Disabled Workers and Chronic Pain Patients Need a Voice in Congress

By Amanda Siebe, Guest Columnist

I’ve always wanted to serve my community. Nine years ago, I thought the best way to do that would be as an EMT and firefighter. I wanted to be there for people in their hour of need to provide help and comfort. But in 2011, that goal came to an abrupt end.

While working as a restaurant manager, I fell and badly sprained my ankle. What should have been six weeks of recovery turned into full body Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). Because my employer placed more value on profits than they did on my health and safety, I continued to work in the kitchen, repeatedly slipping and falling before abandoning my crutches.

That simple injury ended up taking my dignity, financial stability, and eventually it will take my life. All because my employer didn’t have another manager to run the restaurant while I recovered.

Because of my disability, I never thought much about running for political office. But as I watched the lack of representation the disabled community has and felt the impact policies and funding cuts have on my life, I began to wonder: How could I not run?

I may not have the body that I once did, but my mind and passion are still sharp, as is the case with many disabled individuals. My wheelchair has not made me any less of a person or any less deserving of a representative who looks like me and understands my plight.

So here I am, taking a stand to say that while we may be disabled, we’re still worthy of quality life and pursuit of happiness.

I’m running in the 2020 election as a Democrat in Oregon’s 1st Congressional District to fight for the care and benefits we deserve and were promised.

Federalize Workers Compensation

AMANDA SIEBE

AMANDA SIEBE

As a disabled worker, I was assured there was a safety net to catch us if we got hurt, but I quickly realized that’s not the case. We aren’t told that workers compensation is run by private insurers who have more loyalty to their shareholders than to injured workers. These companies increase profits by denying injured workers medical care, leaving them to suffer as they fight to justify every treatment, medication and benefit.

Currently, each state dictates the worker compensation laws these companies follow, resulting in injured workers getting better treatment in some states than in others. A worker in New York is no more valuable than a worker in Alabama. That’s wrong and must change.

We must end this system of profits over people. We need to federalize workers compensation and prevent lobbyists and private interest groups from ripping apart our safety net. Workers who give their time, bodies and lives to employers must receive the care and respect they deserve.

End Forced Tapering of Pain Patients

Patients with chronic and debilitating pain have been hit especially hard during the opioid crisis. Patients on stable doses of prescription opioids for years are being forcibly tapered and left to suffer. Less than 3% of chronic pain patients become addicted to opioid medication, but doctors are still taking many patients off of these drugs.

When patients are forcibly tapered without properly managing their pain, it forces some to turn to the bottle, the street or suicide for pain management. Thousands have already died as a result of losing their opioids. This must stop.

Increase Disability Payments

After my injury, I went from being the family breadwinner, earning about $50,000 a year, to trying to survive on $735 a month. Young disabled people are especially hard hit because we don’t have decades of high-earning work history to draw on, resulting in lower benefits. That’s if they can even get on SSDI. Those who become disabled before 45 often won’t get approved for disability or have to fight for years to get it.

We must stop using age as a determinate of disability. If disability doesn’t discriminate based on age, then neither should our government.

Currently, there are 554,000 homeless people in our country. Of those, 40% are disabled and 30% are elderly. The average Social Security Disability benefit is $880, while the average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Portland, Oregon is $1,400.

It’s no wonder when our government pays starvation wages as a benefit that so many disabled and elderly become homeless. We can reduce our nation’s homeless rate by over half just by making SSI and SSDI comparable to a living wage. We must ensure our most vulnerable citizens have a basic quality of life, too.

IMAGE BY NATALIE BEHRING

IMAGE BY NATALIE BEHRING

The disabled community needs many other things that have gone ignored by Congress. While the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1994 was a huge step forward, it hasn’t been updated in 25 years. We need the ADA to match the knowledge and technology of today.

Many people provide care to disabled family members while still holding down a full-time job. It’s time we paid these family caregivers, who save insurers and healthcare providers hundreds of billions of dollars each year. Paying them would give needy families financial stability and independence.

Medicare For All

We’re an important voice in the healthcare debate and we need to be part of the conversation. If we are to have Medicare For All, then it needs to cover all conditions, all medications and all medically necessary treatment for all patients. Medicare as it currently stands is underfunded and not good enough. We need to fight for universal healthcare coverage so patients no longer have to fight for proper care.

Even though 1 in 5 adults are disabled, we are sorely under-represented in Congress. We need representatives who understand the unique situations and problems we face. We’ve been forced to sit on the sidelines as others decide our care, benefits and future. It’s time we had a say.

For too long, we’ve been victims of circumstance — told that we can’t run for office because our bodies prevent us from giving everything we have. That’s a lie.

Running for Congress isn’t what I thought I’d do be doing with the time I have left, but everyone deserves representation. We’re a part of this country and it’s time we were treated as such. It’s time for the disabled community to unite and be represented. We deserve better. 

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Amanda was diagnosed in 2012 with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). Since her diagnosis, she has advocated for chronic pain and disability rights. In 2016, Amanda was the recipient of the WEGO Health Advocate Rookie of the Year Award.

Amanda has dedicated her life to improving her community and has fought to teach her 11-year-old son, Keagan, the same. Further information about Amanda’s congressional campaign can be found on her website.

The information in this column is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.