Portland, Oregon: by Sean Cruz:
Four years ago, on Thanksgiving Day 2003, I watched my son Aaron, all 21-years-old of him, pack for deployment to Iraq.
He was gone the next day, driving to Utah to join my other son, Tyler, 19 years old, both members of the same Army National Guard unit.
As we held our last embrace, standing together in my driveway, Aaron in his full dress uniform, I could feel in my heart, bursting with dread and pain, that I would never see him again.
I promised him that his room would be as he left it when he returned, forcing the words out of my mouth, my stomach knotted in grief.
I had spent every day of the previous three months desperately trying to connect Aaron with medical care. We had no health insurance.
I had been among the hundreds of thousands of Oregonians who lost access to health care when the Oregon Health Plan was gutted in 2002.
Senate District 23 was hit harder in sheer numbers than any other senate district in the state.
I understand the access to health care issue on a deeply personal level. This is the core of my commitment to Oregonians as a candidate for the Oregon Senate.
Aaron had a host of medical problems, some life-threatening. He had suffered medical neglect for years while living in Utah, the victim of a 1996 kidnapping from Oregon.
I had recovered Aaron from that kidnapping just three months before, in August of 2003.
He had called me and said, “Dad. I’m ready to come home. Come and get me.”
I had left my job, taken the seats out of my van, and was gone for him the next day.
The joy of recovery was gone as soon as I saw him there in his friend’s living room in Payson, Utah.
He was suffering psychosis, sleep-deprived for so long that his eyes would roll back in his head while he was speaking.
I saw that he had become a chain smoker, and I watched him nod off that morning with a burning cigarette in his hand.
I woke him and told him about the cigarette, and he replied that he did that all the time, showing me the burn scars on his finger joints.
Cigarette burn scars on my beautiful son!!!
Every person I met during the several days it took to get Aaron packed was oblivious to his medical condition, shrugged it off, actually.
It was apparent that others accepted Aaron’s crisis as “normal” behavior.
Aaron had no health insurance, no access to competent care, no one to help him get seen by a doctor, and that had been his situation for the years that had passed since he had disappeared from my home during the major storm that had besieged the Northwest in February 1996.
For days, repeatedly, we would get the van partly loaded, and then Aaron would take everything back out and spread it on his friend’s lawn, over and over, obsessing over this and that.
He would fall asleep in every kind of position and situation, for time measured in seconds, then wake up as if all was well. For Aaron and those in his Utah life, this was considered normal behavior.
When I finally got him home here in Portland, I began the desperate search for medical care, with no health insurance and no financial resources to speak of.
My friend Baruti Arthuree helped me, arranged for Aaron to be seen by a Providence doctor.
The one contact with “medical” care that Aaron had in Utah was his participation in a methadone program there, and we continued that here.
Every weekday morning, from that first day in Portland, I drove my son to the methadone clinic to start the day.
He was too ill to drive himself, too ill even to sit upright in the car. He would lie on the floor of my van both ways, every day, eyes closed, might get four or five minutes of sleep in the process.
Methadone clinics are closed on weekends, so every Friday Aaron would bring home the two weekend doses.
His Providence Hospital doctor really took on his case, really tried to help him, tried to total up the damage from all those years of emotional abuse and medical neglect and figure out a way to keep him alive long enough to give him a chance to improve the quality of his life.
Among the medical issues we were learning about, Aaron had developed a seizure disorder that threatened to take his life. His doctor warned him that there was a strong likelihood that he could suffer a seizure and lapse into a coma from which he would not recover.
I have that warning in writing.
The Bush Administration, however, had other plans for my son, needed Aaron to help them out in Iraq, ordered him to report to his unit by this date, dead or alive.
When he left our home, Aaron lost what little access to health care he had, lost contact with the one person in his life who understood his need, who was committed to filling it.
The Army held Aaron in Utah under medical review, which one would think would include actual medical care, but that is not the case.
