Only in America: Man robs bank to get health care

By Zaid Jilani, ThinkProgress / Alternet
Posted on June 21, 2011, Printed on June 21, 2011

Verone: a dramatic symbol of America's failure

James Richard Verone of North Carolina spent his whole life playing by the rules and staying out of trouble. Having worked as a delivery man for Coca Cola for 17 years, Verone was known as a hard worker and honest man.

Yet when he was laid off from Coca Cola three years ago, Verone was desperate to find work. He eventually found employment as a convenience clerk, yet he began to notice a protrusion in his chest. He developed arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome, and soon the pain became too much for him to bear. He filed for disability, but he was denied any sort of coverage by the federal government.

So earlier this month, Verone drove to a local RBC Bank and told the teller he was robbing them for a dollar. He said he wanted to rob the bank in order to go to jail and get medical coverage:

Verone didn’t want to scare anyone. He executed the robbery the most passive way he knew how. He handed the teller a note demanding one dollar, and medical attention. “I didn’t have any fears,” said Verone. “I told the teller that I would sit over here and wait for police.” […]

Verone says he’s not a political man. But he has a lot to say on the subject of socialized medical care. He suspects he wouldn’t be talking to a reporter through a metal screen wearing an orange jumpsuit if such an option were available in the U.S. “If you don’t have your health you don’t have anything,” said Verone. The man has high hopes with his recent incarceration. He has seen several nurses and has an appointment with a doctor Friday.The ideal scenario would include back and foot surgery and a diagnosis and treatment of the protrusion on his chest, he said.

Mr Verone, 59, who also has an undiagnosed growth on his chest, could not afford health insurance after being laid off following 17 years in his job with Coca-Cola.

He had written to his local newspaper explaining that he was seeking access to one of the few places in the state with free health care.

“When you receive this a bank robbery will have been committed by me,” he wrote. “I am of sound mind but not so much sound body.” He was arrested and charged with “larceny from a person”, because the $1 (62p) haul was not large enough to qualify as a bank robbery. He has spent the past week in jail, and has received medical care.

“The pain was beyond the tolerance that I could accept,” he told the Gaston Gazette in an interview in prison. “I kind of hit a brick wall with everything.

Verone told the local press he would like to serve in prison long enough to be able to get out in time to collect Social Security benefits that he paid into his entire life. He also hopes to be able to retire along a beach some day. Verone says that he doesn’t regret landing behind bars and that he had no choice. Between continuing a life in pain and choosing prison, he is happy with his decision. “If I had not exercised all the alternatives I would be sitting here saying, ‘Man I feel bad about it,’” he said. “I picked jail.” The United States is the only wealthy country that does not offer comprehensive universal health care to every citizen; in no other rich country would anyone be faced with such a choice.

© 2011 All rights reserved.
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