Best Defense

Before you trash government health care,  consider the story of this veteran’s family

When my husband was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in September 2003, after almost a decade of service, he had no job, no health insurance and a 16 month old son.



By Katherine Voyles
Best Defense guest columnist

When my husband was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in September 2003, after almost a decade of service, he had no job, no health insurance and a 16-month-old son. Today both my husband and I have jobs that give us the option of covering our now 14-year-old son.

To travel this path we needed help. Our journey weaves together two often contentious threads in American life: veterans’ issues and health care. But our story is a quiet one of shifting roles and priorities that affirms the realities of giving and receiving, of sacrifice and benefit that define so many veteran families.

A program (California Healthy Families) provided the very help we needed during a period when our schooling and retraining (my Ph.D. program and his law school) put us in positions where our own health care coverage did not extend to dependents. Our veteran family needed the help of a program that, in some lights, is viewed as a typical tax and spend endeavor that unfairly penalizes those who earn at the expense of those who don’t work hard enough. But that’s not the whole story. The whole story involves thinking about people in complex, sometimes even contradictory, ways.

California Healthy Families ensured that our son, born in a Naval hospital, would continue to get the routine well baby and well child checks he needed, that he could be immunized and that trouble, whether as routine as an ear infection or as complicated as a global developmental delay, was spotted and cared for.

But the program did more for my family than weigh and measure a rapidly growing boy. It allowed a veteran to attend law school (he used his GI benefits on undergrad) free from the fear that the financial straits of such an endeavor would force us to go without insurance or purchase insurance at a price that was out of reach for this phase in our lives.

Being in the military is hard work. Being a parent is hard work. Being a law student is hard work. Being a veteran is hard work. And to double down on the level of difficulty, these roles are not exclusive. The military is full of parents. Law students are veterans. Parents are law students. To triple down on it, we move in and out of these roles at different periods over the long course of life.

My veteran family doesn’t use California Healthy Families any more. But we did at one time and having it available is part of what provided safe passage from service member to veteran, from student to attorney. But always, proud parents.

Katherine Voyles earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Irvine. She teaches literature and writing at the University of Washington, Bothell. David, her veteran husband, is an aviation attorney in the Seattle area. 

Photo credit: ROBERT KAUFMANN/FEMA Photo Library 

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at Twitter: @tomricks1

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola