Articles tagged with: veterans

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

Marijuana Research for Veterans’ Ailments Stumbles in Senate

Marijuana Research for Veterans’ Ailments Stumbles in Senate

The Senate, in a rare move, considered - but ultimately opted against - whether to back cannabis research at the Veterans Affairs Department for generations of former troops who suffer from trauma, stress, chronic pain, and opioid addiction.

Bipartisan legislation (S. 326), written by Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), failed on a procedural vote in the Senate Wednesday, even as the chamber is thawing to the idea of green-lighting federal cannabis research and use after years of pressure from veterans organizations and marijuana advocates.

“By blocking consideration of a bill that passed unanimously out of committee two months ago, a group of Republicans today prioritized partisan politics over providing our nation’s veterans their hard-earned benefits and care,” Tester said in a statement.

‘Work Like Hell’

The vote comes on the heels of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) promise last week to “work like hell” to advance cannabis law changes and federal legalization. The vote’s 57-42 tally fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance the measure. Schumer on Wednesday changed his vote to oppose the bill so that under Senate rules he could bring up the vote again in the future.

Eight Republican senators joined Democrats in supporting the legislation: Veterans’ Affairs Committee members Jerry Moran (Kansas), Bill Cassidy (La.), Mike Rounds (S.D.), and Dan Sullivan (Alaska); moderates Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska); and both of Missouri’s senators Josh Hawley and Eric Schmitt.

Wednesday’s vote was the first in a series of procedural moves necessary to get the legislation to final passage. Lawmakers were expected to use the cannabis bill as a vehicle to pass a broader, bipartisan package of changes to veterans policy, starting with a substitute amendment fromTester. Republicans blocked the bill because they wanted “more assurances” from Democratic leadership on the amendment process, Moran said.

The cannabis provisions aren’t without opponents: Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) planned to offer an amendment stripping the language, according to a spokesperson. It also remains to be seen whether such a measure could advance in the House, now Republican-led and skewing against marijuana use.

Marijuana is labeled a Schedule I substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act. That means it has a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Senators are also negotiating legislation known as the Safe Banking Act, which would allow financial institutions to legally exchange funds for legitimate marijuana businesses without running afoul of federal prohibitions. The Senate last year by voice vote passed legislation making it easier for researchers and manufacturers to study marijuana, the first time Congress had passed a standalone measure increasing access to the drug.

Study and Trials

Tester’s committee in February advanced his legislation, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2023, behind closed doors. The bill would direct the VA to study the effects of cannabis on veterans who are enrolled in the VA health care system and have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or chronic pain. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who lost both legs during her military service in Iraq, also is a cosponsor.

The bill would require the VA to conduct an observational, 18-month study on the effects of cannabis on veterans’ health outcomes, then report the results to Congress and address whether it can conduct clinical trials.

The trials would look into how cannabis can help with certain ailments and examine the effects of marijuana in different forms, potency, and methods of administration. The legislation would also expand research into other factors related to veterans’ health, such as improvements to mood, social functioning, impacts on other substance use, and changes to overall quality of life.

Both the VA and the Food and Drug Administration are conducting research on cannabis, and Tester’s bill would ensure the VA meets existing guidelines for such research. The legislation also seeks to improve reporting requirements and includes provisions to protect all participants in both the large-scale study and clinical trials from adverse action from the VA.

‘Dragging Their Feet’

Veterans’ service organizations, such as Veterans of Foreign Wars and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, are supporting and advocating for Tester’s bill. They say the VA has been too slow in researching the medical benefits of cannabis.

“They’ve been dragging their feet,” Patrick Murray, the national legislative director at Veterans of Foreign Wars, said about the VA during a committee hearing earlier this year.

In the House, Reps. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) and Jack Bergman (R-Mich) introduced companion legislation (H.R. 1003). A previous version of the bill passed the House Veterans Affairs Committee in 2021.

State Legalization

As of this month, 38 states, three territories and the District of Columbia allow the medical use of cannabis products, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. However, VA doctors can’t prescribe marijuana even in the states where it is legal, because at the federal level it isn’t.

