What My Country Can Do For Me

Last week, two days after being laid off from what once looked like a completely secure job, I found myself dialing 9-1-1 and requesting an ambulance for my disabled daughter. From the back of the ambulance, I digitally signed to accept a severance package that was less than what I hoped for, because it kept my family’s insurance active until the end of the month.

These are the types of decisions families with chronically ill and disabled family members need to make on a regular basis. And these are the families Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress are relentlessly attacking with their misguided and dangerous salvos against the Affordable Care Act.

Even with insurance, being chronically ill or disabled or the caretaker of such a person is financially precarious. The need to provide in-home care alone leads to absences and job loss, and repeated medical appointments and hospitalizations exacerbate this situation. While almost all of us would say caring for the family member is worth any cost, the reality is the stresses of doing such take their toll on everyone involved. Two years ago, I was homeless when I lost my job and then my home after caring for my sick daughter.

In the richest country in the history of the world.

And now, with these attacks on the poor and disabled, some 14 million of which will lose insurance if Obamacare collapses as a result, families such as mine are at even greater risk. If you’ve never had to choose between electricity, rent, and medication for a disabled child, you lack the perspective necessary to give you any authority or credibility in this debate.

President Kennedy challenged us to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” I’ve tried to live by this. I served in the Navy. I volunteer. I raise my voice for those with less privilege than me. I pay my taxes. The social contract we make as Americans-in fact, the sole purpose of a society at all-is to pool our resources for the greater good. I have done what I can do to contribute.

And now, so the richest Americans can get a few thousand dollars each back in taxes (somebody please tell me what Sam Walton is going to do with $400,000 dollars that his billions already saved up can’t accomplish), we are attacking the most vulnerable. The haves are demanding that their country do for them, while continuing to demand that the poorest do what they can for their country-or at least the super-wealthy oligarchs who run so much of it.

And so I apply for Obamacare the same week Trump refuses to issue billions of dollars in payments to state insurers. I don’t know where my insurance will come from at the start of the month. I don’t know what I will do the next time my disabled teenager wakes up bleeding from her tracheostomy with chest pains.

I will be forced to make impossible choices, and my government will continue to force me into impossible positions.

This is the legacy of the GOP. This is the cost of a for-profit healthcare system.

This is killing Americans, and it has to stop.

I’ve done what I can do for my country. I’ll keep doing what I can do for my country.

But it will be a hell of a lot harder to do so from the food pantry.

Contributing Editor: Ben Jackson

Ben Jackson is a writer and father of a chronically ill teenager who somehow still likes him. His non-fiction and opinion pieces have appeared in Patch Media, WBUR's Cognoscenti, and the Penmen Review. His fiction and poetry has been published in New Millennium Writings, The Legendary, 50 Word Stories, and anywhere else he can con an editor into buying his work. He lives in Natick, Massachusetts with his daughter.

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