Articles tagged with: EndVetMedDebt

North Carolina Church Debt Jubilee Retires Millions in Medical Debt — Can Veterans Everywhere be Next?

North Carolina Church Debt Jubilee Retires Millions in Medical Debt — Can Veterans Everywhere be Next?

I find it amazing — and deeply gratifying — each and every time a person or organization becomes aware of, and then puts to work for their community the charity (RIP Medical Debt) I helped bring into existence.

The Trinity Moravian Church in Winston-Salem NC is the latest to do just that — with wondrous impact. They first raised, in small donations of $25 or $50, $5,275.42. With RIP’s help, they then purchased $1,165,796.61 in two NC counties owed by 1,356 families and saw it forgiven.

“With the wind at our back and a strong feeling that God had blessed this venture of faith, we decided to go again!” Reverend John Jackman said. A second campaign raised $15,047.97 by January 31st of this year and in February forgiveness letters went out to 3,355 families in three more counties abolishing an additional $3,296,863.64!

They ceremoniously burnt the “bills” forgiven, not realizing the blaze that they had started. “You guys made the top page of Reddit!” “Debt Jubilee is trending on Twitter, it’s the top story on TikTok.” The next day their story appeared on several syndicated talk shows, later picked up by CNN, and journalists from big-name publications made inquiries.

Rev. Jackman announced the launch of a third campaign which “will go very quickly because of the many other churches that have stepped up” and invited the faith-based community in the North Carolina Triad area to join in future projects “which we hope will grow as we talk to local hospitals about releasing more of the debt they hold.”

Did you know that America’s Veterans are waiting for that same attention and similar miracles?

“We can all be Heroes” poster used at Rethinking Heroes to raise awareness of Veteran needs — art by Victor Guiza

In late 2020 I retired from full-time work with RIP to serve on its Board. By that time I had hit all but one goal I had envisioned at our start in January 2014, blowing past the paltry $1B in medical debt forgiveness mark I and fellow collections industry executive and co-founder Craig Antico had set.

That one goal (still) is to see that the VA changes its policy — just as hospitals are able to do — and make available unpaid and unpayable veteran medical debt for full and total forgiveness. No strings. No hoops. No stress. No claim submissions. Just gone!

To galvanize public support for this new mission, I and a dedicated core of teammates and partners launched a national “Veteran Mission Possible” (VMP) campaign to abolish such debt and reduce the horrendous rate of Veteran suicide — over twice that of the civilian population.

VMP is the creation of Let’s Rethink This (LRT), a Public Benefit “B” Corp. Employing the hard-earned mantra from RIP, “If they don’t know about you, they can’t do anything about you, we set about the task of getting known.

One of our major megaphones for “Impact Awareness,” in addition to Our Newspaper is a weekly national public radio broadcast called Rethinking Heroes which focuses on news of interest to veterans and their supporters. More importantly, to introduce to them the “Solution Providers” we locate and feature who have real-world remedies to the many illnesses that befall their community.

Déjà vu all over again

Just as with my experience in co-founding RIP, public awareness is hard to come by. VMP is not (yet) getting the attention that it needs and deserves. Not because Americans do not find Veteran issues important — they do — they just don’t (yet) understand the depths of severity.

This article, which I trust will circulate on social media and show up at someone’s website, will help relieve that problem. In turn — should the cause resonate, will help to get us funded.

As LRT/VMP is not a charity, we do not ask for tax-deductible donations. We can, however, legitimately request your financial support whether it be in sponsoring or partnering with us in this campaign or through smaller dollars contributions by individuals who find the cause more important than a tax deduction.

Here is our fundraising link for that purpose.

RIP Medical Debt to date has reached over $8.6 billion in medical debt abolishment, taking that burden from the backs of over 5.5 million Americans. This has taken over nine years of dedication by me, Craig, and a brilliant staff overseen by our Director, Allison Sesso.

It’s all about our Veterans this time. Together we can remove the $6B in Veteran medical debt currently held by the VA system and weighing on our warriors’ minds and backs.

It won’t take nine years this time — it can be done within months, if not weeks, with proper legislation and changes in policy.

Perhaps then, I might retire.

