Columns 2012

When did we become such a mean country

A friend pointed out to me that the two lead stories in the paper this past Sunday involved healthcare. One story was about a baby who recently died of cancer. The other was about a wounded warrior who was deemed not eligible for VA healthcare because he had a less than honorable discharge.

The friend asked me how we got to determine who did or didn’t deserve health care in our society. It’s an interesting question.

I hear from a lot of people who think that if you don’t have health care and you get sick, tough luck. It’s your problem for being too lazy to get a job with benefits or too dumb to not get sick. Either way, they don’t want to spend their hard earned tax dollars on someone they deem not worthy. I assume that’s how some people define who deserves health care in America.

In the case of the child with cancer, government health care was available thanks to Denali KidCare. The child’s medical bills were covered even though his parents did not have independent insurance coverage. However, they are over their heads in debt from all the other expenses that accrue when you are accompanying your child on a painful journey that no parent should ever have to take with their child.

Because of this, they are unable to continue to employ the half dozen people who had worked the farm with them. Six more jobs lost to the economy. Yet if the government had some sensible policy in place to support people through a traumatic event such as this, these parents could potentially still be employing those people. Basically, if we’d found a way to provide them with what is probably the equivalent of an annual salary for a couple of their employees, they could have kept six people working, paying taxes and earning their own way in life.

That sounds like an awfully fair exchange to me. These are not lazy people. This is a family attempting to live the American dream. In fact, dare I say it, what conservatives would claim as their vision of the American dream – hard working, family oriented, job creators. Their community and church are doing all they can to help. Why would anyone think it was anything but a good idea to have a program that helps them remain the independent people they clearly strive to be?

The story about the wounded warrior, the vet with a less than honorable discharge who is no longer eligible for VA care until his case has been “reviewed”, bothered me perhaps even more. Here was a man who had entered the military, seen combat, been injured in the process, been honored with awards for his service and then been discharged for less than honorable behavior. Given that the less than honorable behavior apparently began AFTER the head wounds, after the tours in the Mideast, after the diagnosis of PTSD, one can only wonder why anyone would deny this veteran the care he needed.

Until such time as a clear line can be drawn with PTSD on one side and inherently dishonorable actions on the other, this vet should be given the benefit of the doubt and get health care from the VA. Research has made it very evident that we honestly don’t have a clue as to all the damage PTSD can do. We have even less of a clue how PTSD combined with Traumatic Brain Injury will play out in a person’s psyche and personality. Common sense would suggest that if the questionable behavior didn’t start until after the problems created by deployment, injury and general military service in a war zone, then maybe it’s not the fault of the soldier who has had his brain altered by events beyond his control.

When did we become such a mean country? When did we become so damn self-righteous and un-Christian? If Jesus didn’t ask for proof of need before caring for the sick, why do we?

We need to rediscover the heart and compassion that made this country great by offering a helping hand to those trying to climb the ladder to a productive life. We need to end the attitude that says so long as I have mine, I don’t give a darn if you get yours.