On Air Now

Listen Now


H 84° L 55°
  • cloudy-day
    Current Conditions
    Sunny. H 84° L 55°
  • clear-day
    Sunny. H 84° L 55°
  • clear-day
    Sunny. H 75° L 56°

The latest top stories

00:00 | 00:00


The latest traffic report

00:00 | 00:00


The latest forecast

00:00 | 00:00

Action News Jax pays off $1 million in veterans' medical debt, starts campaign to pay off more

Action News Jax pays off $1 million in veterans' medical debt, starts campaign to pay off more

Action News Jax pays off $1 million in veterans' medical debt, starts campaign to pay off more

Action News Jax pays off $1 million in veterans' medical debt, starts campaign to pay off more

Thousands of local veterans and their families are buckling under the weight of crushing medical debt.

Sean Kelly grew up in Jacksonville and served eight years in the Marine Corps.


"I went in to the Marine Corps while the Iraq war was going on," Kelly said.

Kelly said he racked up tens of thousands of dollars in medical debt after he came home.

"2015 was a rough year. I was in and out of the hospital. Almost every other week I was going to the hospital," he said.

Kelly said his medical issues stem from his service. He has medical bills the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs didn't cover and still hasn't paid.

"We have probably paid about $30,000 of medical bills, and I think we have anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 dollars left," said Kelly.

The unpaid bills weigh heavy on the retired Marine’s conscience and credit and he's not alone.

'A lot of embarrassment and shame'

Betsy Odell served in the Army. Looking at a binder full of bills, Odell said she has $30,000 in medical debt.

"This is from 2009 to the last time I went to the ER (emergency room) was 2015,” she said. 

As she paged through the bills she added, “There’s a lot of stress, a lot of humiliation, a lot of embarrassment and shame.”

When hospitals fail to collect, that debt is often sold to collection agencies for pennies on the dollar.

That debt can be sold multiple times, and what a patient owes can slowly grow with interest, eventually making it impossible for some to pay off.    

“Generally, these people are not people that have the resources, had they had the resources, they probably would have dealt with it earlier,” said Jerry Ashton, co-founder of the charity RIP Medical Debt.

$6 billion in unpaid emergent care

The New York-based charity buys up portfolios of medical debt and forgives it. The group helped Action News Jax pay off $1 million in medical debt for local veterans as part of its campaign to forgive $50 million in veterans' debt.

We want to be clear: Action News Jax doesn’t know the names of those who received letters or anything about their medical conditions. We only know the cities where the letters were delivered.

“We were shocked to learn that there's more than $6 billion worth of unpaid emergent care sitting there that the VA refuses to bankroll,” Ashton said. “I’ve gotten so many letters from so many veterans, who have gotten sick on a weekend when the VA isn’t open. They go somewhere else, try to get that bill reimbursed. Or the ambulance would pick them up, and instead of going the 120 miles to the VA hospital, they will take them the 3 miles to the hospital where they need to be immediately: that’s not recognized as a bill.”

Wiping out $1 million in veterans' medical debt

For Kelly and Odell, the financial burden has added to the physical cost of their military service. 

Action News Jax is committed to covering issues that are important to local military men and women, which is why we decided to spend more than $10,000 to wipe out some medical debt for local active-duty and retired veterans.

More than 1,000 people received letters in yellow envelopes that have an Action News Jax and WOKV sticker on them. If you get one of these letters, we'd like to hear from you. Email pkelton@actionnewsjax.com or call 904-996-0530.

Kelly and Odell knew they may not get one of these letters, but still wanted to share their stories, hoping to inspire viewers to become part of this effort.

