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OTHER VIEW
Other View: For me and my son, Medicaid cuts don't mean hard choices: They mean life or death.

My son Kaden was born with a bigger list of obstacles to overcome than most kids.

When he was a little over two months old, we discovered Kaden has a congenital heart condition known as Tetralogy of Fallot with an absent pulmonary valve. He also has Von Willebrand’s disease, a bleeding disorder. Kaden, now a spunky 12-year-old who loves science and theater, has had multiple open heart surgeries, survived on life support, suffered a stroke, lived through a bleeding disorder—the list goes on. The medications that keep him alive cost $300 to $1,000 each per month, and he has a rotating cast of 11 different doctors whom we visit regularly.

On top of that, I have some medical challenges of my own:

During gall bladder surgery, a doctor accidentally severed a bile duct and I’ve had multiple invasive procedures to repair the damage. I was left with a chronic condition that requires specialists and medication for the rest of my life and makes it even harder for me to give Kaden the care and support he needs.

Without our health care coverage through Medicaid, neither Kaden nor I would be alive. With President Donald Trump and Republicans in the White House threatening to slash more than $1 trillion from Medicaid — the program that Kaden and I depend on for coverage — my worries have gone from how we’ll manage our conditions to whether we’ll survive them.

Every mother understands that I am willing to do anything and everything I can to protect my son’s health and his future. I juggle being a single mom and holding a full-time job so I can provide for Kaden. Even though I work full-time, I can’t afford my employer-sponsored health insurance; Medicaid and Children’s Special Health Care Services keep my son alive.

If Trump and Republicans in Congress succeed in gutting Medicaid so they can give a giant tax break to their billionaire buddies, Kaden and I will be the ones who pay the price. And there are millions of families like ours who can’t afford to foot the bill for this administration’s heartless budget.

We have dealt with lapses in our coverage before, and I know how it feels to be unable to afford an inhaler or a medication that Kaden needs. It isn’t as though we’ll be choosing between a nice vacation and a quicker doctor visit, or a new car or an important surgery. We’ll be choosing between life and death. My mind races as I play out the tragic scenarios we could face if Congress passes the Trump budget or the House health care law: At what point will I have to choose between paying for food or for Kaden’s lifesaving medication? What if giving up one still doesn’t allow me to pay for the other? What then?

No mom should have to ask these questions. Yet elected officials in Washington are trying to dismantle a health care system that currently protects the lives of millions of Americans, including our youngest, our oldest and our most vulnerable.

Providing health care for those who need it the most reflects our nation’s values. We take care of our family, our friends, our neighbors. We give each other a hand and help each other out. This is who we are.

Those values seem to have been stripped away by callous policymakers who are intent on destroying a health care system millions depend on to line the pockets of their wealthy campaign donors. But here’s what I’ve learned: chronic conditions, terminal illness and medical emergencies don’t discriminate based on how you vote or how much money you earn. Our ability to get and stay healthy shouldn’t either.


Columnists
OTHER VIEW
Other View: The hidden abuses in Crimea

This appeared in Thursday’s Washington Post.

The Trump administration modestly expanded sanctions on Russia on Tuesday in an encouraging sign that it will continue to raise the pressure on the regime of Vladimir Putin for its illegal activity in Ukraine. Eleven of the newly penalized individuals and entities operate in the province of Crimea, which Moscow invaded and annexed in 2014; they include the Russia-designated state prosecutor. Yet according to two leading Crimean human rights activists, no one in the occupied province has been explicitly punished for the sweeping violations of human rights that have occurred there since 2014. That should change.

“When it comes to Crimea, no one is talking about human rights,” said Tetiana Pechonchyk of the Kiev, Ukraine-based Human Rights Center. One reason for that is that Russia has sealed off the territory from the outside world; it is, Pechonchyk told us, “a kind of ghetto where no international organizations have access and there is no independent media.” More than a dozen Crimean news organizations were forced to move out of the province after a number of journalists were persecuted and prosecuted.

