“I’ve been without health care for so long. And when you don’t have this basic need met, life is scary. Part of recovering from war is trying to find safety. When a system keeps you fearful, it's difficult to find that safety.”
Garcia is a fourth-generation military veteran, writer, poet, and activist in Kansas City, MO. After eight years of service, she was released in April 2007. Adjusting to civilian life proved to be more difficult than she could have ever imagined. “I would like to say that war was the worst experience of my life, but the war itself wasn’t. It was coming home after. It was the lack of support. It was facing all the lies society told us—that we would be taken care of but then not having access to health care, housing, jobs, etc.”
Garcia, like many veterans, experienced trauma and injury during her service that needed medical attention when she returned. Some veterans receive health coverage through Veterans Affairs, but they can only access services at VA health centers. For Garcia, this only created barriers to her getting the care she needed. “Unfortunately, I’ve had one bad experience after another almost every time I visited the VA in Kansas City. Many of us have waited years for the VA to process our service injury claims in order to receive veteran’s benefits. Meanwhile, you’re unable to work because of that injury.” Due to the extensive red tape, Garcia waited years to get a diagnosis for her hearing loss and ear damage. This disqualified her from receiving reparation for the injury through a class action suit.
In 2009, Garcia was diagnosed with severe combat PTSD which manifested into other disorders. She tried but was unable to get the care she needed through the VA’s mental health services. “When I tried to get help, the VA didn’t have support-based talk therapy for mental health. They provide group cognitive processing therapy. In this particular class, we were not allowed to talk about our trauma. I was required to attend a 3-month treatment program for PTSD before I could see a psychiatrist at the VA. I was the only woman in the program. Everyone else in the room was two generations older than me and hadn’t fought in my wars. I didn’t fit in, especially when a lot of my trauma has to do with being a woman and surviving sexual assault in the military. I didn’t feel safe or comfortable discussing any of that. I had to seek mental health care outside the VA Medical Center.” It took six doctors and countless medications before Garcia found services that would work for her. She finally found substantial support and care through a local nonprofit that provides healthcare for underserved people.
Forced to seek health care outside of the VA and having to pay out of pocket, Garcia has been trapped in the Medicaid gap for almost a decade. “I tried to get healthcare through the ACA marketplace, but I don’t qualify. As a disabled veteran, I don’t make enough money to afford health insurance, but because I’m a veteran, I don’t qualify for a credit that I otherwise would receive based on my income. My veteran’s status prevents me from getting that credit because I have access to the VA medical center."
On July 1st, Garcia will be one of the thousands of veterans who will be eligible for coverage through the newly expanded Medicaid program. She has expressed what this means to her, “I’ve been without health care for so long. And when you don’t have this basic need met, life is scary. Part of recovering from war is trying to find safety. When a system keeps you fearful, it's difficult to find that safety. It affects everything in my life. If I qualified for Medicaid through the expansion, it would mean freedom. I could travel and I wouldn’t have to live near a VA Medical Center.”
“As people are thinking about health care and policy, I would like them to consider health care as a basic human right. Veterans have put so much of ourselves out there and come home to inadequate health care. Every human should have access to quality health care regardless of veterans' status, race, sex, or gender. Regardless of how much money you make, health care is a basic human need.”