By Donna Smith, American SiCKO, communications specialist for the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee
This isn’t such a day of honor for Michael Baranik of Jennings, LA. His nation doesn’t seem very grateful for his service. He is dying. And he is being denied the medical care that could save his life.
Here’s what Michael wrote in as he told his story on the guaranteedhealthcare.org website: “In January 2007, on the worst day of my life, I sat in a doctor's office and was told I had terminal cancer, and then in the next breath he told me my insurance was not good enough to cover reimbursement of the chemotherapy.
“Now I am a retired military veteran, I spent 24 years in the United States Navy, I served my country for 24 years, now my country is giving up on me.”
Many Americans think that veterans always have access to quality healthcare through the Veterans Administration system. Many Americans think that when our leaders espouse loyalty and admiration for our military personnel that it means these men and women are adequately taken care of as the heroes we all know they must be on our behalf when our nation calls. But as Michael tells us, quality care for our service men and women is often not the reality.
“I have no choice of my insurance. I thought my military insurance was good coverage and was accepted by most doctors. What I found out was most doctors are not accepting military insurance. I had to go and beg doctors to give me a chance to live,” Michael wrote.
He had to beg. A 24-year veteran of the United State Navy was left begging for care. Not exactly the picture of honor and glory we paint as we place wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknowns or place flags on every corner. Michael begged.
“I was shocked at the unpatriotic sense these people have. I will never in my life recommend any person join our armed services. Why should they? So they can get sick and be told, sorry, we know you fought for our country, and this is how we repay you,” he said. “It is insane and un-American.”
While it is true that our VA system is leaps and bounds ahead of what millions of uninsured and under-insured Americans can access, veterans’ healthcare is grossly underfunded in this nation, and those service members and veterans who are covered under Tri-Care (and do not receive their healthcare through the VA) often find themselves victim to the same insurance denials that the general population suffers.
Michael kept trying. “Luckily I begged and begged a doctor who said he would only give me seven treatments, because of insurance. Insurance was his primary concern, he even told me, ‘Tri-Care just doesn't cover enough’ ...like I have anything to do with that. This is what I get for serving my country for 24 years. If I had known this when I joined, I would have never joined, I would have left this country, given up my citizenship and lived in a country where they respect the men and women that protect their freedom.”
Wow. On Memorial Day 2008, this is what we gave Michael. We did not give him honor or glory or blessings or peace. We gave him sorrow and regret and longing for compassion.
If our nation had in place single payer, universal health care, Michael would have a chance to live. With access to the treatments that might abate his cancer, Michael would not spend his days feeling as though his sacrifice was dishonored. With adequate healthcare through publicly funded, privately delivered single payer care, all veterans of this nation – and all the citizens they fought to protect -- would enjoy the peace of mind they truly deserve.
HR676, The National Health Insurance Act, now has 90 Congressional co-sponsors who believe that a single payer system is the right way to address our healthcare crisis. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan is the chief co-sponsor of the bill, and the 80,000 member strong California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee supports this bill and is actively working to encourage its passage. Nurses know that veterans deserve healthcare and that they do not always get that care.
Still, in spite of how his nation is treating him, Michael said, “Thank you for letting me share.”
Isn’t it we who should be thanking him?
I will protest for him in San Francisco tomorrow, June 19th, at noon, 4th and Howard. It’s time to tell the private insurance companies that Michael is a patient not a profit, Michael is a veteran not a bottom line, Michael is a hero not a revenue liability. I will thank him by standing up for him as he stood for me.
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