More than just tax cuts

One man takes home a different kind of message from Bush visit

When Din (pronounced Dean) Deveaux arrived at Fernbank Museum of Natural History last week to see President George W. Bush, he parked his 1996 Range Rover in the handicapped parking spot right next to Carol Hughes, whose 25-year-old son has cerebral palsy. Hughes, the public relations officer for Georgia Tech's Center for Rehabilitation Technology, is one of Bush's advisers on disabilities policy. When she and Deveaux struck up a conversation, he told her he didn't have a ticket to get into the private event. Hughes quickly produced an extra.
In mid-February, Hughes had sat at Bush's right hand while he led a White House forum on his New Freedom Initiative, a plan that would provide low-interest loans to disabled people for higher education or for purchasing technology that would help them get jobs. Deveaux, who was paralyzed from the waist down six months ago, didn't know about the president's proposal until Hughes told him about it.
He was at Fernbank for the same reason that most people seemed to be there.
"I like his tax cut plan," said Deveaux, 26. "It's going to help me when I'm back on my feet again."
Deveaux's doctors doubt that will ever happen. Last September on I-20, he was rear-ended by a driver that police later estimated must have been doing at least 90. When Deveaux regained consciousness, he was in Grady Hospital and couldn't move his legs.
Deveaux was a 1988 Junior Olympics Bronze medallist in Tae Kwon Do. He later played football at Georgia Military College where he earned his associate's degree in health education. He wanted to get a four-year degree, but, until he could see his way clear to do it, he worked as a fitness trainer for local football stars. His life was all about taking care of bodies. Suddenly, he couldn't even take care of his own. He entered the world of catheters and bags, assistants and physical therapy.
Although doctors say his spinal fracture is inoperable, Deveaux remains optimistic.
"I think I'll walk again," he said. "I'm almost positive I will."
In the meantime, Deveaux will be drawing Social Security, but not Medicaid. Deveaux doesn't qualify. He owns too much personal property — meaning he has more than one car (he's trying to sell one); and while working he invested in the stock market, so he has stocks and bonds. He also has two daughters, an ex-wife and, since the accident, $20,000 of credit card debt. He wasn't able to work, he says, and won't begin collecting Social Security until April so he's had to live off his credit cards.
But financial burdens were not weighing heavily on Deveaux as he sat in the crowd of flag-waving Bushophiles. He was excited about seeing the president. Bumping into Hughes was lucky happenstance.
She also updated Deveaux on the Medicaid buy-in package passed by Congress last year ("A Republican Congress," she said). The bill gives states the right to allow the working disabled to pay for Medicaid coverage. If Georgia's legislature approves it, disabled workers could buy coverage for things that most private insurance plans don't cover, such as equipment maintenance and long-term care. Last week, the state legislature voted to spend $125,000 on a study to see if Medicaid buy-ins would be feasible for Georgia.
"I wouldn't take a job that didn't offer insurance coverage," Hughes said. "But right now disabled people have to make the choice between having a job or having health insurance."
Deveaux nodded in agreement. He didn't vote for Bush. He voted for Libertarian candidate Harry Browne.
"I did not like Gore," he said vehemently. "If I had it to do over, I'd vote for Bush. I really like what he's had to say."
Bush wasn't in town to talk about Medicaid though. But he did mention Medicare, much to the interest of some elderly women who asked Deveaux to move his chair so they could get a better view. He tried, but there wasn't enough room to maneuver. Hughes said nothing to the ladies, but asked Deveaux to lunch. Later, discussing the Republican public relations effort, she said of Deveaux, "We need him. He's articulate and attractive. He would be great."