Editorials

Veterans are our friends and neighbors. Don’t let them drown in medical debt

Introducing ‘The War Within’

A 10-part documentary series from McClatchy Studios follows three U.S. veterans living with PTSD — coming in November. Yelm HS grad Scott Whisler, who served in Afghanistan in 2010, is helping fellow vets deal with the same struggles he has faced.
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A 10-part documentary series from McClatchy Studios follows three U.S. veterans living with PTSD — coming in November. Yelm HS grad Scott Whisler, who served in Afghanistan in 2010, is helping fellow vets deal with the same struggles he has faced.

Veterans Day 2018 has come and gone, along with the sights and sounds of our region’s preeminent patriotic spectacle. The flame of remembrance was lit and guarded overnight. JBLM troops marched down Main Street, high school bands paid musical tribute and one of the nation’s largest Veterans Day parades attracted a reverent crowd on a dry Saturday morning.

For the 53rd consecutive year, the City of Auburn provided a fine opportunity to honor “those who shall have borne the battle and their families and survivors,” to paraphrase (and slightly amend) President Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.

When it ended, however, thousands of veterans and their families continued waging a battle on the homefront: their struggle against crushing health-care bills and other financial hardships.

Now there’s an easy way to support the men and women of our armed forces well beyond Veterans Day by helping pay down their medical debt.

McClatchy newspapers, including The News Tribune, have teamed up with RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit founded in 2014 that so far has erased $120 million in liability for about 60,000 Americans. RIP has mastered buying up portfolios of debt and forgiving it for pennies on the dollar. A $100 donation can wipe out $10,000 worth of medical arrears.

In military terms, this is what’s known as a force multiplier.

Founded by a pair of professionals in the credit and collections industry, RIP didn’t originally have military debt as a focus area. Then co-founder Jerry Ashton, a Navy veteran, studied the large numbers of disabled, homeless and suicidal vets, for whom unpaid bills are a heavy burden.

This is where partners like McClatchy enter the picture. More than half of the company’s newsrooms are located within an hour’s drive of a military base; for the TNT, it’s more like 20 minutes. Current and former service members are our neighbors. TNT reporters have covered JBLM troops in war and peace, have embedded with them on overseas deployments. We’re invested in their health and well-being.

On Nov. 28, McClatchy will launch “The War Within,” a documentary series that chronicles the lives of three Afghanistan war veterans. It’s produced by McClatchy Studios and will appear on Facebook Watch. Each of the 10 weekly episodes includes a call to action to donate to RIP Medical Debt. The McClatchy Foundation has contributed to the campaign, as well.

If you think our government takes care of veterans for life like our 16th president envisioned in 1865, think again. More than a million vets were uninsured in 2016, according to the Census Bureau. Even those with access to the VA system and related services aren’t always fully covered, as their long-term needs can outlast their benefits.

Many vets are saddled with unaffordable charges for emergency procedures. More than 700,000 may have racked up emergency costs that should be covered by Uncle Sam, according to a lawsuit against the VA that was recently granted class-action status.

The problems are compounded at a time when the line between VA and non-VA hospitals is increasingly blurred. The Veterans Choice program, created after the 2014 scandal in which some vets died while awaiting treatment, allows patients to use non-VA facilities to avoid driving long distances or languishing on long waiting lists. Unfortunately, the promise that these new options would be free to vets has fallen short, leading to unpaid bills and damaged credit records.

Clearly the federal government must do a better job caring for all who’ve borne the battle. But scores of veterans could go bankrupt waiting.

That’s why we encourage readers to embrace the force-multiplying effect of debt forgiveness. Let’s make the spirit of Veterans Day burn bright all year long. 

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