KarenHBlack via shutterstock
BARTH KECK

As I listened to Vin Baker speak at his “Addiction Ends Here 5K” in Old Saybrook on July 19, I was struck by the genuine compassion in his voice.

I didn’t have a notebook in hand at the starting line, so I can’t quote his pre-race comments verbatim, but his interview with Erik Dobratz of WTNH struck the same chord: “If you’re struggling with addiction, there is hope. You can lead a sober life. I was in a hopeless state before and now I’m 8½ years sober.”

Baker, a former University of Hartford basketball player and NBA All-Star, had it all: multimillion-dollar contracts, a lavish lifestyle, a gold medal as a member of the 2000 USA basketball team. And then he lost it all to alcoholism. But he ultimately found the strength to turn that loss into monumental gain.

“This is the most meaningful thing I’ve ever done in my life,” said Baker, referring to his annual road race and the foundation it benefits. “It’s an awesome cause and I feel like every time we do this, we’re saving lives.”

Compassion. That’s precisely the word that came to mind as I listened to Vin Baker on that hot Saturday morning. Unfortunately, compassion is in short supply these days.

Andy Buccaro is the executive director of Project Courage, a substance-abuse recovery center that co-sponsors the 5K with Baker. Before the race, Buccaro described the long road that victims of addiction have traveled just to have their affliction recognized by insurance companies. The statistics bear him out.

“Connecticut has the worst mental health parity compliance in the United States, according to a 2017 study by the actuarial consulting firm Milliman,” noted a CT News Junkie story earlier this month. “The disparity, according to advocates like former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, is proof of discrimination against individuals with mental health and substance abuse disorders.”

Thankfully, things are changing, if slowly. Connecticut legislators signed a bill on July 8 that “requires insurers to submit analyses demonstrating how they are in compliance with the 2008 Federal Parity Law” — although it includes no penalties for noncompliance.

We’ll take compassion wherever we can get it these days, I suppose, because it’s certainly lacking in many places — like the federal food-stamp program.

“The Connecticut Department of Social Services estimates there are about 11,000 state residents who would lose their food stamps if a proposed Trump administration rule change is adopted,” reported Christine Stuart last week. “There are currently about 364,000 Connecticut residents who receive food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP.”

The new rules would change the formula used to determine family eligibility for food stamps. Currently, Connecticut families living at or below 185% of the federal poverty level are eligible, but that percentage would drop to 130%
— “about $1,316 per month for a household of one, or $2,720 for a household of four.”

Annual savings — the purpose of the new rules — would be $2.5 billion. Compare that to the “net decrease in corporate tax receipts of more than $90 billion by the end of fiscal year 2018” or the $16 billion dollars given to farmers (well, it’s more than just farmers) to offset their losses from U.S.-imposed tariffs on China.

Said U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, “The latest proposal from this administration is just plain cruel: they are choosing to give trillions of dollars in tax cuts to those who don’t need it, while taking away food assistance from those who need it most.”

In other words, America is losing its capacity for compassion.

Why did it take so long to renew the Victim Compensation Fund for 9/11 responders? How did the 200 firefighters and first responders who “died as a result of cancers and other medical ailments related to the 2001 terror attacks” not move U.S. Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee to support the fund?

How did a tax on coal supporting the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund expire in 2018 when one in every five coal miners gets black lung disease, including 2,000 diagnosed with its “most severe form”?

Why are incidents of racism on the rise, such as the gun-toting University of Mississippi students who posed for an Instagram photo “in front of a bullet-riddled sign honoring slain civil rights icon Emmett Till”?

Answer to all of the above? A lack of compassion. Such are the times we live in. Still, I believe compassion can make a comeback.

So does Vin Baker, and he knows a thing or two about comebacks: “For those people who know someone who’s struggling, help them.”

It would certainly be a start.

Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

Barth Keck

Barth Keck is in his 30th year as an English teacher and 15th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition.