Freedom Service Dogs of America

Freedom Service Dogs is a Charity who rescues dogs from shelters, trains them to be service animals and then places them (at no cost) with individuals who have disabilities. The dogs they place serve veterans, Active Duty personnel, children and adults – pretty much anyone with a need the dogs they train can help.

Who They Are 

Freedom Service Dogs was founded by Michael and PJ Roche in 1987, and has graduated over 350 client/dog teams and rescue over 100 dogs every year. Not every animal rescued makes the grade to be a service animal, and those that do not are adopted to their forever homes (not euthanized).

What They Do 

Freedom Service Dogs have several programs, listed below, and full details of each may be found by clicking here.

Client-dog teams (several types of dogs available)

Disco’s dogs (primarily supporting Autism Spectrum and Developmental Disabilities)

Operation Freedom (military transitioning from active duty)

Operation Full Circle (veterans)

Pawsitive Connection (troubled and at-risk youth)

Professional Therapy Dogs (partnership with University of Denver)

What Else Should I Know

They are a non-profit, funding comes from corporate and individual donors; but there are other ways to have a significant impact. Their Volunteer Program has a wide variety of opportunities – from on-site to fostering opportunities. The website also has a link to apply for a Service Dog – although if approved you will be expected to travel to Englewood, Colorado (which is a small price to pay if this will help change your life).

Disclaimer

I am not an employee of Freedom Service Dogs of America and any errors noted are my own.  If I have misrepresented, or misstated anything please provide constructive feedback so I may make the appropriate change(s). All opinions and views are my own.

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Let’s Change the Conversation

I call myself a Special Needs Planner, because I don’t like the terms “life coach”, “financial advisor” or “financial planner”. What I do has aspects of each, but in my opinion none of these terms really fit. When I hear “life coach” I think hippy or guru, I have a hard time reconciling this term with something people are looking for or willing to work with (speaking in generalities). Financial planner/advisor seem to be used interchangeably and both evoke images of someone trying to sell a product or manage investments. There are fee-only planners out there, but even they are looking to manage assets (it creates a recurring income stream).

So what’s my point? I believe in the core of my being everyone needs help establishing a broad outline of how to set and accomplish their goals. No, not everyone can afford to do this, but there are organizations, like 1 Life Fully Lived, offering insight and ideas. For those who can afford the help, push the issue. Don’t be satisfied with reports on how your investments are doing or buying the proper amount of insurance – industries respond to demand.

Investments are one way to fund your long-term goals, and insurance is how you protect yourself and your family when bad things happen (deliberately oversimplifying). But few of us live our lives by strictly these metrics. We have things we want to do, for ourselves and others. We have questions Google can’t answer, at least not satisfactorily. We don’t need more broad ranging ideas of what we COULD do, but rather ideas on HOW to do things.

This is why I do what I do – because I don’t think I’m the only person who feels this way. The majority of this country does not fall into the category “wealthy”, according to the balance America’s median (better indicator than an “average”) is $68,828 (https://www.thebalance.com/american-net-worth-by-state-metropolitan-4135839). So why aren’t more professionals seeking to help?

I think part of the reason is apathy – I believe many people aren’t even asking for help because they don’t think they have enough money. It can be a vicious circle, don’t feel there is enough money so don’t ask; don’t ask so don’t receive help to make progress and save more money. Let’s work on changing this dynamic. Take advantage of seminars, even if there is a cost. Listen to podcasts like Afford Anything, HerMoney with Jean Chatzky, or Clark Howard (to give just a few examples). The key is to do something you’re not doing, change your paradigm.

Another part is people are correct, it seems many who give advice or plan require “x” amount of assets. So look for those who don’t. Resources like NAPFA, CFP Board and FPA may help you find someone. Be open to maybe working remotely (via internet/phone) if you can’t find one in your neighborhood – experience and ability to relate are more important (in my opinion) than proximity.

These are a few ideas, I’m sure I’ve overlooked many more. Let’s see what you can accomplish and become the best you.

Give Professionals A Chance

Do you find yourself asking your dentist, doctor or “insert other professional here” if they have specific experience with your child’s disability? I was this parent, and what I’ve found is I don’t always have to be. Yes, there will be specific incidents when treatment required is directly related to the disability; however more often it’s not.

What IS required is a physician with great bedside manner who will really listen (IMHO and experience). Yes, as parents we want our children to get the best possible care, and I was dreading my son’s dentist and orthodontist appt’s. But what I found was professionals who treated him as a person (not a person with a disability), and this is exactly what I want for him.