Click here to help Action News Jax and News 104.5 WOKV wipe out veterans' medical debt



Read More

The Latest News Headlines

  • Nearly 860,000 people worldwide -- including more than 189,000 people in the United States – have been infected with the new coronavirus, and the number of deaths from the outbreak continues to rise. Officials are attempting to contain the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. as hospitals brace for unprecedented patient surges. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is tracking cases in the U.S. here. Live updates for Wednesday, April 1, continue below: US coronavirus deaths hit 4,076, total cases top 189K Update 12:31 a.m. EDT April 1: By early Wednesday morning, the number of novel coronavirus cases in the United States neared 200,000 across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, there are at least 189,510 confirmed U.S. cases of the virus, which have resulted in at least 4,076 deaths. U.S. cases now outnumber those in any other nation by wide margins, including the 105,792 reported in Italy and the 95,923 confirmed in Spain. Of the confirmed U.S. deaths, 1,550 – or nearly half of the nationwide total – have occurred in New York, 267 in New Jersey and 259 in Michigan.  In terms of diagnosed cases, New York remains the hardest hit with at least 75,795 confirmed cases – or roughly four times the next-closest state – followed by New Jersey with 18,696 and Michigan with 7,615. Three other states have now confirmed at least 6,000 novel coronavirus cases each, including: • California: 6,932, including 150 deaths • Florida: 6,732, including 84 deaths • Massachusetts: 6,220, including 89 deaths Meanwhile, Illinois, Louisiana and Washington state each has confirmed at least 5,000 novel coronavirus infections; Pennsylvania and Georgia each has confirmed at least 4,000 cases; Texas and Connecticut each has confirmed at least 3,000 cases; and Colorado, Tennessee, Ohio and Indiana each has confirmed at least 2,000 cases. Click here to see CNN’s complete state-by-state breakdown.
  • Ahead of an approaching cold front, Northeast Florida saw a line of strong storms roll through. Some of those storms prompted severe thunderstorm warnings and a few tornado warnings from the National Weather Service of Jacksonville. The NWS does believe an EF-0 tornado did touch during in northern St. Johns County on Tuesday evening. At this time, WOKV has not received any reports of injuries, but there have been reports of damage and downed trees.
  • Following the recent passage of a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus measure to help families and businesses with the financial strain of the coronavirus pandemic, WOKV's Consumer Warrior Clark Howard is breaking down some of the finer details. Howard says adults making up to $75,000 a year will get a $1,200 check, while a married couple making up to $150,000 will get $2,400, with $500 payments per child.  STORY: Are you getting a stimulus check; how much will it be? Use this calculator to find out However, Howard says that $500 payment doesn't include every child.  'You will not get money for your teenager. So, once your teenager goes past 16, they're out of the picture for the $500,' explains Howard.  Howard says this $500 payment also does not apply to other types of dependents, like if you're an adult taking care of your elderly parents.  Get more consumer news and advice from Clark Howard in his latest on-demand podcasts by clicking HERE.
  • The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is working hard to make sure people throughout the state who are unemployed are getting the assistance they need during the coronavirus pandemic. That means hiring more staff members to help people who are trying to apply for unemployment benefits. Executive Director Ken Lawson signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor over the weekend to execute the CARES Act in Florida. Lawson says his staff is working hard to implement those resources to Floridians as soon as possible. The week before most businesses closed due to government orders, the Department of Economic Opportunity received 28,000 calls. Last week in just four days, they received 130,000 calls. That higher volume of calls is overwhelming the staff, but it looks like help is on the way. Anyone who calls right now should expect to wait on hold for upwards of an hour, but hopefully that wait time starts dropping soon. The Department of Economic Opportunity is hiring 100 people statewide to answer calls, walk people through the application process, and handle processing applications. Florida residents eligible for reemployment assistance include people quarantined by a medical professional or government agency, people who have been laid off or sent home without pay for an extended period of time or people caring for an immediate family member diagnosed with coronavirus. Any Floridian whose employment has been negatively impacted by the virus can get more information here.
  • Isolation and fear during the coronavirus pandemic can create the perfect storm for domestic abuse. Some experts say victims are like prisoners in their own homes during quarantine.  “We’re talking about a horrible situation. People who normally might be able to call us, reach out to us, stop at our outreach center or go to work and look online to find how they can get help are prisoners in their own home,” Hubbard House CEO Gail Patin, EdD, LCSW, said.  Anyone who needs help and can safely get away from their abuser is asked to call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-500-1119 or Hubbard House in Jacksonville at (904) 354-3114.

The Latest News Videos