained that my right leg hurt and Julia checked it before she left and said it looked a little red.  She mentioned my fall and pain to Joanne, the morning person at my office.  (The Veteran's Administration also covers the cost of my day care.  I was the first veteran in this part of the state to qualify for adult day care covered and that was a long struggle.  Happily, now my office has at least a dozen veterans who utilize the facility while their loved ones work and get a break from being caregivers).

Julia was called about 10:30 by Norma, who works at my office to see if it was all right to give me something for the pain in my leg.  Julia gave her approval for me to have aspirin.  About 11:00 Cindy the office nurse called Julia saying my right leg was really hurting me and that I needed to see a doctor.  Again, this is a Friday afternoon and Monday was Martin Luther King Day.  Julia told Cindy that she would pick me up at 3:00 for a 3:30 appointment with our family doctor.  Julia decided not to make the 3.5 hour drive to Indianapolis.  Julia also called the Marian VA Hospital to make certain that she could take me to our family doctor.  Julia did not pick me up immediately as Scott and Mike were at the house working on the wider doors.

Long story short – maybe.  It turns out that I had badly broken my right leg.  At Dr. Oppman's office it took several people to get me onto the x-ray table.  He sent me to over to the emergency room.  Fortunately, we have a van with a lift provided by the Veteran's Administration (the life portion).  At St. Joseph Hospital it took six workers to get me out of my wheelchair onto the examination table.

A cast was put on my leg that started at my toes and it goes clear up to the top of my right leg.  No surgery because the doctors' decided not to put me through it as I am always in a wheelchair.  The doctors would not let me leave the hospital until my wife went home and brought back a larger wheelchair with a high back and longer leg rest.  My cast is not flexible at all!  The larger wheelchair would not have fit into the house with the old, narrow doorways and hallways.

The bottom line is that without the SAH grant making modifications to our home I would not have been able to return home.  I would have had to gone and stayed at a nursing home.  It is now June 4th and I am still in that same long cast using the same larger wheelchair but I am at HOME where I belong! 

It is not just this SAH grant that I say a heartfelt thanks to the Veteran's Administration and the government for but it is for the years of assistance I have received help and sound advice from VA employees.  Without the van lift, the Hoyer lift, the larger wheelchair, a ramp in the garage, exceptional employees like Winston Hunter and Allan Munn I don't know what my wife and I would have done or how we would have managed.  The SAH grant has been a lifesaver.  Yes, it was a long process and very time consuming but we are grateful that it is available to veterans who want to remain in their own home or in their parents' home.  I am able to live at home thanks to the veterans and more importantly thanks to my wife who has stood beside me and helped opened doors and perused adaptive equipment and the SAH grant for me through the Veteran's Administration. 

Thank you Members of Congress for taking care of American Veterans and their families.  Keep up the good work – please!