Archive for August, 2008


For more than ten years I have worked side by side with patient advocate Karen Miner, whose body is paralyzed but whose spirit recognizes no bounds. Karen and I helped pass the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act of 1999, named after my son; Senator Deborah Ortiz’s groundbreaking stem cell research “permission” laws; and the magnificent Proposition 71, led by Bob Klein, whose vision made possible the world’s largest funding source for embryonic stem cell research. Health reasons have now curtailed Karen’s participation, but her volunteer effort is an example beyond compare. This new site is dedicated to her, and to all who refuse to accept the word: incurable.

Here is the first entry at the new site; we will be developing a way to transfer over the previous 460 entries….

VET VOTE THREATENED: (also Disabled, African-American, Elderly, Poor, Native-American…)

To its everlasting shame, on May 5th, 2008, President George Bush’s Veterans Administration (VA) issued the following directive:

“…to avoid disruptions to facility operations, voter registration drives are not permitted.”

The directive referred to federally financed VA hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and rest homes. A separate directive made the same prohibition on reservations for Native Americans.

This blocks out non-partisan organizations like the League of Women Voters, of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and any other groups—and even the Secretary of State whose job it is to oversee elections!

Do I exaggerate? Ask Connecticut’s Secretary of State Susan Bisiewicz, who attempted to enter a VA medical center in West Haven, Connecticut, and was denied entrance.  Ms. Bisiewicz has since organized a bi-partisan effort to overturn this ruling, including statements of support from Secretaries of State from 21 other states. Unfortunately, thus far, her efforts have not succeeded.

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein said: “There is no reason why the Department of Veterans Affairs should not proactively assist veterans in exercising their right to vote. To do otherwise is an insult to the sacrifices these men and women have made for our country. It’s time for the Department of Veterans Affairs to reverse its directive and allow these non-partisan…organizations into VA facilities to register to vote.”

Dealing with the alleged reason (disruptions) for denying voter registration efforts, Senator Feinstein said:

“We would appreciate knowing the type of disruptions the VA envisions might occur during voter registration drives by nonpartisan organizations, such as the League of Women Voters or veterans organizations…”

A 90-second assist in filling out a form is too great a “disruption” for the VA to handle?

For most patients, a “disruption” like that would be welcomed, for the sheer relief from boredom alone—not to mention the opportunity to participate in democracy.

The truth, perhaps, may have nothing to do with disruption, and everything to do with suppressing the vote.

Mary G. Wilson, President of the league of Women Voters, said: “It just seems wrong…that the V.A. is erecting barriers to voter registration for our nation’s veterans. They appear to be using technicalities to block many veterans from registering to vote.”

Even members of the President’s party object: “I’m very dismayed that they won’t even allow groups that have a long-established reputation of doing non-partisan work,” said Pat Hollarn, a Republican and supervisor of elections for Okaloosa County, Florida, which has more than 50,000 veterans.”—NYTimes, June 13, 2008.

This is the tip of the iceberg. According to the American Association of People with Disabilities, Florida has roughly three million voting-age citizens with disabilities.  Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced legislation to designate VA centers of voter registration agencies, so anyone entering would automatically be offered a chance to register, just as is the case with driver’s license bureaus.  But no Republican support can be found for the bill, and in any case, the November election will likely be over before the bill can be voted on in both houses—and if it did pass, President Bush might veto it anyway.

Why is the Bush Administration so concerned about voters with disabilities?

They tend to vote Democrat.

So what’s the answer?

There is only one answer. Support voter registration for the disabled, the poor, our minorities—everyone.

Register, register, register—and then, of course, vote.

No matter where you stand politically, there is no excuse to not support voter registration for every citizen—especially if you are a voting-age person with a disability.

If you drive a wheelchair, and can get out in the community, go to the library, and get a registration form. Ask if you can have a couple extra, to give to your friends. (Some states say yes, others no. Secretary of State Bisievicz always carries a couple hundred in the trunk of her car.) If they say yes, put the extra in the bag on your wheelchair.

Register yourself and send it in. You might be able to do it on line. Or you might wish to do it the absentee voting method, which means your voting forms are sent to your home, and you don’t have to go to the polls at all.

And that extra registration form or two, now in the bag of your wheelchair?

Next person you meet in a chair, ask if they are registered. If not, give them a form.

Don’t collect it, tell them to put it in the mail.

Some states you can register on-line.

IMPORTANT for would-be voters with a disability: Some states now require a government-issue photo ID. Almost always, that means either a driver’s license, or a passport. But if you are disabled, you may not drive, so you might not have a driver’s license. And (again, if you are disabled) chances are you have financial problems, and may be too broke to do international travel—so you won’t have a need for a passport—and not having a government issue photo ID care may disqualify you from voting.

But you can get a government issue photo ID card anyway. If you go to any Driver’s License Bureau, you can get a government ID card that lets you vote—and you do not have to own a car. Just wheel up to the lady or gentleman behind the counter, and tell them you want an ID card. They will know exactly what you mean.

Don’t know where to go to find out exact information?  Here is where you go. These are the people in every state who have the answers. Put the cursor on the Secretary of State for your state, hit control and click and that takes you to your state’s Secretary of State. If the answer you want is not instantly visible on his or her page, just go to “Contact Us”, call the phone number nearest you, and ask any questions you want. I promise they will be very nice, because I have called them with questions before, and they are invariably so glad to walk me or you through whatever is needed.

Above all—REMEMBER IN NOVEMBER—Remember to vote!



























New Hampshire

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota





Rhode Island

South Carolina

South Dakota






West Virginia



Don C. Reed
Sponsor, Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act
Founder and Co-Chair, Californians for Cures
Don Reed is also Vice President of Public Policy for Americans for Cures Foundation; opinions voiced here as an individual may or may not reflect those of the Foundation.

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