National Guard soldiers in this hold status draw no pay and receive no benefits. They are entirely on their own resources. Aaron had no resources in Utah.
During the medical review process, Aaron was required to remain in Utah, where he had no health coverage, was too ill to hold a job, and had no place to call home.
His condition deteriorated until March 2005, when—as predicted—he suffered a seizure, lapsed into a coma and died several days later.
I spent the last five of those days at his side.
As it turned out, Aaron was sick enough to actually qualify for the remaining remnants of the Oregon Health Plan, although that coverage didn’t arrive before his deployment orders.
I spent all of my financial resources during that 2003-2005 period on supporting my son, on paying his bills, on a cell phone for him that was our sole means of communication. I have not come close to recovering financially.
I could hear his worsening illness in his voice, in countless conversations during that period, begging him to come home no matter what the Army had to say about it.
He was focused, however, on finding a way to join his unit and his brother, wouldn’t give up, loved his Guard unit and his brother more than he loved his own life, wanted to be with them more than anything else in the world.
Aaron wouldn’t—or couldn’t—come to grips with his own medical reality. He was ready to sacrifice his life for his country, for his unit, for his brother.
The sacrifice would have ended his own pain, and he welcomed that.
Aaron would have been the first to step into noble glory on foreign soil. All he had left was courage.
I personally had no medical coverage until January 2005
Now it is four years later, and another 3500 Oregonians and their families recently received the news that they will continue to shoulder the burdens of war virtually all on their own.
The fact is that we Oregonians are knowingly sending many of these soldiers off to get their lives ruined, and that we are doing so knowing that we are not doing enough to help either the troops or their families that have gone before them.
The 3,500 soldiers we are about to send off to the war realize this fact, and they have little reason to expect that we Oregonians will value their sacrifice enough to cover their backs.
The focus for the month of December will be on what it always is--holiday shopping and holiday travel.
Much of the holiday shopping involves the purchase of goods made or grown in foreign nations. This does nothing to strengthen the nation in either time of war or peace.
For some of those 3500 soldiers and their families, the gifts could be the last, the holiday spirit a sacrifice already made on our behalf.
Most of the holiday travel involves the purchase of fuel that directly fills the coffers of the nation's enemies.
I can tell you that I personally do no holiday traveling.
The nation struggles with the cost of gasoline at the pump, is locked into a war to keep the price under $ 3.00 a gallon. Nothing gets people more upset than seeing a nickle bump in the cost of fueling their private motor vehicle.
Meanwhile, it costs the US taxpayer one hundred dollars a gallon to get diesel into Afghanistan. That's right, $100 a gallon, but who cares?
These Oregon soldiers and their families know that they are going into the meatgrinder, making sacrifices for people who will begrudge every nickle spent on services for veterans and their families on down the line, for people who will make absolutely no personal sacrifice in return.
Who among us will these courageous people look to? Who will be there for them?
These are important questions, and one that we must settle among ourselves here in Oregon.
Ending these wars is completely out of our control.
As a consequence of its relatively small population, its distance from the national Capitol and the factor of time zones, Oregon rarely has a meaningful role either in the selection of presidential candidates or in the election of the President of the United States, much less a role in the nation’s foreign policy.
We also lack both the clout and the sensibility that comes from the presence of large military bases or defense contractors.
The one thing regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that is entirely in our Oregon hands is how we will address the needs of the troops and their families, how we will address the needs of those that have already served, those who are serving and those who will serve.
This is our mutual responsibility, and we are failing the troops and their families.
We are failing them both individually and collectively.
I am committed to changing that.
Access to health care is the key issue for the constituents of Senate District 23, and the voters will have the opportunity to make that statement clearly by supporting Sean Cruz in the May Democratic primary.
I am asking you to send me to Salem, to represent you on those vital Senate Committees on health and human services issues, to fight for access to quality health care for all Oregonians.
I need you to invest in me, and I need your support now!