Woman Fights For Change In Medicare Rules - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

04/29/05 - Nacogdoches

Woman Fights For Change In Medicare Rules

by Donna McCollum

Most of us think if we suddenly had to 'quit work' because of a disability we would receive Social Security benefits. But many do not realize the payments may not come in time to help us.

They almost didn't for Theresa Smith. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis five years ago, and she'll fight it for the rest of her life. "You don't expect something like that to happen. In a blink of an eye my life changed," said Smith.

Smith assumed she would immediately receive disability checks. Instead she was told what millions of other Medicare applicants hear, "Oh, I'm sorry you have to wait 24 months."

At the height of her business career Smith's disease progressed and she lost everything. "We had to sell my house. We had to sell my car. I had to deplete my savings. All of my assets were gone by that time," said Smith.

Smith's parents are using their own retirement funds to help their 49 year old daughter. The sacrifice they all made is why Smith testified before the public health committee in Austin. Smith believes, "We can actually save lives if there's early intervention. So this waiting period needs to go away." Smith's testimony could influence state legislators to pass a 'resolution' that asks national leaders to change the '24 month waiting period' for disability benefits.

Smith isn't asking for charity. She's using a scholarship from the Department of Rehabilitation to become a vocational rehabilitation counselor.

She's making her parents proud. Don Vance, Smith's father, said, "It makes me feel real happy. I"m very proud of her. She's done a hell of a lot a lot of people wouldn't been able to do."

Smith says she'll never be able to pay back all she owes to so many. Yet she is. Her reimbursement is coming through a desire to help herself while helping others.

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