Action News Jax spent $10,000 to help forgive $1 million worth of medical debt with the aid of New York-based charity RIP Medical Debt, which bought a veteran debt portfolio, then notified local military that some of their debt was forgiven.
"I ran a physician organization for about 19 years and Jerry (Ashton, co-founder of RIP Medical Debt) came in trying to sell me collection services," said Robert Goff, founding director of RIP Medical Debt.
Goff and Ashton spent decades in medical billing and collecting, watching the impact on families who couldn't pay.
They decided to do something about it. Ashton remembers the conversation:
"We're going to go out and make a corporation charity, and we're going to go raise $50,000 and then we're going to buy and abolish $1 million worth of medical debt," he said. "'What do you think of that?' I said, ‘That's about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!"
Buying veterans' medical debt: How it works
RIP Medical Debt buys up bulk debt from collection agencies for pennies on the dollar and forgives it.
"We kind of call ourselves predatory givers,” Ashton said with a laugh.
According to the charity's latest federal tax documents, more than 87 percent of donations to RIP Medical Debt go straight to helping people.
Ashton, a Navy vet himself, said the organization's goal now is to wipe out $50 million worth of medical debt for veterans and active-duty military.
“We were shocked to learn that there’s over $6 billion worth of unpaid emergent care sitting there that the VA refuses to bankroll,” Ashton said. "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."
The inspiration behind #RIPVetDebt: Our veterans
Northeast Florida is home to more than 120,000 veterans. Action News Jax is committed to covering issues important to our fighting men and women, which is why we donated $10,000 to help pay off $1 million in veteran medical debt.
“We’re so proud as journalists and as members of this great community to be able to dig into a story and find a way to help people in need," said Bob Longo, general manager of WJAX/WFOX/WOKV. “These veterans sacrificed for us, in many cases put their lives on the line. This is the right thing to do, and we hope the community is able to join us in this effort.”
RIP Medical Debt also buys and forgives medical debt for civilians across the country. For Goff, the charity's campaign to target veterans is about paying them back.
"They took a pause in their life to serve this country. Now, we have to get them back on the track and help them do that when they need that help,” he said.
Did you get a yellow envelope? Let us know
Action News Jax never knew the names or medical conditions of any recipients of the donation -- only the number of letters sent out and the cities they were mailed to.
We ask anyone who received one of the letters -- in a bright yellow envelope with the Action News Jax, News 104.5 WOKV and RIP Medical Debt logos -- to reach out to us using the contact information inside the letter.
If you’d like to join Action News Jax and News 104.5 WOKV in helping local veterans, click here to make your tax-deductible donation.
Our goal was to raise at least $10,000 to help pay off $1 million of medical debt for active-duty and retired veterans.
It's our way of giving back to those who have given so much for all of us. We hope you'll join us.
LISTEN TO THE NEWS 104.5 WOKV #RIPVETDEBT SPECIAL:
FACEBOOK LIVE: PAIGE KELTON EXPLAINS HOW THE #RIPVETDEBT CAMPAIGN WORKS