About Samantha Schech

I am a Client Service Specialist here at MSAA. I have my Master's Degree in Social Service from Bryn Mawr College, a school just outside of Philadelphia. Originally from the Baltimore area, I am a huge Baltimore sports fan and am often heard cheering for the Ravens and Orioles. In my spare time, I enjoy cooking, traveling, and playing kickball with my friends in an adult sports league.

Finding Companionship in Some Furry Places

February being the “love” month, we thought it may be appropriate to kick-off the month talking about some of our favorite furry creatures! In the past we have discussed the benefits of pet relationships and the positive effects that these relationships can have on one’s health and wellbeing.

With the uncertainty of a disease such as MS, individuals may feel comforted knowing that an animal has had some level of training or certification to meet a specific need. But what do the different titles mean? And which might be the best for your situation?

A Therapy Animal is not defined by federal law and may (or may not) be loosely defined by state laws. The primary purpose of a therapy animal is to provide affection and comfort to individuals, mostly those that live in communities such as nursing homes, or hospitals and schools. Their owners are registered members of an Animal Therapy program, and bring the animals in to visit with clients.

A Service Animal is one that has been specifically trained to perform tasks for an individual with a disability. Different states have different regulations in terms of licensing or certification requirements for service animals. You can check with the office of the Attorney General in your state to discover how service animals are defined and licensed.

An Emotional Support Animal, or companion animal, is a person’s pet that has been prescribed by a licensed mental health professional. The animal is included as part of the treatment plan and is designed to bring comfort and minimize the negative symptoms of the person’s emotional/psychological challenges.

Emotional Support Animals, specifically dogs should be able to:

  • Walk beside you without straining against the leash
  • Sit on command
  • Come when called
  • Lie down on command
  • Show no aggression toward humans or other animals when unprovoked

For more information, or to register your pet as an Emotional Support Animal, visit the National Service Animal Registry website and complete the brief form and pay the registration fee.

By completing this process and certifying your pet as an Emotional Support Animal, you are protecting yourself in several situations. There are laws that protect individuals with service or emotional support animals, including housing and landlord/tenant laws.

While pets require a certain level of commitment and responsibility, this may not be appropriate for everyone’s situation. That doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from the love of an animal.

There are non-profits throughout the country that provide visiting pet services. PAWS for People™ is a non-profit committed to providing therapeutic visits to individuals within their service community who would benefit from interaction with a well-trained, loving pet. To find programs in your area, search “therapy animal” and your city.

Show your #PetLove and share your favorite #MSAAPets stories about you & your pet with us!

dogs

 

For additional information, please visit the sites below:

NSAR- National Service Animal Registry: https://www.nsarco.com/; 866-737-3930

Paws for People: http://www.pawsforpeople.org/; 302-351-5622

Canines Companion for Independence: www.cci.org;1-800-572-BARK (2275)

Paws with a Cause: www.pawswithacause.org; 800-253-7297

Pet Partners: www.petpartners.org; 425-679-5500

Service Dogs for America: www.servicedogsforamerica.org; 701-685-2242

Service Dogs for Independence: www.servicedogsforindependence.com; 520-909-0531

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New Year – New You

I have to admit, I am a sucker for a New Year’s resolution. Maybe it’s the over-indulgences from the holiday season, or the thought that summer is quickly approaching. But I really enjoy the idea of a reset; or a chance for a redo. The key word there is “chance”; each individual has the power to elicit a change in their lives.

For me, January 1st is the first day of a new life. While we can look at each day as an opportunity for change, for some, the bigger picture provides a sense of ease in that the familiar world we are used to will not be transformed in one fell swoop.

Honor the journey that you have been through thus far, for it has created memories and life moments that can propel you through this new life. Respect the past for what is it, and allow yourself to move forward. The new life in front of you is not designed to change your past experiences, but to allow a place for growth.

This is your choice and your time to make a change that can possibly help with a challenge that is causing you to struggle. Perhaps this is the time to contact that specialist to talk about a troubling symptom, or reach out to a friend from the past which you’ve lost contact. The possibilities for change are endless, but committing to one is the first step.

“It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life for me
And I’m feeling good”
– Leslie Bricusse

Allow this new year to be your chance for change! Comment below or write to us sharing your experience.

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Time’s Running Out for Medicare Open Enrollment

Not happy with your Medicare plan in 2015? There is still time to make a change! Individuals have through December 7th to make changes for the 2016 plan year. By now, the Annual Notice of Change (ANOC) letters regarding 2016 coverage have been sent; it is important to review those documents to see if any major changes will affect your healthcare in 2016. Not sure if you have received this letter? Contact Medicare at 1-800-633-4227.

If you are happy with your current coverage and are OK with the information provided within the Annual Notice of Change letter, then you do not have to proceed any further. You will automatically be enrolled in the same plan as 2015.

