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I must admit: Until a few years ago, the idea of a health care crisis never crossed my mind. I have never had to worry about my health care, as it has, as long as I can remember, been provided by my government.

I don’t know where my health care came from before the age of three. I don’t know because, I don’t really have detailed memories before then, and I’m not sure where my Dad worked or what benefits he received. What I do know is this: when I was three my parents moved to Northwest Florida with my brother and me. My Dad had gotten hired as a poultry inspector for the Department of Agriculture. He went to work every day at 5:30 AM, and didn’t come home some days until dinner time, smelling like what you can imagine a man who inspects raw chicken in a poultry plant smells like. For almost 15 years my Dad worked at that chicken plant for the USDA, and for the price of $60 a month, my parent never had to worry about health care for their family.  

My brother and I, only fifteen months apart, were stereotypical rambunctious boys.  My Mom used to joke that when we would leave the emergency room, the receptionist would say "See you in six months!". For several years, either my brother or I went to the local ER for stitches, broken bones, dog bites, asthma attacks or some other ailment every six months like clockwork. What I never thought about until recently was that "See you in six months!" is a lot different than "How would you like to pay?" We never heard that, because our health insurance provided through the Federal Government paid 100% for emergency care within 72 hours of an accident. Once, when my brother broke his arm, there was no one in our small rural town hospital to cast it.  No problem. Our godless socialist government health care with patients dying waiting to be treated allowed us to get an appointment in a town an hour away the following day. The insurance still paid 100%, even though the treatment wasn’t in an emergency room.

Even when I went for a routine doctor visit for the flu, to the dentist, or the optometrist, my Mom would stop at the desk on the way out and write a check for a mere $15.00. In most cases of the flu or other illnesses likely picked up from our public school, we were able to get a same day appointment at the pediatrician or physician, despite our radical socialist health insurance which, I’m told, promises long lines and six month waits.  

For mental health care, the coverage wasn’t as good but still better than the horror stories I hear from those who do not have government health care.  My Grandmother was murdered in her own home when I was in the third grade. My Mom agonized a great deal over it, and ended up having to go to an inpatient treatment facility. A little while later, my older brother was hospitalized in the same facility. Afterwards, they both spent years going to follow up appointments with mental health professionals. Through all this, my parents payed forty percent and insurance paid sixty. That sounded steep to me when my Mom was filling me in on the details, but she assures me we never had trouble making up the difference, even with my Dad’s modest salary, which started out at $16,000 a year, at his evil socialist government job as a poultry inspector, standing on his feet on a line every day watching chickens fly by on hooks.
Several years after my Mom left inpatient treatment, she learned how her different medications changed the way she felt. Multiple medication adjustments left her with a drawer full of surplus prescriptions. Eventually, she began self medicating which let to an addiction to her prescription drugs.  She also added alcohol to the mix. Cocktails of Southern Comfort, Klonopin, Xanax, Trazadone and others became her daily ritual. I was in middle school by this point, and I would go days without seeing my Mom. She would lay in bed all day and rise late at night just before or after I went to bed. If I awoke in the night she’d be sitting in her recliner with a tall glass of what I only knew then to be Coca-Cola, but later learned it to be a far more potent beverage. I never knew any of this. The naivety of youth led me to believe that my mother was just "sick". Eventually, my parents sat my brother and I down and informed us that my Mom’s meds were doing bad things to her and she had to go to a hospital to get them all out of her system. This was the child friendly version.  Later, when we went to visit her at the treatment facility, in what I’m guessing was one of her twelve steps, my mother informed my brother and I that she was an alcoholic and a prescription drug addict.

Some would say that this was all my Mom’s fault, that she chose to develop her addiction, that she should have shown some self-restraint, and that she had no one to blame but herself.  Those that would say that would be absolutely 100% correct. I don’t know if compassion was built into our government health care, but I do know this: My Mom had to young sons who needed their mother, and when she needed help she was able to go to a preferred facility that charged even less than the normal 60/40 mental health rate. Her sons got their Mom back, and this February my Mom will have been clean and sober for twelve years.

In the next few years, my parents’ marriage fell apart.  They were always very careful to not involve my brother and I in their problems, so I honestly don’t know what exactly happened. I can say that I don’t really care to know. I became much closer to both my parents in the years since, probably as a result of their divorce.  At some point while I was in high school, my Dad left his job with the USDA to try his hand at youth ministry. This meant that we lost our federal health care. However, by this time my mom was working as a social worker for a non-profit which received subsidization from the state of Florida. This job also provided health care through an HMO. HMOs get a bad wrap, probably deservingly. But the care received through my Mom’s state subsidized employer was satisfactory, though not as good as what the federal government provided us. Emergency care co-pays were $150. Co-pays for doctor visits were $25. Tests were free. Hospital stays and surgeries had a flat-rate co-pay. When I had a hernia repaired my senior year, it cost my mom all of $300.

All through high school I had big dreams. I wanted to go to a good school and learn to do something I loved. I planned, for the longest time, to go to film school at NYU. But halfway through my senior year, I came to the harsh realization that attending school a few days a week and spending the rest of my time skateboarding or at the beach wasn’t  a way to get into a quality post-secondary learning institution. So, I did what any (well, maybe not any) ambitious young American would do: I joined the Army. You would think that after 15 years of being treated in a godless socialist health care system, I wouldn’t be healthy enough to serve. However, I passed my physical exam and three months after my high school graduation. I left for basic training.

