Meet James Verone. James is a 59 year old convenience store clerk who robbed a bank so he could gain access to affordable health care. Let that sink in. Mr. Verone discovered the only way to get the health services he needed to deal with his personal pain was to trade his freedom for a jail cell. As a nation, have we hit bottom yet?

Mr. Verone is not some vagrant on the street. James is an upstanding guy who knows right from wrong. He worked for a soft drink distributor, as a driver, for 17 years. The company provided him benefits, including health care coverage, but as soon as the economy turned sour, he was deemed expendable. Along with his regular pay check, his benefits disappeared. Access to affordable health care disappeared too.

Mr. Verone did exactly what so many other Americans have done during this economic down turn, he focused on survival. James found work when he could, but more often than not, and no fault of his own, those jobs didn’t last. Mr. Verone was finally forced to take a part-time job at a convenience store, which of course provided no benefits.

Time affects us all and for Mr. Verone the many years of back breaking work moving cases of soft drinks started to take its toll. He began to develop back problems and had a bad foot. He suffered from arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Not too long ago he noticed a lump on his chest, which became another source of pain. Finally his physical maladies became too much for him and he recognized he needed medical attention.

Mr. Verone weighed his options. He could not afford a doctor visit and the idea of braving the emergency room was not what he considered an option. He did not want to burden his siblings and had no one else to turn to. He tried government programs, but they did not offer enough money to cover his medical problems. James had reached the end of his rope so he did the only thing he could think of.

Mr. Verone walked into a bank, told the teller he was robbing the bank, demanded one dollar, and then sat down, waiting for the police to arrive and arrest him.

James knew that once in custody he would have access to doctors at the jail. He knew he would finally get the health care he so badly needed. He was more than ready to forfeit the freedoms so many Americans feel a need to demagogue over, just so he could find the freedom from something we all feel, pain.

The actions of Mr. Verone may be the greatest commentary on the failings of the great American experiment. This was an example of a man acknowledging the failings of the system and making the conscious decision to part with that one thing his countrymen consider most sacred (individual freedom) for that which the citizens of almost all western nations take for granted (access to universal health care). In Mr. Verone’s own words, “if you don’t have your health you don’t have anything.”

Sadly, this is the plight facing too many Americans. Health care is so expensive and access is so restricted, they are forced to make a choice. Insurance is so costly it becomes a major expense. It is up there with food, rent and transportation as the major expenses the average individual has to consider. All too often the average American is forced to forego health care to keep a roof over their head, food on the table, and access to transportation to maintain a job, if they are lucky enough to have a job. Health care becomes a luxury.

How in the world does health care become a luxury? How can anyone have freedom and liberty if they are held hostage by the health care system? Health and human services should never be a profit center. Money should never be made off of someone else’s bad luck or suffering. But in America, that is a cornerstone of the system. If there is a way to profit from someone’s suffering there is a corporation out there that will find the method and then milk it for all it’s worth. That is wrong and that is the greatest failing of American culture.

Someone is going to have to explain how a nation who spends almost $1 trillion on military and national security issues cannot scrape together the $80 billion it would take to institute universal health care? I’m sure Mr. Verone would like to hear the explanation. How can we, as a nation, turn our backs on our fellow citizens and their most basic of human needs? Is that not the least American and least Christian of actions anyone can take? We as a nation should be most concerned with our own common interests and forsake the nation building we allow our government to do beyond our shores. We need to find our values as a country again. We need to start caring for each other, regardless of ideology or other differentiators, and demand our government do the same. We need to stand up for the James Verones of the world.

We need to demand universal health care for our citizens. We need to make sure that the next generation, our children, have access to good doctors, because they are our future. We need to make sure the previous generation, our parents, receive the care they so greatly deserve, after doing so much for us. We need to make sure we do the right thing so people aren’t forced into making rash decisions to gain access to the life saving procedures they need to lead a fruitful life.

We need to demand these changes to the health care system and we need to demand them now. We need to think about this issue and the long term ramifications on our nation if we don’t act. We need to take a long hard look hard look in the mirror and recognize that we could easily be in Mr. Verone’s place if push came to shove. We need to pay close attention to that face in the mirror and realize the situation it finds itself. The possibilities aren’t pretty. Welcome to the new face of America.

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