Concerned about your coverage, or would like to make a change to your plan? Visit the Medicare website to review your current policy. Through the site, you can check your level of coverage to see how much or how little your plan was utilized in 2015. Perhaps there are trends that you notice regarding out- of-pocket expenses that may be better covered under another plan.

2016 Medicare plans can be reviewed and compared online through the Medicare Plan Finder. Having issues online, or would like more one-on-one assistance; get free personalized health insurance counseling by calling your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). Visit shiptacenter.org to locate the nearest center.

A little planning goes a long way…..a year to be exact. Taking the time now to review or make changes to your Medicare plan has the ability to effect all of 2016. So PLAN ahead!

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Planning Around the Holidays

As the holiday seasons steadily approach, so do the holiday events and planning. Perhaps you have already received an invite or two, or are a part of an elaborate e-mail chain or Facebook group. For some, the mere thought of having to plan around the holiday season is stressful; and for those living with MS, an often unpredictable disease, the stress burden can increase even more.

So how do you tackle the holiday planning in a polite and self-determined fashion, while making sure to keep your health as a priority?

  1. Recognize your limits and be honest with yourself. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies when it comes to planning. We want to be able to do everything, but realistically, it is not in our best interest. Knowing your limit and sticking to it can help alleviate the overwhelmed feeling that is commonly seen in planning events.
  2. Have a game plan. Use a calendar to keep track of events and use this to track tasks that must be completed for these events. For example, you signed up to bring a side dish to a friend’s holiday party; write down the day of the party, and plan ahead the grocery shopping day and cooking day and build those into the calendar. This will help avoid the last minute day of dash to the store that often leaves you too tired to cook or even go to the party!
  3. It’s OK to say no! For some, this is an on-going struggle; but saying “no” from the beginning of planning is a lot easier than the last minute “I can’t make it”. Place yourself and your health first, and build around that. Use the prior two steps to build a holiday plan, and know which events to say no to.

Eleanor Roosevelt said “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” When having to say no to an event, don’t allow others to make you feel bad about yourself because you cannot attend. By choosing to place your health and wellbeing on a pedestal, down the road one day, you will see what was actually important and thank yourself.

What tips and strategies have you established to help manage holiday planning?

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Election Day and Disability Voting Related Concerns for the MS Community

While most of the media has already turned their attention to the upcoming Presidential Election, it’s worthy to note that there are still important issues and elections occurring this Election Day, Tuesday November 3rd.

Voting provides us the opportunity to weigh in on the issues that are most important to us as well as how our hometown and state are governed. For those living with disabilities, following and supporting elected officials with similar goals in mind is critical. For example, many who rely on public transportation as a means to get around town should know which officials support expanding transportation services, versus those who may plan to shut them down.

We have the power to create change through our votes. While on a local level it may seem insignificant, state level policies have a way of affecting those living with disabilities. Disability Rights organizations often open up their phone lines on Election Day to help answer disability related voter questions. Contact your local Disability Rights group to learn how you may be affected in this upcoming election.

Having an issue getting to the polls? Visit our Accessible Voting blog for information and guidance around access issues.

Happy Voting!

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Mental Illness Awareness Week

Mental health awareness

Each year Mental Illness Awareness Week occurs during the first full week of October. Every year there is a recurring theme that spreads across the country. This year, the theme revolves around building a movement through the Stigma Free initiative.

“Being Stigma Free means learning about and educating others on mental illness, focusing on connecting with people to see each other as individuals and not a diagnosis, and most importantly, taking action on mental health issues and taking the Stigma Free pledge.”

The hashtag for the theme is #IAmStigmaFree

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness in America. Mental health stigma affects each and every one of us as well as the people we love. Stopping Mental Health Stigma is an imperative first step which provides those who silently struggle with mental illness, the opportunity to reach out for help.

Did you know that the risk of suicide was 7.5 times higher among persons with MS than the general population? In a study of individuals with MS who experienced thoughts of suicide, one-third had not received any psychological help. If you have concerns regarding mental illness, or thoughts of suicide, please reach out for help. Depression is a treatable condition and needs to be discussed with the doctor.

For more information regarding Depression and MS, please visit the MSAA website at http://mymsaa.org/about-ms/symptoms/depression/.

References:
National Alliance on Mental Illness: https://www.nami.org/miaw

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Managing the Hectic Schedule

“It’s how we spend our time here and now, that really matters. If you are fed up with the way you have come to interact with time, change it.” –Marcia Wieder

While many things in life may seem out of our immediate control, there is one constant that has the ability to change; time. While we can’t make more hours in a day, we can change our perception of time and how our days will look.

