One Voice Making a Difference

July 17, 2020 Compelled to Act By Stephen Smith, RLS Foundation member and volunteer Two years ago, when the RLS Foundation announc...

July 17, 2020

Compelled to Act
By Stephen Smith, RLS Foundation member and volunteer

Two years ago, when the RLS Foundation announced the Advocacy Program, I knew this was something that I had to do. What follows are my advocacy actions over the past two years. However, I believe that everyone needs to step up and become involved in advocacy in some way. Advocacy does not necessarily mean that you need to make a trip to Washington, DC. You can become involved by writing letters to your congressional representatives, visiting their local office to tell your RLS experience to a staffer in person, or simply responding to calls to action from the Foundation where you respond to government requests for comment. Just providing your financial support to the Foundation’s programs is another way to participate in the Advocacy Program.

To get involved, check out the Foundation’s Advocacy web page Please don’t let everyone else carry the load. You CAN make a difference, just like me!

Here is my advocacy story. My RLS requires the use of opioids for treatment, yet the political climate in the town where I live is such that almost none of the doctors in town are willing to prescribe them for any reason other than surgery. Everyone says that "someone should do something" and I knew that in this case, that "someone" had to be me.

As per the Foundation instructions on how to get involved, I contacted the Health and Medicine Counsel of Washington (HMCW), the Foundation’s policy advisors in Washington, DC. Almost immediately, I received a reply email with detailed instructions on how to contact the local offices of my Congressional representatives. I was instructed to talk about my life with RLS, the problems that it causes for me, and three different issues that the Foundation was asking Congress for help with. I was also provided a set of "leave behind" documents to give to the Congressional staffers I met with.

A Welcome Reception

At all three visits, I was warmly received by the staffers and all the meetings went very smoothly. I was also able to make personal connections with each person I spoke with. After talking to me, one of the staffers said that she now suspects that her daughter may have RLS, which she would discuss with her pediatrician at their next visit. A week after the meeting, I sent thank-you emails to each person I spoke with and all three replied to let me know that they had passed the "leave behind" information along to their staff in Washington. My Congressman's staffer even contacted me a few weeks after that to tell me about an RLS related development at the regional Veteran's Affairs office, which covers part of the Congressman's district.

And then last May, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Washington, DC to participate in the Foundation's “RLS Advocacy Day on the Hill.” This was a fascinating experience and a real-life civics lesson. We were divided up into teams by state, briefed about how the visits would proceed, and then each team visited a number of offices for the states represented on the team. I was fortunate that the office of my Congressman, Scott Tipton, was one of the offices that we visited. At each office, the constituent for that member of Congress would say something about the challenges of living with RLS and then the group would join in to cover the various issues of interest to the Foundation, just like I did during my local visits the previous summer.

The call went out again in July that it was time to once again visit with the local offices. Further, it was suggested that these visits should be timed to fall during the August Congressional holiday, when all of our representatives return home for local visits. We received an updated set of issues to discuss and new "leave behind" documents. When I called Congressman Tipton's office, his district director remembered me from the previous year, and we chatted a bit about RLS while he checked his calendar. I had a major stroke of luck as Congressman Tipton himself would be in town the following week and there was a one-hour-opening in his schedule. When I told the HMCW staff about this, I received a special request to ask Congressman Tipton to sponsor a Congressional Resolution recognizing RLS Awareness Day on September 23.

The following week, I was excited to be able to meet Congressman Tipton in person, to have a chance to talk with him directly about the issues that we face with RLS, and to specifically ask for his help to recognize RLS Awareness Day. The meeting went wonderfully. I found out that Congressman Tipton had several close friends with RLS, so he was somewhat aware of the challenges that we face. When I asked Congressman Tipton if he would sponsor the Congressional Resolution for us, he readily agreed.

In mid-September I received an email from HMCW asking for help. There was some sort of snag in the process of getting the RLS Awareness Day resolution processed through Congressman Tipton's Washington office. HMCW asked me to contact my local office to push from my end while they also worked to clear the problem in Washington. An email to the district director in my local office resulted in an almost immediate reply that yes, he remembered that Congressman Tipton had agreed to sponsor the resolution and that he would call Washington immediately. With some additional support from our HMCW team located in Washington, fifteen minutes later, the snag had been cleared. So, on Wednesday, September 18, Congressman Tipton read into the Congressional Record a resolution recognizing September 23 as RLS Awareness Day.

You probably will not be called upon to help obtain a Congressional Resolution recognizing RLS Awareness Day, but you just might be able to educate your three congressional representatives about RLS – and that just might be enough to help us get that critical final vote to pass a bill in Congress that benefits those of us with RLS.

Stephen Smith is a dedicated member and volunteer at the RLS Foundation. He is always eager to participate in any way possible to promote RLS awareness and education. Steve has served as a Discussion Board Moderator for over five years, answering questions and providing resources at all hours of the day and night online with other discussion board moderators. He gives many people hope and the knowledge that they are not alone by sharing his RLS story on video, seen on and on our YouTube channel. He is an avid runner and has retired from a demanding career in the high-tech industry and moved to Colorado with his wife, Deb, for better climate and a more relaxed lifestyle.

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