Now their websites, and others, are blocked by Crimean authorities. Mykola Semena, a veteran reporter who persisted in writing for the Radio Liberty website Crimea Realities, is on trial on charges of inciting separatism and faces five years in prison.

Even the slightest hint of opposition to Russia’s rule is crushed. A farmer named Vladimir Balukh who flew a Ukrainian flag over his house is being tried on trumped-up weapons charges and could receive four years in prison. But the worst persecution is reserved for members of Crimea’s Tatar ethnic minority. Its principle organization, the Mejlis, has been banned as a terrorist groupand its leaders exiled, jailed or, in one case, forcibly confined to a psychiatric institution. Crimeans are prohibited even from mentioning the Mejlis on social media.

Pechonchyk and Olga Skrypnyk, the exiled board chairman of the Crimean Human Rights Group, arrived in Washington this week with lists of dozens of Russian and Crimean officials implicated in these abuses. One cites more than 70 judges who have ordered unlawful detentions, while another identifies those complicit in repression of the media. The activists would like to see these officials added to those subject to sanctions by the United States and the European Union, including through the use of the Magnitsky Act, which provides for action against officials involved in persecuting human rights activists.

The point of sanctions is not only to punish. Pressure needs to be raised on Moscow until it agrees to international negotiations on its Crimea occupation, like those it has with Ukraine, France and Britain on its military incursion in eastern Ukraine. “Russia is not listening to resolutions,” said Pechonchyk. “The only language Russia understands is sanctions.”


Columnists
READER COMMENT
Reader Comment: Anyone can be the difference with training in mental health first aid

There is a mental health crisis in America. The statistics alone should compel each of us to ask “What can I do?”

Every 13 minutes, someone in the United States dies by their own hand, making suicide the nation’s 10th leading cause of death and second among those aged 15 to 34. Among children 10 to 14, the suicide rate has caught up with the death rate from traffic accidents. Many times that number attempt suicide each year — more than eight percent of high school students.

But it’s not just the young. Among middle-aged white Americans with no more than a high school education, the historic increase in life expectancy has gone into reverse. Death rates have risen dramatically. Suicides, drug overdoses and alcohol-related liver disease are the main drivers of these “deaths of despair.” Less likely to get or stay married and less likely to participate in the labor force, they increasingly turn to chemical crutches. Alcoholism worsens. Suicide climbs. Addiction takes root.

The opioid epidemic is raging across America — with nearly 100 people dying every day from overdoses. Addiction may start innocently enough, when a person undergoes surgery or experiences the discomfort of kidney stones and is prescribed a high-powered pain medication, usually opiate-based. For some, use of that prescription painkiller begins a downward spiral to addiction — leaving family members, friends and colleagues at a loss for a way to help.

More than ever, mental health is becoming a concern in the workplace — so much that this year’s World Health Organization World Health Day focused on the toll that anxiety and depression take on the global workplace. In the U.S. alone, depression annually costs in excess of $1 trillion in lost productivity. The human and emotional cost is unmeasurable.

But the numbers are more than mere statistics. They reflect personal experiences. It’s likely that you know someone who is living with a mental illness, lost a loved one to suicide or is struggling to get an adolescent treatment for addiction — we all do.

How can we help? We want to do the right thing, to say the right thing, yet we struggle to find the words.

The time has come when our response to someone with a mental health problem or an addiction is no different than someone with cancer, diabetes or heart disease. Mental Health First Aid offers the tools that enable all of us to have the conversation, to be the difference in the life of someone struggling.

That is why we are launching the “Be the Difference” campaign. Because anyone, anywhere can be the one to make a difference — if you know what to say and what to do. The very skills you need are the skills you learn in Mental Health First Aid.

Addiction, mental illness, suicide. The stakes couldn’t be higher. Learn how you can “Be the Difference.”

Mental Health First Aid is an eight-hour in-person training designed for anyone to learn about mental illness and addiction, including risk factors and warning signs. Participants learn a five-step action plan to help people who are living with a mental health challenge or experiencing a crisis. Find courses in your area at MentalHealthFirstAid.org