“I’ll Donate to That!” In Memorium, Larry Rivkin WWII Veteran and Friend

“I’ll Donate to That!” In Memorium, Larry Rivkin WWII Veteran and Friend

Larry devoted his own safety and future to salvage lives by flying extremely dangerous covert missions over occupied France during WWII. Decades later on this Memorial Day, that spirit is still there and making that caring difference.

Years back when I was first struggling in my fundraising role to get RIP Medical Debt off the ground, I was having lunch in NYC with a good friend and fellow veteran (me Navy, and Larry, Army Air Force) and mentioned my fledgling organization’s efforts to bring medical debt relief to Americans.

Larry put his knife and fork down, pushed back his chair, and declared for the restaurant to hear, “I’ll donate to that!” And he did, giving me heart and spurring me on. (My original Huffington Post article about this meeting is here.)

He was then at the age of 95, this Captain and WWII B-24 Bombardier/Navigator many times medaled (Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters, Distinguished Flying Cross, the French Croix de Guerre with Palm, and five Bronze Stars). He became furious when he later learned that millions of dollars annually in unpayable medical debt were being run up by Veterans and owing through the VA and not available for forgiveness. 

Like most Americans, myself included, Larry was under the impression that our country takes care of its returning warriors. Especially, their medical needs whether service-connected or not. They are not. Not nearly. Not enough. 

It’s About Those “Hoops” Needing to be Jumped Through

For example, Veterans who run up medical bills in civilian hospital emergency rooms and use ambulance services not “pre-authorized” end up being responsible for those expenses. There are circumstances where the VA will help (their “Hardship Program”) relieve some or part of that debt, but with conditions that cause as much hardship and stress as the debt itself.

There are many “If’s” and “when’s” that need to be met to get “free” healthcare, such as having a recent change in income due to job loss or income reduction or extreme situations for which fewer and fewer applicants qualify. Starting with, a Veteran must be currently enrolled in the VA Medical, possibly its medical care hardship program, and receiving healthcare benefits.

What is the “real world” effect? Veterans, currently estimated at 16.5 million or 6.4% of our nation’s population, are eligible for VA services. Only nine million, less than 50% of that group, are actually enrolled. Almost three-quarters of our Veterans will never see more than limited help. If any. 

Is this truly the best way to say, “Thank you for your service?”

We’ve lost Larry – The Problem is Still Here – And I am More Focused

Larry’s first question for me, whenever we met socially, was “How are we doing?” and taking great joy in each and every dollar that RIP continued to abolish. Almost two years ago on August 16, 2021 we lost Larry at the age of 100+. By then, the fledgling charity he helped lift off the runway had already reached over $1B in medical debt relief.

Today, that total is $8.6B, and 5.4M Americans no longer suffer from at least a portion of their medical bills. Not nearly enough of those are identifiable as Veterans.

I retired to RIP’s Board in late 2020 to found Let’s Rethink This (LRT) in early 2021 to concentrate on catching the VA’s attention and cause (prod? annoy?) this behemoth into releasing the $6B – BILLION – in Veteran medical debt believed to be on their books for total and complete forgiveness. 

The mechanism I chose is a Public Benefit “B” Corp – LRT – so that Veteran problems other than medical debt could be addressed – most notably Veteran suicides which researchers say are now running at 44 per day. PER DAY! 

An amazing team of vets and Veteran advocates heard of my efforts and are now banded together to set in motion a national campaign called Veteran Mission Possible (VMP) to address these two major ills…and a few more needing America’s attention.

The need to fund this ambitious effort is clear and compelling. VMP/LRT has the goods. We have an early track record and even a first-ever Veteran Medical Debt Summit under our belt. We have an awesome “Impact Awareness” machine in our recent media entry Rethinking Heroes (RH). We are gaining traction and attracting strong allies. 

We just don’t have Larry here to help.

A fundraiser (razr) is now in effect. You are invited to visit and contribute.

Support Veteran Mission Possible Here

Those of you who would like to do that and more, visit and join VMP and surround yourself with like-minded people who are action-oriented when it comes to helping our vets. 

The fundraising goal is $75,000. As LRT is a “B” Corp and not a charity, contributions however large or small are not tax deductible. However, they can serve as a marketing or business write-off for charities or corporations who become our patrons or partners. Write for those details: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This is a wonderful opportunity to trade in that somewhat obligatory phrase, “Thank you for your service” into instead “Let me take a burden off your back.” 

