The Benefits Counseling Program
"After I'm gone, call Marty and tell him thank you. If it wasn't for him I would still be waiting. Tell him I will always be an angel sitting on his shoulder, watching over him."
Marty is Marty Kraushar, who has provided benefits counseling at PWAC for the past year and who is bringing this valuable program to Body Positive as part of the two agencies' consolidation. The message is from a grateful client, conveyed by a loved one shortly after the man's death.
The man had been very sick in a Brooklyn hospital. He had no services, and he couldn't go home unless he was on Medicaid so that he could get his prescriptions filled and get the home health aide he needed. Marty armed himself with the man's M11Q form and HIV confidentiality release and called one of his contacts, a woman in the Medicaid office with whom he'd worked many times before. He explained the situation to her, and together they filled out the man's Medicaid application over the phone. Within a very short time, he received his Medicaid number, which enabled him to put the services in place that he needed in order to go home.
The Aces Program
The Benefits Counseling Program is run under the auspices of a program called Advocacy Counseling for Entitlement Services, or ACES. ACES is part of a bigger program within the Community Service Society of New York called the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, or RSVP, which places seniors in volunteer jobs.
In the ACES Program, eligible senior volunteers go through an intensive six-week training course that teaches them about the various entitlement services that are available and how to obtain them. The volunteers also learn how to talk to people about the benefits they may qualify for and the pros and cons of applying for them.
ACES volunteers are placed on-site in hospitals, nursing homes, and social service agencies at 150 locations throughout the five boroughs of New York City. They bring with them an enormous, comprehensive, five-inch thick benefits catalogue that they have been taught to use during their training program. This manual, with all its constantly updated phone numbers and information, is both the not-so-little black book and the bible of the ACES volunteer Benefits Counselor.
Benefits Counseling at PWAC
How necessary is this service? Well, in a recent typical month, Marty helped 89 different people with 148 cases gain access to eighteen different benefits or entitlement services. In the last year, he estimates that he has worked with about 900 clients at PWAC.
Marty has been working with ACES for four years. A retired data-processing professional, he was already a long-time volunteer in AIDS services, in which he feels a personal stake. He had started out at Gay Men's Health Crisis, where at various times he performed volunteer jobs in the Hotline, Volunteer, Legal, and Intake Departments, and where he still keeps a volunteer commitment. Of all his volunteer experiences, Marty says that having personal one-on-one contact with clients has been the most rewarding for him.
So, when RSVP, with whom he was already registered, first approached him about going through the ACES program training to become a Benefits Counselor, he jumped at the chance. This was his opportunity to learn more, do more, and give more concrete assistance to people living with HIV. Bringing clarity, comfort, and helpful suggestions to somebody newly diagnosed and wrangling with benefits, or someone caught in the bureaucratic maze, was something he knew he would enjoy and be good at.
Marty started his ACES benefits counseling at Rivington House, took it to AIDS Center of Queens County, and then, a little over a year ago, to PWAC. Over that time, Marty has continued to add to his expertise and contacts. A big part of being a successful counselor is knowing whom to talk to, and how, at the various agencies -- no easy feat, as most of us know. Marty feels his professional background has been invaluable in getting social service providers to work with him on behalf of his clients. By asking a harried DAS worker, "How can I help you help our client?" he opens the door to a cooperative working relationship, setting the stage for a favorable response from the service provider.
Marty has a slew of improbable success stories, situations in which he was able to do something for someone that no one else could. Take the case of a woman unfairly cut off of Food Stamps in January of '97. Although she'd won a fair hearing in May of that year and DAS had been ordered to reinstate her Food Stamps, nothing had happened for many months. She had given it her own best efforts, petitioning both Mayor Rudy Giuliani's and then Borough President Ruth Messinger's offices. Nada!
Finally, in June of last year, the woman walked into Marty's office at PWAC. Marty made a well-placed phone call to a top administrator at DAS, a contact he had carefully cultivated over time. He was told to fax a copy of the judgment directly to the administrator, and he would see to it that this woman got her Food Stamps. Three weeks later, Marty received a grateful phone call from the woman. Not only had her Food Stamps been reinstated, she'd collected $2,507 worth of the coupons retroactively. "You did for me what even the Mayor and the Manhattan Borough President could not do," she said.
Marty has many other success stories. He can often get benefits for people from DAS within one, two, or three days, benefits that normally take thirty to forty days to obtain. He says that when he presents a drastic need to DAS, they do their best to respond to it quickly. He has a collection of letters from clients he has helped, expressing their deep appreciation for the things he's done for them. These letters reflect, he says, "my proudest accomplishments." Marty's skills and expertise have also been recognized instititutionally by ACES, which has asked Marty to lead the AIDS portion of its benefits training.
Benefits Counseling at BP
Body Positive is fortunate and proud to be able to offer the ACES Benefits Counseling Program to the many people with HIV and AIDS who could benefit from this service. Marty will be here three days a week, Mondays and Thursdays from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and Fridays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. For an appointment, call Body Positive at (212) 566-7333. If you prefer to drop in during those hours without an appointment, you may have to wait while Marty sees those who have called ahead. Our offices are at 19 Fulton Street, in the South Street Seaport, Suite 308B. When you come in to see Marty, be sure to bring your M11Q.
Welcome, Marty and ACES, to Body Positive!
Here Are the Programs
As anyone who's tried to get AIDS-related benefits knows, getting what you need and are entitled to can be awfully complicated. That's why we have a Benefits Counseling Program. Our Counselor, Marty Kraushar, can help you negotiate the maze of programs and requirements and come out the other end with both your benefits and your dignity. Here are the programs Marty can help you with:
...and others, including Access-a-Ride, Veterans Benefits, Medicaid Excess Income Spend Down (using cost of ADAP funded medicines to reduce overage, thereby establishing eligibility), etc.
Tom Weber has worked for over ten years at Gay Men's Health Crisis, Inc., formerly as a Coordinator in the Volunteer Department and currently as Volunteer Coordinator of the Buddy Program.
Illustration by Phil Graziano.
This article was provided by Body Positive. It is a part of the publication Body Positive.