I spent five years in the Army in North and South Carolina, Korea and Afghanistan. The health care I received was first class. I have always had a problem with ingrown toe nails, and I could always go to sick call in the morning and get them removed and go back to work.  The doctor would give me an excuse to not run, march or wear combat boots. But I had dealt with these since I was very young and didn’t want to be pegged as the Joe who always had an excuse. So, I’d just strap my boots on and go about my day. I received regular check-ups, dental cleanings and vaccinations. My first week in Korea I got bit by a spider. I walked into the post clinic late one night after working a duty shift and had the bite lanced within an hour. That evil socialist government Army medical clinic also told me to walk-in every day, without an appointment, and have the would repacked with gauze. I never had to wait when walking in for one of the socialist Army medics to treat me.

I even met my wife in the Army and we got married at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.  About four months after we were back in the United State together, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, we discovered we were expecting a child. Throughout her pregnancy, my wife received government care at Womack Army Medical Center. This included birthing, lactation and other classes given weekly by medical professionals. My daughter was born at WAMC and we never had any complaints about the first class care provided throughout the entire process. A week after her birth, I boarded an aircraft destined for a fourteen month tour in Afghanistan.

As our unit in Afghanistan prepared to assume our mission, there was a certain degree of "free time" (as "free" as time can be in an infantry battalion at Kandahar Airfield). I decided to use some of this time to have a condition checked on that I had been warned about earlier in my career. In Korea, I worked under a Senior Noncommissioned Officer who had been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, and an officer who had been a nurse in her prior career. After observing my work and behavior patterns, they informed me that I might want to get screened for ADD. At Kandahar, our medical facility was not run by American military personnel. Oh no, it was operated by those evil godless socialist Canadians with their collective health care agenda. There, I was diagnosed by a Canadian psychiatrist with ADD and prescribed medication which was filled by their Canadian pharmacy using Canadian drugs. My Administration back in the states was busy telling everyone that the drugs I was prescribed weren’t safe for Americans. Apparently, they thought they were good enough for American Soldiers. Lucky for me, they were right about that part at least, but probably not about them not being safe for the rest of America. After having to attend summer school after my senior year just to get my diploma so I could ship off to basic training, I now am in my third year of college with a 3.9 GPA, much of which I credit to the treatment of my ADD.

When I returned to the states, I got out of the Army, but my wife stayed in and was reassigned to Redstone Arsenal, Alabama.  We were surprised by the quality of care compared to what we were used to at Fort Bragg. It wasn’t as easy to get care, as I saw it, due to there only being a clinic (rather than an Army hospital) on Redstone, and us having to rely on private providers in the community beyond what we could receive through the government run facility on post. Even still, when my daughter or I had routine illnesses, we could call after 7:30AM and get a same day appointment for acute conditions.

After several months in Alabama, my marriage, like my parents before me, also fell apart.  Once we realized the situation was irreconcilable, we got a quick divorce, since our split was amicable. We wanted to get everything over as soon as possible, so it wasn’t until after our papers were already filed that I realized I’d be losing my health insurance. I panicked about this for a couple weeks before I decided to explore the options the Veterans’ Health Administration had to offer.  I always thought that I could only get treatment for service related injuries. What I later discovered was that I am actually entitled to fairly comprehensive health care in addition to any service connected conditions I have. My first appointment, my provider asked me if I wanted to quit smoking. I honestly hadn’t intended on making the effort so I told him that I didn’t like the fact that I smoke, and would be interested in quitting. He asked me if I wanted the patch and I took it. I few days later I received, via FedEx, a package of a full supply of nicotine patches for which I was charged a grand total of $18.  Also, I now receive my ADD medication through the VA. Once a month, without me having to go see a doctor, the FedEx delivery person knocks on my door and I sign for a months worth of medication, for which I do not pay. If I could not afford the minimal co-pays for prescriptions, I could request exemption from the VA. The closest VA clinic with an emergency room is about two hours away, but if I need emergency care I can go to either of the two local hospitals and receive care, which will be billed 100% to the VA. I also have a great employer which offers a health plan. I honestly haven’t taken advantage of it yet because I haven’t had any trouble with my health care from the VA.

I look back on my almost 25-year-long life of being treated by public health care, and am honestly insulted by the misinformation that comes from anti-reformers. If not for public health care, my vision might have been damaged by the scratch cornea I got in elementary school. Instead, today I have 20/20. Who knows what would have happened if my respiratory disease hadn’t been treated the day I came running in from the woods to my Mom, "blue-faced" as she describes it.  Would I bear scars on my hands from the second and third degree burns I received in a house-fire at 16? What if my Mom had never gotten treatment for her mental illness or addictions? Would she have been able to see her sons well into adulthood? Do all these anti-reformers who preach about keeping government out of health care really want to take TRI-CARE away from my ex-wife, who still wears an Army uniform, and daughter? Do they genuinely want to deny the first-class care I receive from the Department of Veterans Affairs? Or is the case simply that they have been the victims of misinformation perpetrated by those who have something to gain from keeping every American from receiving the same quality, first class, evil, godless, socialist health care that I’ve received since I was three years old?

Originally posted to Richard Smith on Tue Sep 08, 2009 at 03:37 PM PDT.

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