An Open Letter from Mary Schneider, AAWV Founder


October 2, 2014

In May of 1999, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.   CANCER!!   I was a single mother of one child…and I was panic stricken.  I had surgery in June of 1999.  Chemotherapy followed.  So did prayer.  Lots…

In those darkest hours of fear, many of us call on the Almighty for strength and favor.  I’m no exception, pledging that if I were allowed to survive to see my daughter and my daughter’s children grow up, I would build something wonderful… gratitude for my life. one child…and I was panic stricken.  I had surgery in June of 1999.  Chemotherapy followed.  So did prayer.  Lots…

I was one of the lucky ones; my prayers were answered.  Soon after the pains of surgery and treatment had subsided, I was able to start life over with the loving support of my friends.   Two years later, I was fully recovered.  The door to my future was about to open and that future would be driven by the lofty promise I had made in exchange for life.

One day in 2002, I was asked if I knew anything about an obscure veterans program called “Aid & Attendance.”  After all, I had worked for Department of the Army for over 15 years.  In that time, hadn’t I heard about an important benefit available to combat era men and women?  In fact, I had not, so I quickly set out to learn as much as I could.  My research taught me that this little-known VA benefit dramatically offsets the high costs of long-term care, including in-home care, assisted and memory care living situations.

The more I learned, the more I became convinced that this was my mission: teaching wartime veterans and their spouses about this benefit and how to qualify. At that time, only two people in the State of Michigan were receiving this pension!  Before long, we began talking to communities about the Aid & Attendance benefit for their residents.  We were pioneers on a mission.  In the early days, it seemed there were far more questions about Aid & Attendance than answers, but we forged ahead, anyway….remembering very clearly my ‘survivor’s promise.’

Fast forward to 2014…..    We have accomplished our national goal, with Professional Members in twenty states by educating more than ONE MILLION people about Aid & Attendance during the last 12 years.  In addition, we are responsible for 13,000 individual A&A approvals at the VA.  Our organization has overcome many obstacles put before us each time becoming stronger than before.  What’s ahead  for us?  An all inclusive educational approach for everyone (both veteran and non-veteran) concerned about potential cost of long term care as we age.

During the month of October – Breast Cancer Awareness Month – we want all who have been touched in any way by cancer to look toward the future and what can be accomplished with tenacity and desire.  I’m hoping that this story about how cancer served as the first step in founding our organization….can serve in a modest way to increase your awareness and your hope, just as those dark days of 1999 did for me.   Here is to all of you who helped a promise become a reality!!!!!

I would be remiss if I did not honor Rob Middlemas, our Professional Member in North Carolina, who is currently suffering through chemotherapy and waging his own battle against cancer!   Rob has tirelessly served his communities and our veterans during this very difficult time in his life.

Mary L. Schneider, Founder of AAWV