Anything else need rethinking?

My Long Road to Seeing Veteran Medical Debt Owed Through the VA Forgiven

Five Years Later My Arrival is Getting Closer

My Long Road to Seeing Veteran Medical Debt Owed Through the VA Forgiven

In early January 2018 I wrote a Huffington Post piece about my previous November’s experience in marching in NYC’s famed Veteran’s Day Parade – and my discomfort with parade goers who shook my hand saying, “Thank you for your service.” They mean well and the sentiments are authentic, but a key element was missing – offering actual help. Please visit with some of my history and tell me if you agree.

Support Veteran Mission Possible

2018’s Replacement for “Thank You for Your Service” – Actually Helping Veterans by Relieving Them of Unpayable Medical Debt (as published in Huffington Post)

For the first time in 50+ years I found myself in a Navy uniform and marching in a Veterans Day Parade this past November’s in NYC alongside a retired Army Colonel and a Vietnam Sergeant veteran (not shown above). While wearing that uniform, I was hearing someone for the first time say, “Thank you for your service.” I appreciated this acknowledgement of the years I served so many decades ago as a Navy journalist, but received it with mixed emotions.

I’ll tell you why.

On July 25, 2014, my long-time partner and friend in the collections industry, Craig Antico, and I decided to establish ourselves as a 501(C)(3) non-profit called RIP Medical Debt. Our purpose, inspired by Occupy Wall Street’s Rolling Jubilee, was to provide a tax-deductible way for Americans to help us locate, buy and then forgive unpaid medical debt incurred by individuals and families.

Along the way, we began to notice that a surprising percentage of the people whose debt we were abolishing were active duty military and veterans. Like many Americans (even myself as a veteran), I believed that America takes care of the medical needs of the men and women who have served our country – many of whom have come back from several deployments with severe disabilities. Of course, we would take care of them in return.

When you factor in the qualifications and hoops that a military person has to jump through to receive medical care at the VA – or off-site healthcare at non-military hospitals and emergency transport – you can only shake your head in wonderment.

A current example – Veteran Alpha

RIP was recently notified of a 73-year-old Army veteran and his wife (let’s call him “Veteran Alpha”) who is in singular need of help in meeting his medical debt obligations.

The problem began on Veterans Day 2016, when Veteran Alpha required emergency heart-bypass surgery. The local hospital, where he had gone into cardiac arrest, advised the largest VA medical center in their area of his precarious condition only to be told that they would send an ambulance – from over 75 miles away – to pick him up and transport him back to that facility.

The hospital staff put Veteran Alpha on the phone, who then groggily told the VA person that he was being prepped for surgery. End of call.

Since that time, Veteran Alpha’s finances have been swamped with medical bills that the VA has declined to pay because he had “refused emergency transport.” The hospital surgery was $180,000, of which Medicare paid about 80%. The hospital pursued the balance, requiring Veteran Alpha to deplete their $7,000 savings account and taking out a $7,000 loan from the Navy Federal Credit Union on which they are making monthly payments.

Dependent on his 100% service related disability payments, the task of managing out-of-pocket costs and the medical loan are putting the couple in jeopardy of losing their home.

This is a better way to say, “thank you for your service”

RIP depends on donor funds to purchases debt portfolios in bulk and is not designed to target individuals in debt at this point (we’re working on that). However, with help from other military activists, non-profits and highly motivated Americans we are vigorously taking up causes as personal as this.

We can tell you from our own experience that Americans are incredibly giving – once they are made aware of a particular need that deserves their attention. Our own growth (graph below) is an example of that public outpouring of donations as our work attracted more and more attention.

RIP Medical Debt Forgiven 2015 - 2017

This year, 2018, it is our intention to abolish $50 million in veteran debt in a #NoVetMedDebt campaign.So, here’s to the allies with whom RIP is joining forces. Whether it be “Semper Fi,” Anchors Aweigh, “Up We Go” or simply “Take That Hill,” we know that we have an important mission and one that we will complete with honor.

RIP is no stranger to painful stories of people caught up in a system that seems uncaring and even heartless. And Veteran Alpha’s situation is shocking only in that it is so ordinary.

