Karen Russell
Karen Russell is the author of two story collections, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and Vampires in the Lemon Grove. She also wrote the novel Swamplandia, which was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize.

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REASON 78: President Obama is serious about reintegrating our soldiers into civilian life—and he proved it.

When we were growing up in Miami, Ryan slept over at our house so often that we joked he was a common-law Russell. He was and remains my brother’s best friend and a second son to our dad. From 2008-2009, when he was 23 years old, he served as a sergeant in Afghanistan. He is currently a junior at DePaul University in Chicago. I told Ryan that nothing I could write would be as powerful an endorsement of President Obama as his story, in his own words. He agreed to let me share an email that he sent me during our correspondence concerning “90 Days, 90 Reasons.” He asked only that his real name be kept confidential, to protect his family’s privacy.

Ryan’s story highlights the importance of the following policy achievements by President Obama.

1) Obama has prevented insurance companies from refusing to provide healthcare to Americans with pre-existing conditions. In March of 2010, Congress passed and President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This law created a new program called the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP), which makes health coverage available to people with pre-existing conditions. PCIP is available until 2014, when the Affordable Care Act will officially prohibit insurance companies from refusing to sell coverage or renew policies because of a person’s pre-existing condition. Romney has sworn to strike down the Affordable Care Act the day he takes office, which would place those with pre-existing conditions at the mercy of insurance companies once again.

2) Obama approved one of the largest funding increases for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in decades. These funds have helped provide our veterans with better healthcare, better services, and better support. He also signed the Veterans Healthcare Budget Reform and Transparency Act, which reformed the way we fund healthcare for our veterans. Veterans’ medical care is now funded a year in advance so the VA can count on predictable resources for treating our veterans.

3) Obama signed the Post-9/11 GI Bill. This bill provides full tuition and fees for veterans attending an in-state public university. It also provides them with a housing stipend, and an annual books and supplies allowance. The bill has already helped 300,000 veterans or members of their families pursue their dream of a college education.

Ryan’s story demonstrates the gravity of these policies. It is stark proof that your vote does matter—that, in fact, the stakes are life or death for millions of Americans, both veterans and civilians.

Karen Russell
 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


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Yeah, I’m voting for President Obama. My mom was dropped from her insurance company Aetna and they wouldn’t let her reapply for a contract because she got diagnosed with leukemia. She's already bipolar and manic-depressive, and now she has leukemia so we contacted every major insurance provider and no one would take her because she’s sick. I wrote my congresswoman for help and was told by one of her aides that there was nothing they could do. I asked if the insurance people could just stand by and let my mom die of cancer and the congresswoman’s aide said “basically yes.” Her chemo medicine costs 10,000 dollars for less than a month’s worth of pills. I personally had to buy her first batch out of pocket with my own money without insurance. The only reason she’s alive today is because of the PCIP (Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan) that President Obama created. This plan will carry her into 2014 when Obamacare takes effect and insurance companies can’t deny sick people anymore because they are too expensive to take care of.

I broke three of the metacarpal bones in my hand last year. The fractures were displaced and very serious. I got surgery and rehab at the Jesse Brown VA Hospital here in Chicago. The orthopedic surgeons were all from Northwestern University doing tours of duty at the VA. My hand is completely healed and I got two titanium implants that will remain in the bones forever. I didn’t pay a single penny for any of this. My prescription drugs and rehab and all my slings, splints, and other things I had to wear for a while were also free. Nine weeks after surgery I was boxing again at full power with no limitations.

During rehab I had to pass by all the guys fresh back from the war with spinal injuries. It reminded me of my visit to the first VA hospital I ever went to in Miami. When you enter, there’s a huge sign that says, “The price of freedom is visible here.” The first unit I walked by was the spinal cord injury unit, and all the young guys were laid on stretchers outside in the break area smoking cigarettes and talking to each other. I got a sick feeling because it hit me then how lucky I had been in training and in Afghanistan that I was never wounded or injured. Most of these guys can’t afford insurance like me and the VA is the only healthcare option they have. We volunteered during wartime while everyone else sat safely back home and watched or didn’t watch the conflicts on thirty-second plugs in the evening news. The least that wounded veterans can get is decent healthcare. Some of these people are maimed for the rest of their lives because they sacrificed for the people of this country. Taxpayer dollars couldn’t go to a much better cause.

I’m just starting my junior year at DePaul University. I haven’t paid a penny for anything in college. Tuition, books, and housing are all covered. Not only has the government been extremely generous by giving me a free college education, but college has been the single most effective reintegration program back into civilian life for me. It’s still difficult for obvious reasons, but everyday I’m surrounded by positive influences. The vast majority of people here are happy and carefree, and it feels like I’m living in a dream. The Post-9/11 GI Bill didn’t exist when I joined the army, and it wasn’t until 2009 that it came about. I had never planned on going to college because when I enlisted it was the Montgomery GI bill, and they basically just gave you 1,300 dollars a month and sent you on your way. If someone had come up to me in my firebase in Afghanistan and told me that in a few years I’d be in college in Chicago and my tuition, books, and housing would be covered, I would have laughed in their face.

I know that I’m getting a generous gift from the taxpayers of this country and I’m extremely grateful.

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