Today, we honor veterans. I remember my brother Dave, a Category 8 veteran, who passed away March 26th, 2008. Dave served as a Lieutenant in the US Army; when my daughter is commissioned, I’ll have the honor of pinning his butter bars on her shoulders.
A fellow veteran emailed me a story from The Huffington Post: “2,266 Veterans Died In 2008 Because They Were Uninsured”
According to a study released by the Harvard Medical School, 2,266 veterans under the age of 65 died last year as a result of not having health insurance. Researchers emphasize that “that figure is more than 14 times the number of deaths (155) suffered by U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2008, and more than twice as many as have died (911 as of Oct. 31) since the war began in 2001.”
The 1.46 million working-age veterans that did not have health insurance last year all experienced reduced access to care as a consequence, leading to “six preventable deaths a day.”
Like other uninsured Americans, most uninsured vets are working people — too poor to afford private coverage but not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid or means-tested VA care,” said Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a professor at Harvard Medical School. (HuffingtonPost.com):
Were it not for family and friends, that would have been my brother Dave’s fate, years ago. Dave simply could not afford rent, food, medications, doctor co-pays, and insurance – fortunately for him, family and friends were there to make up the difference. Although an honorably discharged veteran, Dave did not qualify for VA health care. By the time Dave applied to the VA, it was too late: the Republican Party closed the door to Category 8 Veterans on January 17th, 2003.
Veterans deserve better than that.
And everybody deserves to be able to die with their dignity intact. The op/ed I wrote about my brother Dave’s death, and was published by The Eden Prairie News, is below the fold.
Commentary: Government should stay out of end-of-life care
By Tommy Johnson
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Yesterday, my family and I had to make one of the toughest decisions a family ever has to make: taking another family member off of life support systems, and allowing the loved one’s body to end this earthly life – as their soul already has.
Dave, as anyone and everyone that knew him, was fiercely independent. Dave was stricken with multiple sclerosis (MS); diagnosed 14 long and painful years ago. Slowly, his body fell apart, ravaged by this debilitating disease. Lately, we – as a family – have been wondering how Dave would transition from living independently to dependently living – as was Dave.
Dave had taken in cleaning help with the frequency slowly increasing. Reluctantly, Dave had been looking into home health care for hygiene, and started looking into available group homes.
Dave called last Saturday morning, and asked how soon we could come to his home – his legs collapsed on the way to the bathroom. Dave was flat on his back when we got there. It was the saddest sight – my once strong big brother; lying there – staring at the ceiling. Dave said it had taken him an hour and a half to crawl to the phone to call for help. He was having yet another MS attack. Dave had not the strength to get up.
I took him to the emergency room. On Tuesday afternoon, the hospital called – Dave had suffered “a setback.” When a nurse had checked on him, he had stopped breathing and his heartbeat was negligible. The trauma team took over 20 minutes to restore heartbeat. In intensive care, the doctor gave the bad news: it was not a question of if there was brain damage; it was how much damage. Then there was the list of organ damages. Add to that the years of MS, and the prognosis was – to say the least – “not good.”
Yesterday morning, after the specialists assessed the damages, it was determined Dave wasn’t getting better; Dave was getting worse. Furthermore, in the unlikely event Dave “recovered,” Dave wouldn’t be the same Dave of a week ago; my brother would be going to a nursing home – something Dave simply dreaded.
Family, clergy and medical conferred. Knowing what Dave would want, and more importantly, would not want, family knew Dave had suffered enough. Our pastor supported the decision; medical personnel also agreed.
Dave passed peacefully, painlessly and swiftly Wednesday, March 22, at around 4 in the afternoon.
This morning, I open the Op/Ed page, and find some lawmakers think they know better than family, clergy and medical practitioners how loved ones should face end-of-life care.
I pray no one reading this has to face the awful decision we, our clergy and medical providers faced. As awful as that decision is to make, I pray that this decision remains a decision you, your clergy and your medical providers can make – without government interference.
Tommy Johnson is a resident of Eden Prairie. Services for Dave Johnson were held Monday.