As a result or my own increasing awareness, what had started as my blogging occasionally about veterans issues (“I’ll Donate to That!’) and the unconscionable burden of medical debt we have placed on our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors in uniform (“There’s a Billion Dollar Burden of Medical Debt”) it is now our charity’s intention to partner with veterans organizations to collectively right these significant wrongs.

The most recent fruit of these efforts was a mini-summit to address the problem held in December at Fordham University.

This year, 2018, it is our intention to abolish $50 in veteran medical debt alone in a #NoVetMedDebt campaign. So, here’s to the allies with whom RIP is joining forces. Whether it be “Semper Fi,” “Anchors Aweigh,” “Up We Go” or simply “Take That Hill,” we know that we have an important mission and one that we and our military charity and hospital partners will complete with honor.

It will be a long battle against this financial nemesis, but the outcome is clear: we will leave no man or woman behind.

Support Veteran Mission Possible

Let’s Rethink This Quietly Unveils Rethinking Heroes on Public Radio

Let’s Rethink This Quietly Unveils Rethinking Heroes on Public Radio

Let’s Rethink This (LRT) is known for its ability to catch people’s attention. Founder Jerry Ashton had these credentials safely in hand by the time he retired from the day-to-day work involved in co-founding the national charity RIP Medical Debt (RIP) with the intention to perform similar feats for organizations poised to bring about profound social and economic change – but not having a platform from which to attract all-important public notice.

As Jerry can attest to from personal experience in his struggles to raise awareness (and funds) for his charity, “If they don’t know about you, they can’t do anything about you.” Based on RIP’s success to date – abolishing over $8 billion in medical debt for over 5.5 million Americans – he and his team at RIP solved that problem, and then some.

Jerry and the team of co-creators he gathered together at LRT set about to use his hard-earned tools to remedy similar problems for industry “Solution Providers” who had the goods – but not the audience. LRT, through its Searchlight/Spotlight/Ignite process steps in to fill that void. Here’s what LRT had to do to develop that magic since its founding in early 2021.

Step One – print/online journalism

LRT’s first step was to install Our Newspaper at our website to ensure that worthwhile articles about our partners and members would always find a home. That done, and as a former Navy Journalist (JO2), Jerry’s next step was to approach Russell Midori, co-founder of the 700-member Military Veterans in Journalism (MVJ) organization to partner with us to ensure our members and advocates would have access to seasoned reporters.

Step Two – Video interviews and podcasts

Cary Harrison brought the goods and his credentials to his task of experimenting with doing one-off videos and podcasts. It was fledgling, but brought us to where we are in our ability to produce an entire one-hour program on public radio. 

Step Three – graphic novel/cartoon capabilities

Cary introduced RIP to veteran artist Victor Guiza which brought about another novel fit – cartoons and colorful strips that do a better and more compelling job of explaining a complex story than any news article. Using a Harlem entrepreneur and a woman physician patient advocate as proof-of-concept, his renderings drew rave reviews and proved that his subjects could attract new audiences. Check that need off as filled.

Step Four – branding and marketing

Phaedra Poliquin was among the earliest additions to the LRT staff of co-creators, and a find she was. Even while launching LRT, she filled the role of CMO for the Anmol Network and was instrumental in helping raise $1M in investment for them. 

Step Five – technology infrastructure and mentoring capability

That would be me, Joel Stevens – the earliest to join the LRT team to make sure that the organization had well-structured and eye-catching websites that its partners could depend on as well as serve as referent examples of our abilities in branding, marketing and community-creating.

Step Six – an evolutionary leap – Rethinking Heroes 

For the first time we are aware of, a drive-time public radio hour is devoted to veteran issues and the Solution Providers dedicated to reducing veteran suicide, abolishing their medical debt and in so many other ways making their lives easier. Cary Harrison hosts Rethinking Heroes (RH) on famed LA public radio KPFK 90.7 FM every Friday morning from 9-10 a.m PST/noon EST. 

With the help and encouragement of KPFK, we have used the month of February to test the concept and are getting rave reviews – and an uptick in donations to the station. No need anymore to be silent about this important work.

Want to listen to it in streaming audio at those times? Simply click this link. What makes it so special? No woe-is-me and platitudes and stereotypes. These are real veterans and their advocates telling stories and providing solutions you will never hear on MSM. 

The other thing that sets RH apart? At the end of every month, with just a bit of assistance from our listeners and co-producers, we will officially abolish $1 million in medical debt across the USA on behalf of our veterans. Having served, and still serving.

