KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Monday, May 22, 2006

Disrespecting Veterans: What Health Care?

The health insurance monster has another family in its maw—my friend Martha, her husband Miguel, and their 13-year-old son R. Martha is a full-time freelance writer; Miguel is a self-employed cabinetmaker. They live in upstate New York. Martha tells me:

I just got a notice from our health insurance company.

Because I actually do some work for Miguel—I answer the phone and take messages for him, I balance his checkbook and assemble info for the accountant at tax time—we made his business a partnership. This allows us to get small-group rates for health insurance.

For the past year, we have been paying $786.82 for family coverage, which I simultaneously thought was exorbitant and a bargain.

The group arrangement thing that we belonged to is being canceled. We have our choice among plans that range from $912.78 to $1,276.88 per month. (There are three tiers to choose from, but no explanation as to how they differ.)

Miguel is a Vietnam combat vet who, for myriad and complicated reasons, has never applied for VA [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] benefits. Because he inherited some money after his father died, because our house has increased in value since we bought it, and because we manage to live fairly debt free, it is likely that our assets are too high (over $80,000) for him to qualify for VA health care.

Here is what absolutely frosts my shorts: He—and how many millions of other men and women?—risked their fucking lives in service to their country. (Not to mention the 52,000 who died in Vietnam.) And yet if they have $80 grand saved up or make more than $32,000 a year (with one dependent), they don't qualify for health care coverage.

Meanwhile, we have people in Congress who risk getting—what? paper cuts? Getting what kind of health care coverage? Despite incomes of what? With what sort of ceilings on assets? [Most members of Congress pay premiums that are ridiculously low (rate info provided by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the human resources department for the federal government) when compared with their salaries.]

That sound is my head exploding.

Although my fury is motivated by our situation, I can't help but wonder about the other Vietnam veterans, as well as the men and women who've served in wars since Vietnam—wars with fewer casualties but with injuries that 30-plus years ago would have been fatal. Injuries that rip apart bodies, spirits, lives; injuries whose recipients do, one hopes, receive some form of medical and financial assistance.

Miguel has an idea of what those injuries are. He saw them in Southeast Asia; he saw them when he returned home and went to the VA to see what he might be eligible for. One of the reasons it's taken him 38 years and a nagging wife to get him to the point where he's actually going to look into this is that conscience will not allow him to take money from an organization with such limited resources when there are people who are in far more desperate need.

Although he wasn't physically wounded, he's lived for decades with stress and anxiety, with the guilt of coming home alive. He is relieved that soldiers today receive therapy as part of their separation, and that they come home as heroes.

Of course, I may be reading the paperwork wrong and there may be some exemption to this $80,000 rule and he may in fact qualify. But I'm not sure how that will affect R. and me. If we can get parent and child rates through Miguel's business as opposed to family rates, we'd pay between $693.70 and $866.46.

I honestly think I can no longer afford to freelance. I hate to have to think about commuting, but our health insurance premiums will have doubled—yes, doubled—in six years. If only our incomes had as well.

What really bites is how few people are aware of how shat-on veterans are.

Many people don't realize that there is a difference between retiring from the military (which you do after 20 years of service) and being discharged (what you do after you are drafted [or enlist] and serve your 2 years of active duty and 4 years of reserve duty). Retired military get better benefits—not great, but better.

It's just the kind of thing you don't think about if it doesn't affect your life. “Soldiers? Oh, they fight, they come home, and if they're wounded, they get taken care of. Don't they? Like, with the VA?"

Apparently, they don’t. Are you listening, George Bush? Senator Clinton? Senator Schumer? State Assemblywoman Nancy Calhoun? State Senator Bill Larkin? Anybody?

Updated June 6: Martha tells me that amazingly, the government's doing the right thing and Miguel now has coverage through the VA. She and their son will have to get a parent-and-child policy, which, where they live, will cost between $600 and $700 a month. Not wonderful, but still barely affordable.


Anonymous said...

VA comp is like workmans comp. It's for people who get hurt on the job.
Not just because they had the job,
and retiring hasd nothing to do with it.
Also it is the veterans responsability to apply for comp same as out here.
I'm a 100% disabled Vietnam vet if it matters.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Hi, Anon. My friend's husband was injured on the job; he has a leg full of shrapnel.

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