CARSON CITY, Nev. (CNN/Gray News) – During a town hall in Carson City on Friday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate, was confronted by a man who said he was a sick veteran saddled with medical debt.
He told Sanders he was diagnosed with the degenerative brain disorder Huntington’s disease, and that he’d been kicked off Tricare, which supplies health insurance to active and retired military members, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports.
The newspaper identified the man as 58-year-old Navy veteran John Weigel, and reports that he showed Sanders a $139,000 medical bill.
Sanders detailed his proposal for a single-payer health care system during the town hall. The exchange between Sanders and the man occurred as Sanders listened to attendees tell about their experiences with private insurance, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
When Sanders asked the man how he was going to pay his medical expenses, he answered: “I can’t. I can’t. I’m going to kill myself.”
Sanders replied, “Don’t. Hold it, John. Stop it. You’re not going to kill yourself. Stop it.”
“I have Huntington’s disease,” the man answered. “Do you know how hard it is? You know, you probably don’t, do you? I can’t drive. I can barely take care of myself.”
"All right, let's chat later at the end of the meeting, OK?" Sanders said.
After the town hall, Sanders and his wife spent some time talking to the man, but there’s no word on what they talked about.
“This should not be going on in America, not for a veteran, not for any person in this country, and it is beyond comprehension that under the current healthcare system, somewhere like a half a million people go bankrupt every year because of medical bills,” said Sanders in an interview the following day.
Sanders never served in the military, but he has direct experience dealing with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
He was chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee from 2013 to 2015, but a scandal over long waits at VA hospitals took place during his tenure, in 2014.
Many people have praised his work with the committee, but others have criticized it.
If you or someone you know are struggling with suicidal feelings, help is available.
You can speak to someone 24 hours a day at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. There is a live chat option available on the website suicidepreventionlifeline.org.