“It’s an issue that shouldn’t be that controversial,” Sullivan said in a hallway interview Tuesday. “When you talk to veterans, a lot of them just want the information on what this potentially can do for them, versus, like, opioids which we know doesn’t always end well for veterans.”

The National Academy of Sciences in a 2017 study found “conclusive or substantial” evidence that cannabis is effective in the treatment of chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea, and vomiting and spasms from multiple sclerosis.

The study also found “moderate evidence” that marijuana can improve sleep for those with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and multiple sclerosis, and is helpful in treating chronic pain problems, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders.

(Updates throughout with Senate vote failing.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Roxana Tiron in Washington at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; Zach C. Cohen in Washington at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Robin Meszoly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; Anna Yukhananov at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; Angela Greiling Keane at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This article was origianlly published at Bloomberg Law by Roxana Tiron and Zach C. Cohen.

Anthony “AJ” Loiacono – Not Bashful When Confronting His Own Industry

Anthony “AJ” Loiacono – Not Bashful When Confronting His Own Industry

When Rehinking Heros' Cary Harrison started his interview with Anthony J “AJ” Loiacono, CEO of the Pharmacy Benefit Management Corporation Capital-Rx, it was first to thank him for what his firm is doing with Rethinking Heroes to help pocket-book weary – veteran and civilian – Americans get a break on the price of drugs.

What’s that, you say? Can someone involved in the world of Big Pharma, Big Hospital, and Big Insurance actually be thanked and considered a “good guy” who happens to keep company with these folk? The answer turns out to be, “Yes.”

“Drug prices in this country have gone overly complex and opaque,” AJ declares in this podcast interview, “and what we want to do is to provide people with access to an affordable price, one that is not manipulated. That price is made available by the federal government through CMS, and it’s one price that you can look up (yourself, with a few mouse clicks).” 

As AJ points out, if you walk into a pharmacy and reach for a bottle of Advil you will understand the price immediately. You can also be sure that the price doesn’t suddenly change for the guy in front of or behind you, vary in price by 150 or 200 percent, or change from day to day.

With prescribed medication, it’s a whole different, confusing, and expensive process.  Why? “Because too many people are making money on the medication – (especially) the invisible middlemen,” he asserts and proceeds to school us with facts and not spin in this short YouTube video.

Why Rethinking Heroes chooses to partner with Cap-Rx

Partly, the decision was reached by way of comparing Cap-Rx within its industry. Here, the company scores 99.5% in client retention, 100% in implementation satisfaction, and 96 in the “happiest clients” category where the industry average is 14. (14!) They also enjoy full accreditation by several major service organizations. 

A good start.

Then, there’s the value and efficacy of the pharmacy benefit card Capital Rx has issued through Rethinking Heroes. Value: Capital Rx earns a flat 99 cents on each adjudicated claim that does not hit a pharmacy’s U&C. That’s it. Efficacy: the card saves on most of the prescriptions that families depend on. Simply present the card to your pharmacist when you fill your prescription to find discounts.

And finally, their attitude and innovation.

They consider themselves on a mission to create enduring social change and rebuild trust in healthcare; it’s not just PR corporate-speak.

*On March 30 of this year, Capital Rx President Matt Gibbs testified (video) before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee on the PBM Business model and its impact.

*The Advantage Card is the first to bring radical transparent drug pricing to the prescription discount card market, beating other popular cards with savings of up to 90% on scripts.

*A portion of the 99 cent fee goes towards our Veteran Mission Possible campaign to create greater public awareness of the problem of and solutions for veteran suicide and unpayable veteran medical debt.

*Capital-Rx left behind the traditional corporate model recently to become a Public Benefit “B” Corporation (PBC) to align itself more closely with its stakeholders over its shareholders. 

Speaking from my own experience (Rethinking Hero’s parent organization, Let’s Rethink This is also a “B” Corp) this is a win-win. Stakeholders win by receiving goods or services at affordable prices. Investors win by supporting an organization with a social conscience and whose mission is to do well by doing good.” 

If this approach resonates with you as well as it resonates with us, we invite you to participate. 

Click Here to download your card and begin the savings on prescription drugs that are available and to which you are entitled. You’ll be keeping good company.

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


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