I’m afraid we’re artificially limiting our options by vowing to “only” work with those who have experience. How do we expect physicians (or anyone else) to get the experience. Take the time to educate the professional. Again – this is not meant as a blanket statement; for example, a therapist with a background and knowledge of specific disabilities would be my first choice. But I don’t necessarily feel the same way about a pediatrician or optometrist (depends on the nature of the disability).

I acknowledge I have specialized in working with families with disabilities and I do make this distinction when talking to potential clients. However, if you have a Planner/Advisor and it’s a great relationship; you can (and should) help them understand what’s different in your situation – you’re planning for multiple generations. I don’t have a “secret formula”, other than my ability to relate with families in similar positions to mine.

I believe the same is true for many other professions. Yes, it’s “easier” to work with someone who “gets” you (at least to me); but given most of us have finite resources and are coping with daily stress, why add unnecessarily to the mix? Rather than set a hard and fast rule, keep an open mind (and a healthy dose of caution, not  paranoia). It will not only help your child, it could pave the road for many families behind you.

Do You Have A Parachute?

As I prepare for a talk I’m going to give next month, I wonder how many of us have truly thought about what will happen to our children/loved ones when we’re gone. Yes, I will admit this has been a theme lately, because to me it’s a REALLY, REALLY BIG DEAL.

I don’t have a “support” group of family and friends I trust enough to rely on when I’m gone – I have one or two people, but they are a little older than I am so not necessarily that much help. Therefore I have spent a LOT of time focusing on helping my son develop the skills he will need to live alone; and setting enough money aside to hire to the skills he cannot master.

Unfortunately when I look around I see many families ignoring the fact their children may be on their own. Everyone needs an exit strategy, not just business owners. Start small – list what you’re currently paying for (if you’re child is an adult) that they will need to provide when you’re gone. Then see what resources are available – not everything will require money from you; nor will much of it come from the government.

Estimate how much Social Security your child will receive. If they are receiving SSI they may be eligible for the adult disabled child benefit (Adult Disabled Child Benefit (Social Security). This will be their primary income stream. They can supplement this with food stamps (Oh SNAP!) – this is the foundation.

Next steps are determining what, if anything, else you want them to have. Only AFTER you do this should you be thinking about what you can afford; because the objective is to build a support system, not put everything on your shoulders. Starting from a place of “what can I afford” becomes very defensive, many will start making trade-offs in their minds and adding to an already stressful existence – don’t do it.

I’m a planner, I believe in the value of planning – so it shouldn’t be a surprise when I encourage everyone to sit down with a professional and get an outside perspective. When you jump from an airplane, the parachute you use will have been checked by at least one other person. The stakes are higher than just your life, isn’t it worth getting help?

“I Can’t Die”

Watching season 2 of Ozark, and the lead character said these three words, and it resonated with me because sometimes it has felt like a never-ending chant in my head. Maybe other parents feel similarly, especially those of you whose child has a disability.

Having lost my wife, I was hit full frontal with what would happen when I’m gone – at the time I didn’t have much of a support network at all and my son was completely dependent. Over the last six years I’ve gone outside my comfort zone and I’ve added a few people I trust and believe will help him; and, more importantly, he’s learned (and continues to learn) skills enabling him to become more self-sufficient. Unfortunately, given current technology, I don’t believe he’s capable of living on his own – yet. But as rapidly as technology is advancing I have faith it will be there in his lifetime.

Part of being a parent is not wanting to outlive your child, part of being a parent of a child with a disability is adding the fear of your child outliving you. Too many of us retreat into our own little worlds, believing (rightly or wrongly) no-one else would understand, or there’s nothing anyone can do.

I’m about as jaded as they come, but I KNOW I cannot be the only resource my son has. The reality is I will likely die many years before he does, and I want him to have the best quality of life possible. I think this is what we all want; and we need to ask ourselves are we providing this if we keep them at home with us instead of looking for Residential solutions, or do things for them because they “can’t” or it’s just “easier”.

I hear, and echo, the fear many have about death and leaving our child(ren) alone in this world. We don’t have much control over when our time is up, but we have absolute control over what we proactively do with the time we have. Not every result is going to be what we want, and there will be dead-ends, work-arounds and incredible frustration – that’s life; and in my opinion we owe it to our child(ren).

Each and every one of us has had help over the years, before we had children. Why should now be any different. No – people will probably not know what to do, or what you need. And,  yes, they will likely not always be able to provide what you’re looking for. But something is better than nothing; and there is NO reason for you to travel on this journey alone. Build a tribe, look for people who aren’t like you – because they will bring a perspective to the table you never could have imagined; and it may just be the answer you didn’t have. Good luck, you’ve got one life so get out there and live it.

