DROPPING THE GUILLOTINE

Death Ferret Ryan’s Dream Plan Piles Up the Bodies

By Lucian K. Truscott IV

Did you see the press conference held by Gimlet-Eyed Death Ferret Paul Ryan? It was an out-of-body experience. Appearing in rolled up shirt-sleeves and wielding a mean Power Point Actuator, the Death Ferret made his grim case for chucking five years of Obamacare, which has admittedly been a Rube Goldberg contraption, wheezing and cranking and shuddering to produce a marginally acceptable product, for his Republican “replacement” plan, best described as a guillotine poised to produce stacks of cold bodies ready to be shoveled into early graves. When they roll out their new Trumpcare website, they may as well include a button at the bottom of the page to reserve your own slab in the morgue. Judging by the Death Ferret’s press conference, you’d better make your reservation and die early, because it’s going to be crowded in there.

Since the modern Republican party and its “President” seem to be so fond of the idea of turning back the clock to simpler times with simpler values and simpler solutions, I’d like to hereby propose that they spin the old hands of time back to the 50’s and 60’s when I grew up in the Army with military health care. Here is how it worked. If you were on active duty, or were a dependent of a soldier, sailor, airman or marine, you were covered. For everything. Period. Stop. No forms to fill out. Nothing to pay. Even prescriptions were covered. The pharmacies were right there in the military hospitals. You walked in, registered with the nurse, took a seat in the waiting room, saw a doctor, filled your prescriptions and walked out. As you might expect, me being a story-teller and all, I’ve got a couple of tales I can tell about what it was like to to live in a time when the Gimlet-Eyed Death Ferret wasn’t even a gleam in Daddy Death Ferret’s Gimlet eye.

It was September of 1969, and I was a newly-minted Second Lieutenant of Infantry assigned to the Infantry School at Fort Benning, GA. I was living off-post in a 10-by-50 trailer on a rural road just outside Columbus. One night I was across the two-lae blacktop from my trailer in a phone booth making a call — there was a six week wait for phone service from Ma Bell, natch — when a car pulled up and four guys got out and yanked me out of the phone booth and beat me nearly to death. The only reason I survived was the screech of tires from a passing car braking to see what was going on. The four guys fled. The driver of the passing car picked me up and when he found out I was in the Army, dropped me off at the emergency room at the Fort Benning hospital.

I had a broken nose, multiple facial lacerations from a large ring one of the thugs was wearing, eyes swollen shut, torn lip, a couple of cracked ribs…I was in bad shape. Later that same night, the same four guys picked up a soldier hitch-hiking, took him out behind a junior high school and beat him to death. I saw his body on a stretcher going by at the hospital when they were wheeling me to get x-rayed. I spent the night on a ward and was driven home the next morning with a large container of Darvon. I had several follow-up visits over the next couple of weeks, finally recovered enough to return to my Infantry School class, and graduated from the Basic Course on time. Total cost: zero. Number of forms filled out: zero. Quality of care: excellent.

As a Second Lieutenant, I was being paid a base pay of about $260 a month in 1969. There were housing and food allowances that brought my total pay up to a gigantic $420 or so. All of us who served in the military always understood that one of the reasons our pay was meager relative to what we could have been making as civilians was that we were provided with free health care and a generous pension benefit that kicked in upon retirement. It wasn’t the best of financial words, but when it came to getting taken care of by the military health care system, it was paradise.

I had received the same kind of care as a dependent when my dad was an officer and when I was a cadet at West Point. Once I was hospitalized for 24 days with double pneumonia. Cost: zero. Another time, when I was a Plebe, I must have suffered some kind of concussion (there was a lot of contact sports, including Plebe boxing, not to mention regular rough-and-tumble military training), because I had trouble with balance and occasional dizziness. The Army flew me down to Walter Reed in Washington D.C. for tests, flew me back, and treated the balance problem with physical therapy for six months. Cost: zero. One night when I was about 16, I had to drive my father to the emergency room in the middle of the night because he had suffered some kind of rupture in his colon. They operated on him within moments of his arrival. He almost died. He was hospitalized for about 10 days. Cost: zero. I had soldiers in my platoon at Fort Carson whose family members suffered various kinds of chronic illnesses including asthma, high blood pressure, epilepsy, and cancer. These guys were making as little as $110 a month as enlisted soldiers. Extent of care: as long as it took. Cost of their family medical care: zero.

There were other things the Army did right that our Congress might take note of, such as requiring all firearms to be locked away in secure racks in locked weapons rooms when not in use, resulting in the number of violent crimes involving guns on military bases being at or near zero. But call it whatever you want — socialized medicine, single-payer health care, rank-ass pure and simple communism — the military health care system as I look back on it from today was a marvel. You didn’t have to worry. It was there. There were no hassles with qualifying, or applications, or paperwork. Health care was provided to all without out-of-pocket cost. We all knew that ultimately we were paying for it with the relative meagerness of our paychecks, but in a world where injuries on the job could be frequent and the possibility of being wounded in a war was a reality, it was what we needed and what we got. That was in the dreamworld of the 50’s and 60’s and 70’s of which Republicans are so fond of course, but I personally know quite a few people today who would gladly have some extra taxes deducted from their paychecks if they could get up tomorrow morning and not have to worry about where, or if, or how, or even whether they were to get their health care. If more than a few of them would stand up and vote next time we have elections, maybe we can make that dreamworld come true.

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