I sat next to this woman on a plane, and promised I’d tell you her story…

I spoke at the Virginia Beach Forum Wednesday night and had an early flight back to Dallas from Norfolk International Thursday morning. Like a good trooper, the smooth flight of an airplane, especially early morning, knocks me out — and so it was aboard that American Airlines flight. Yes, I shared some hearty handshakes and greetings with a few folks — especially with one young Sailor heading off to see a buddy. But it was while I was asleep in my seat I felt a soft touch on my right arm. I awoke to see the very warm face of a woman, a Navy veteran named Shelba.

As I turned to look Shelba in the eye I could see tears welling up and she immediately apologized for awakening me — of course it was no big deal, I knew it was something important, and it was.

You see, Shelba, a Navy vet, married to a Navy Master Chief Petty Officer (MCPO) had just lost her dad the day prior. He was also a Navy vet.

Shelba began her conversation to me, kneeling in the aisle saying, “Col. West, government is not good at running anything.” She began by telling me her personal story of having to wait one year to get an appointment at the Portsmouth Navy Hospital to be treated for a bulging disc in her back.

But what really brought tears to her eyes — and hurt my soul — was her story of her dad’s passing. Her father had been seen by the VA hospital for a heart issue but what ended up happening was a failure to diagnose a blood condition that led to blood cancer. When it was discovered, it was too late and a complete blood transfusion was potentially the only option.

When I think about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying on MSNBC that the entire Veterans issue with waiting lists was overblown and just an isolated incident in Phoenix — she should look into Shelba’s eyes. Her dad, a World War II veteran and Navy Petty Officer Third Class (PO3) trusted that the Veterans Administration would do right by him — and many VA hospitals do, but there is a problem that must be fixed.

But Shelba was not done.

She’s a pharmacy technician and told me she sees almost daily how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is failing our seniors. That’s something I warned our senior communities in South Florida about, but I don’t think folks were ready for the truth then. Shelba told me how she deals with seniors who are on Social Security and with Medicare have to decide between insulin prescriptions and food. Yet she says, folks on Medicaid come in and get prescriptions for acne medication paid for by the taxpayer. She confided in me that the donut hole has not been solved and seniors are still falling into that void and not able to cover their costs. And just so you understand how this works for “basic Medicare Part D” coverage:

• You pay out-of-pocket for monthly Part D premiums all year.
• You pay 100% of your drug costs until you reach the $310 deductible amount.

• After reaching the deductible, you pay 25% of the cost of your drugs, while the Part D plan pays the rest, until the total you and your plan spend on your drugs reaches $2,800.
• Once you reach this limit, you have hit the coverage gap referred to as the “donut hole,” and you are now responsible for the full cost of your drugs until the total you have spent for your drugs reaches the yearly out-of-pocket spending limit of $4,550.
• After this yearly spending limit, you are only responsible for a small amount of the cost, usually 5% of the cost of your drugs.”

And why is this happening? Because, as some of us warned, of the cuts to Medicare Part D to pay for “Obamacare.”

Shelba looked at me and asked one thing: you have to help us and do something. This is why I wish we had serious folks running for president of the United States who would tell the stories of the Shelbas all over America. People who wouldn’t try to capitalize on the pain our citizens are enduring, but would stop playing politics and develop the policy that takes care of Americans.

I promised Shelba I would tell her story for everyone to know. So Shelba, wherever you are right now, I will fight for you and that which you took an oath to support and defend — just like your beloved dad and your husband. I will not let you down.

And to those Capitol Hill types who will read this, fix this, not for me, but for Shelba. She was willing to give her all for this nation — can y’all elected officials find it within yourselves to just show a semblance of honor and integrity such as she did?

Shelba gave me something I will cherish forever — a US Navy “Fighting Seabees” challenge coin in the shape of a Seabee — I remember the John Wayne movie of the same name growing up as a little fella — what a history. We are within one year away from changing the path of THIS disastrous history. Let’s do it!


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