Community, Society

What to Expect at Headache on the Hill

If you’ve never attended Headache on the Hill, your first time can be a little intimidating. Knowing what to expect goes a long way toward reducing nervousness. Here’s what my in-person experience was like last year. Since this year will be virtual, I spoke with Katie MacDonald from the Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy about the differences, which I’ve noted throughout the post.

The “Ask”

The HOH leadership works ahead of time to determine what “asks” are likely to be most effective. Last year, we asked for legislators to sign onto a bill supporting funding for additional funding in training providers for the specialities of pain management and more fellowships in headache medicine. We will have different asks this year.

Pre-Event Training

Note: All training in 2021 will be virtual, of course. Some sessions will be recorded so you can watch on your own schedule, others will be live sessions so people can ask questions in real-time and work together. If you have been accepted to participate in HOH, you should have received an email with the training details.

At a webinar a week or two before we flew to Washington DC, the HOH team told us about the asks, shared background research, and gave pointers on telling our own story. Then we were told to think about our story that we’d share with legislators. (Your story should be about a minute that explains why you care about advocating for headache disorders. It doesn’t have to be perfected ahead of time, but is good to think about.) This will all be covered in the virtual training this year. 

Training Day

The first day of the event last year was a training where we learned about how to make effective “asks” and practiced telling our story in small groups. This will be on either March 17 or March 20 this year. Attendees were grouped by state. Because Arizona was a large group with seasoned HOH attendees, we also had the lone person from Indiana with us. (He didn’t have to visit legislators offices on his own, an HOH volunteer worked with him, but our grouping was helpful for training.) We were given the names of the legislators we were to visit and the schedule. 

We decided as a team how we wanted to frame our ask and who would speak when. At least three of us spoke at every office we visited—no one had to carry the weight on their own. If the representative from your district is one of the people you’re scheduled with, then you’ll definitely be asked to tell your story. We all introduced ourselves at every office, though, usually to say our names, where we’re from, and our connection to HOH (I said I live with chronic migraine and work as a patient advocate).

This year, it’s recommended that you try to arrange to attend the live virtual training (on March 17 or 20) with the people from your state, if possible. That way, you can have the same benefit of coordinating and learning from the expertise of previous attendees. If you don’t know who is attending, you can ask in the HOH Facebook group. (Depending on your specific meetings and how many people attend from your state, groups may be smaller than every person from the state. Exact groups won’t be known until all the meetings are scheduled.)

Meetings With Legislators

The day of, we started early. I think the first meeting was 8 a.m. Eastern time and we had to meet even earlier to catch the bus to the Capitol and take photos. (This won’t be an issue for this year’s virtual meetings, as they will be scheduled to respect the time zone participants are in.) 

Then we went from one office to the next. We usually talked to the legislator’s chief of staff or their health legislative assistant. They were often young and almost all of them were kind and down-to-earth. And they were curious about our experiences and wanted to hear from us. It was comfortable and not intimidating. Most told us about someone they know with migraine, which was a great personal connection. I believe we may have even asked if they knew someone with migraine. Beforehand, we designated one person to tell their story and one person to take the lead on the ask. As the conversations went on, other people chimed in. It felt like natural conversation. 

Even if you don’t get to meet with the actual member of Congress, don’t feel like you’re being snubbed! The staffers we meet with are most knowledgeable on health-related topics and their opinions carry a lot of weight with their bosses. 

Post-Meeting Debriefing

After each meeting, we debriefed together and filled out a short form about who we met with and how they responded. We also had taken photos with each person we met with and shared those on social media. The post-meeting activity will be a little different this year, since it’s virtual, but the platform will still allow for it.

After All the Meetings

New this year will be a live virtual gathering after the event for everyone to share their experiences. This is a fun advantage to having a virtual HOH. After the in-person meetings, most people went back to their rooms and went to bed early. It is a long day with a lot of walking, especially for people with headache disorders. Having a chance to all connect afterward will be a great bonus.

Community

Headache on the Hill Walk, Run or Just Relax Event, June 28 to July 7

Join me in a fundraiser for Headache on the Hill scholarships for people who want to attend, but can’t cover the travel costs. This is a virtual event that you can walk or run for or just set aside time to do something relaxing. You can participate any day you’d like between June 28 and July 7.

I attended my first Headache on the Hill in February and it’s was an incredible experience. We visited the offices of senators and representatives to ask for an amendment to a bill in Congress. While this year’s efforts were derailed by the coronavirus, meeting with staffers to talk about migraine was itself an act of awareness-raising. I felt like I moved the needle toward better funding for migraine treatment. If you’re able to attend, I highly recommend it. Even if you’re not able to attend, please consider supporting the event virtually.

Here are the details: Headache on the Hill Walk, Run or Just Relax Event

Community, Patient Education, Resources, Treatment

Virtual RetreatMigraine This Weekend—Join Me!

Please join me this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, April 17-19, for the virtual RetreatMigraine experience—a series of information sessions on migraine that will stream on Facebook Live on the Coalition for Headache and Migraine Patient’s Facebook page. Here’s a schedule of the free events so you can watch live. I’ll be on a panel on Friday and will be leading a session on self-care on Saturday that I’m really excited about. I’d love for you to join me!

virtual RetreatMigraine schedule

If you’re not familiar, RetreatMigraine is an annual in-person retreat sponsored by CHAMP. The second annual retreat was scheduled for this weekend in California. When it had to be rescheduled, CHAMP decided to make some of the sessions virtual and open them up to anyone who was able to attend. It’s a great lineup of knowledgeable speakers, so I hope you’re able to watch some of the events.