Start your day off right. While preparing for the day, take a moment to jot down a few notes on things that need to be accomplished. Personal calendars, phone reminders, or dry erase boards are a helpful way to organize tasks.

Take into consideration MS symptom management. When planning out the day, consider your MS symptoms. Are you more productive in the early mornings, or late afternoons? Does your MS disease-modifying treatment cause symptoms or side effects? If so, make sure to plan around your treatment dosage time.

Reprioritize. It’s OK not to check everything off of your to-do list in one day. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. Take a moment during the day to look over your list and consider what not to do that day.

Time management is a personal journey. What works for someone might not work for everyone, but it is nice to hear how others plan their days. What tips or strategies do you use to manage your hectic schedule?

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It is Never too Late to Make a Change

This time of year sets the stage for big changes in many people’s lives. Little kids prepare for the first day of school. College students embark on a new journey that will change the course of their future. And parents start to see their once little child becoming more independent and less reliant on their help.

As we age, it appears that everything changes and sometimes we accept those changes and sometimes we don’t. For many, change is a scary thing and is met with some resistance or animosity. But for some, change can be exciting and refreshing.

Which category do you fall? Do you find yourself resisting change, or do you fully embrace it?

It is never too late to make a change in your life. A change does not necessarily need to be an overhaul, perhaps something small that you have put off for some time. With the long holiday weekend, it provides an extra day to do something for yourself that may make a significant transformation for the better.

So give it a shot, allow yourself to move freely through the change. If you come across any resistance or hesitation, ask yourself why. Change does not have to be absolute. You have control over your life and if after making the change you find that it does not work for you, you have the power to make the switch.
What is something you have thought about changing?

MSAA Office’s will be closed Monday September 7th in observance of the Labor Day Holiday.

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Financial Wellness and Multiple Sclerosis

It is known that stress can have a negative impact on MS symptoms. While individuals may try to manage stress in their lives through exercise, meditation, or positive thinking; financial stress is something that is often swept under the rug and ignored. While ignoring the issue may alleviate the initial stress of thinking about financial matters, in the long run it is not a successful practice and often allows the financial matter to come back more stressful than the last.

Talking about money is tough, especially for those with limited incomes; but not talking about money can do more damage than good. Understanding and truly evaluating your financial situation is a great way to develop a financial plan. Awareness of the in’s (income) and out’s (expenses) can be eye opening!

The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA) and National Disability Institute (NDI) collaborated on a series of informational webinars to assist the MS community in learning about strategies to protect and improve their financial well-being.

Through the webinar series, topics such as ‘Being Money Smart’ and ‘Working Towards Financial Wellness’ are discussed. For each topic, you can view the archived webinar and download a PDF version for future use and reference. Information can be found right on MSAA’s website at http://www.mymsaa.org/manage-your-ms/videos/financial.

What strategies have worked for you in evaluating or creating a financial plan?

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Dental and Vision Insurance

This month as we focus on health insurance, it is also important to discuss two of the often underinsured areas of healthcare, dental and vision services. While we understand the importance of dental hygiene and multiple sclerosis, many individuals still don’t receive the much needed care.

Dental insurance plans can be purchased through the health insurance marketplace as a stand-alone insurance during open enrollment OR if you are planning to make changes to your health insurance plan for the 2016 year, a plan can be selected that includes dental care. Unfortunately, if vision coverage isn’t part of your health insurance plan, it cannot be purchased through the marketplace. To learn about available stand-alone vision plans, contact your state’s Department of Insurance, or a local agent or broker.

Check out the following tips on how to find dental care for the underinsured:

  • Check for a local federally qualified health clinic which offers dental services. To search for a health clinic, use the HRSA website.
  • Look into local dental schools. Most of these teaching facilities have clinics that allow dental students to gain experience treating patients while providing care at a reduced cost. Experienced, licensed dentists closely supervise the students
  • Dental Lifelines Network offers information about free dental services in the area for those that qualify. You can look up information about your state’s program on the program’s website: http://dentallifeline.org/
  • Dial 2-1-1 and connect with your local United Way. You may be directed to free or reduced cost dental services

Check out the following tips on how to find vision care and eyeglass services for the underinsured:

  • VISION USA, coordinated by the Optometry Cares – The AOA Foundation, provides free eye exams to uninsured, low-income workers and their families. For more information about VISION USA, call 1-800-766-4466.
  • Lions Clubs International provides financial assistance to individuals for eye care through its local clubs. You can find a local Lions Club by using the “club locator” feature on the organization’s website.
  • New Eyes provides free eyeglasses to more than 8 million people in the U.S. and around the world. For more information about New Eyes, call 1-973-376-4903 or visit the New Eyes website.
  • EyeCare America, a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, provides free eye exams for qualifying seniors. To see if you qualify, please visit the EyeCare America website.
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