Breathe

This week keeping it short – BREATHE. If, like me, you have a child under the age of 21 who is still in school you are, or have already, experienced what I have come to term “end of summer blues”. Speaking for myself, my son will be shifting back into a more “normal” sleep schedule, currently I’ve allowed him to go to bed by 2 am and get up whenever.

Perhaps some are asking “WTF” or, more politely, “why”? Think back to when we were over the age of 18, how many of us had parents telling us what to do? At what point did you start making your own decisions (good and bad) and learning from them? Yes, I fully expect he is going to be MISERABLE the first couple days of school, but I also believe this is part of becoming an adult.

Where “Breathe” comes into it is I cannot allow myself to “blow up”; because then he will respond to my reaction – not learn from his behaviors. I believe most people will learn from their own behaviors if they experience enough of a negative impact (w/o threatening their life or safety). Allowing my son to be exhausted (and within reason putting up with his attitude) will teach him more than I think he will ever learn from me telling him exactly what to do and when.

Losing my temper doesn’t help either of us. I (and all of you who choose a similar path) need to remain calm enough to get our message across – reinforcing what they are already experiencing. Asking questions like “what do you think led to you feeling like this” or “what do you think happened”? Steer them towards the answers you want by asking simpler questions (my son) or whatever they are capable of answering. But, and this is critical, do NOT visibly lose control.

We (parents) are not going to be around forever, and our children need to do as much as they are capable as soon as possible. In my experience, these capabilities far outreach what we give them credit for, because it’s incredibly difficult helping them reach it. We have so many competing responsibilities (work, family, friends, ourselves, etc); and we tend to take the path of least resistance in the guise of “it’s faster”, “they don’t know how” or “they can’t”.

I get it, I’ve said all of these and more. But my son has already lost one caregiver who did everything – I don’t trust the system to believe he’ll ever find another one. So this is self-preservation. I can’t (and if I’m being honest, won’t) do it all. I need him to do things for himself as much as he does. And yes, there are things we may never master – but with a LOT of patience we have a LONG way to go until we get there. In the interim, I just need to “BREATHE”.

Adult Disabled Child Benefit (Social Security)

In this post I’m focusing just on the Adult Disabled Child Social Security benefit – it’s a topic I’ve had many questions about after past seminars and other discussions. If you, or someone you know, either has a disability themselves or a family member with a disability; then this is for you.

To qualify, the individual must have a disability that occurred before they were age 22, and meets Social Security’s definition. Contrary to what I’ve heard, it is NOT easy to prove a disability to Social Security, many of those who qualify (my son included) use attorneys to help prove their case. Nothing in this process is automatic, it requires action from the individual seeking the benefit (or the individual’s family).

You will need to provide supporting documentation, and I encourage you to save EVERYTHING in hard copy AND digital. I use Google Drive, but there are numerous other options, the key is ensuring it’s available when you need it and knowing where to find it. Digital means it can’t be damaged by water, fire, ripped, etc. Never give away original documents.

Once approved, the Social Security received by the child will be paid based on the parent’s earnings record. This is an important note, because this benefit will continue to be paid to the child after the parent dies (it starts when the parent starts collecting Social Security – either disability or retirement). So if you are a parent, generally  you will want to wait as long as possible to collect Social Security to give your child the most benefit (this is where planning comes in). The benefit is 50% of the parent’s benefit while the parent is alive, and increases to 75% when the parent dies. This will generally not impact the benefit received by parents.

There are limits – the child cannot earn more than $1,180/mth (2018); although certain work expenses may be deducted from the income to meet this limit. The other major requirement is the disability has to occur before age 22. So if you have legitimate concerns, early diagnosis is better (for so many more reasons besides Social Security). The benefit may also be lost if the individual marries. You CANNOT apply online, you will need to go to your local office. However you can either hire an attorney to represent you or complete the Adult Disability Report and bring all supporting documentation when you go.

I’ve met many parents who thought they had to wait until their child was 21 to apply for SSI (which if approved, makes a strong case for Adult Disabled Child). You don’t – as soon as your child turns 18 they will be evaluated based upon their assets and income, not yours; even if they are still in school.

Providing for a child with a disability is stressful enough, and doing your best to ensure they will be taken care of when you’re gone can be expensive. This benefit can help. No, it may not be enough to provide for everything, but if they qualify it will certainly contribute to what they will need when you’re gone.