Relevant links:

Community, Society

An Easy Way to Support Headache Disease Advocacy: Please Complete the CHAMP Survey

The headache disease community needs your help! To gather information to help improve patient access to treatments, advance research, and decrease stigma of headache diseases, the Coalition for Headache and Migraine Patients (CHAMP) is conducting a survey. I’m a CHAMP member and can tell you that the coalition is doing great work for people with headache diseases. We can be even more effective if we hear from more patients about their experiences.

In order to do this important work, we need to hear from more voices. This is where we’re asking for your help. You can:

  • Take the anonymous survey! If you live with headache, migraine or cluster disease, we want to hear your experience. The deadline is Sunday, Feb. 29.
  • Share this with anyone you know who lives with a headache disease

The survey is hugely important and takes about 15 minutes to complete thoughtfully. I promise your time will be well spent. At the end of the survey, you have the option to enter to win a $25 Amazon gift card.

Complete the CHAMP survey by clicking here!

Community, Society

Headache on the Hill 2020

On Tuesday, I attended my first Headache on the Hill advocacy event in Washington, DC. It was an inspiring, educational experience where I learned a bit more about how our country works. I was one of 174 advocates who sought to get co-sponsors for a bill that would increase the number of residencies for people who treat addiction and pain disorder. We also asked for an amendment to the existing bill to increase fellowship funding so more people can train as headache specialists. We represented 45 different states and visited 255 offices of Congress members.

TeamArizona at Headache on the Hill 2020: Jenn Tingwald, Amy Tees, Don Vanderpool, Jamie Valendy, Kerrie Smyres, and Amaal Starling
TeamArizona at Headache on the Hill 2020: Jenn Tingwald, Amy Tees, Don Vanderpool, Jamie Valendy, Kerrie Smyres, and Amaal Starling

What is Headache on the Hill?

Headache on the Hill is an annual event where people who are affected by headache disorders visit the offices of their state senators and representatives with a specific “ask” to improve the lives of people with headache disorders. The ask is different each year and it’s tailored to specific activities in Congress or needs in the headache community.

The first Headache on the Hill, in 2007, was entirely healthcare providers. This year, about 70% of the participants were people who live with headache disorders or our loved ones who wanted to advocate for us. All six of us on TeamArizona have migraine and two are also healthcare providers, which was a great mix.

What We Asked For

The Opioid Workforce Act is a bill currently in both the House in the Senate that seeks to increase funding for more training programs in addiction medicine, addiction psychiatry, and pain medicine. We asked for co-sponsors for the bill and also asked for an amendment to the bill to include fellowships. The bill is currently written only for residencies, but pain medicine (and headache medicine) are fellowships, not residencies. We also asked that they specifically include headache medicine residencies in the bill, since they have different training programs than pain specialists do.

How You Can Help

Even if you didn’t attend Headache on the Hill, you can help by reaching out to your senators and representatives about the Opioid Workforce Act (which is H.R.3414 in the House and S.2892 in the Senate). First, check to see if they have already co-sponsored the bill (check here for representatives co-sponsoring H.R.3414 and here for senators co-sponsoring S.2892). If they have co-sponsored, please thank them for doing so and tell them how important it is to you. If not, please ask them to co-sponsor the bill. You can also ask them to amend the error in the language to include pain medicine and headache medicine fellowships (rather than residencies), but you can skip that part if it feels too hard to explain (I got training on it and it was still hard to explain!).

You can find your representatives and senators here. Calling is probably the easiest approach, but research shows that a personalized postal letter or personalized email are more effective than a phone call. Given that “personalized” is a key component of the effectiveness of the letter or email, I don’t have prewritten wording for you. My recommendation is to start with the “ask” and then tell them why it’s important to you. Be sure to include your address in the letter so they know you’re a constituent.

If you call, know that you’ll likely reach voicemail, so if you have anxiety about talking to a stranger on the phone, know that you probably won’t! Be sure to leave your zip code so they know you’re a constituent. I always add my full address at the very end of the voicemail, just in case.

Join Me Next Year!

Join me in 2021 to advocate for headache disorders in your state! Follow the Alliance for Headache Disorders advocacy on Facebook or Twitter to learn when the applications for next year open, which is usually in November. There is an application form to fill out and not everyone is accepted—it’s based on which states and areas within each state need representation—but please don’t be intimidated by the application form. You don’t need to have a social media presence or a history of advocacy to be able to participate, but it’s good information for them to have, so they ask for it.

A caveat: Headache on the Hill is the largest patient advocacy group without a corporate sponsor that does lobbying events like this. That means both that there’s no corporate intervention in the message (which is great!) and that it’s done on a shoestring (which can be a challenge for some patients who want to participate). Participants’ hotel rooms are covered for at least one night and usually a couple meals are covered, too. You’ll need to cover transportation to and from Washington, D.C., some of your meals (I brought a lot of nonperishable food and found a grocery store nearby), and for extra nights at the hotel. It’s a commitment, but it’s an incredible experience if you can do it. I honestly can’t count how many people have told me that attend Headache on the Hill was life-changing for them.