Small Town Shocked to Learn Army Veteran Was Secretly Paying Stranger’s Bills for a Decade

The post-war vet wanted to keep his donations anonymous, but when he passed away the town uncovered a joyous surprise.

Small Town Shocked to Learn Army Veteran Was Secretly Paying Stranger’s Bills for a Decade

Veterans often have a difficult time reintegrating into their communities. One Alabama veteran, however, used secretly paying citizen’s bills as his way to re-integrate into his community.

Many post-war vets who successfully get back to normal life don’t necessarily thrive due to a lack of resources.

That wasn’t the case for Hody Childress, an Alabama veteran who built himself an amazing life as a farmer and decided to pay it forward by anonymously paying pharmacy bills.

Even though his post-war life was not free from suffering, he continued to shine light wherever he went, especially his local pharmacy.

The Air Force Veteran Visited His Favourite Pharmacist on the First of Every Month — To Help Strangers

Courtesy of Tania Nix/Washington Post

When he resumed his life as a civilian, Childress was known as a farmer in his small town of Geraldine, Alabama.

He worked at Lockheed Martin as a Product Manager to provide for his family, but farming was always his first love and priority. After his retirement, he spent even more time tending to his farm. When he had time off, he ran errands in town, frequently stopping in at his local pharmacy, Geraldine Drugs.

“Being on his tractor was his therapy, and he spent a lot of time helping neighbors get their gardens planted. Every time he went to the post office, he’d take the postmaster an apple, or some sweet potatoes, squash or okra he’d grown on his farm.”

– Tania Nix

One day, he walked into the store and asked the owner, Brooke Walker, if there were any families in town who were having trouble paying their pharmacy bills.

Brooke told him that it happened quite often. That was when Hody handed her a $100 bill and told her to use it to cover the bills of anyone who wasn’t able to pay their bill. He made Brooke promise to keep it a secret; he wanted to stay anonymous. 

“He said, ‘Don’t tell a soul where the money came from — if they ask, just tell them it’s a blessing from the Lord,’”

– Brooke Walker

The following month, and every month afterwards for 10 years, Hody Childress returned to the pharmacy with $100. 

How the Veteran’s Legacy Transended Him After Death

Hody passed away on New Year’s Day at the age of 80, so Brooke was finally free to tell his family about all the good their father had done in the community. Despite his modest means, Childress had helped countless families afford their medication.

His monthly $100 added up to thousands of dollars over the years, covering costs like epipens and children’s medications. 

Childress’ daughter, Tania Nix, was flooded with information about how generous and kind her father was as she prepared her father’s funeral. He had confided in her about the pharmacy donations shortly before his death.

“He told me he’d been carrying a $100 bill to the pharmacist in Geraldine on the first of each month, and he didn’t want to know who she’d helped with it — he just wanted to bless people with it.”

– Tania Nix

The Veteran Was Always Generous With His Loved Ones

Courtesy of Tania Nix/Washington Post

His daughter remembers her father as always leading with love and generosity despite any hardships he suffered along the way. In one devastating blow, his father and son were killed by a tornado. Then, his wife developed multiple sclerosis and passed away. Luckily, he always had faith that something good was around the corner, and he kept his chin up and his attitude positive. After his death, his inspirational story motivated the town to follow in his footsteps. 

“He didn’t spend a lot of money in life, but he always gave what he could. If he took you out to eat, you had to be quick to grab the ticket, or he was paying for it.”

– Tania Nix

How the People of the Small Town Opted to Pay it Forward In Honour of the Late Vet

When the news came out about what Childress had been doing all those years, people began dropping by the pharmacy in droves with donations of their own. As pharmacist Brooke Walker put it, Hody had established a “legacy of kindness”. She has created a fund with the money the community is donating.

“We’re calling it the Hody Childress Fund, and we’re going to keep it going as long as the community and Hody’s family wants to keep it alive.”

– Brooke Walker

While the thousands of dollars Hody donated over the years have certainly had an impact on the people whose medications it helped pay for, his generosity has an even more lasting legacy. His optimism and kindness have inspired a new generation of people striving to do good in Geraldine, and that is priceless. 

Article originally appeared on by Sophie Babinski.

Let's Rethink This is licensed under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) 4.0 License


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