This is our third installment of Dispatches from the Displaced, in which just one of the 10,000 people who lose the their house each weekday shares his or her story. You can read yesterday's story from military mom Carol Ann Smith here.
Today's story comes from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and illustrates the confluence of the mortgage crisis and the health care failure. When one of the 46 million Americans without health care confronts a serious injury or malady, overwhelming medical bills quickly make mortgage payments impossible. Cheryl's entire family faces medical ailments. Lacking health care, their misfortune could eventually rob them of both health and home.
Ours is a story that could happen to just about any family, anywhere at any time. We did not purchase a home above our means. In fact, when we purchased our house 5 years ago, we were approved for more than double the amount we actually bought at. We do not have an adjustable rate mortgage -- we have a 30-year fixed rate at 6%. My husband and I have always tried to plan for life's little misfortunes. We had a small but growing savings account and we tried not to spend foolishly. Of course, life does not always go according to plan -- we know this well. But one can only plan for so much.
Our two adult children live with us. They are both disabled. Our youngest son was 16 years old when, after a head injury from a hockey incident, he was diagnosed with hydrocephalous and associated cognitive issues. He is 24 years old now. Our oldest son, who is 27, was born with mild cerebral palsy and he has recently been diagnosed with depression. He does not have health insurance. We pay his health costs as needed. Neither of them currently work, although they would both like to work and are willing to work, if given the opportunity. Although both boys would probably qualify for SSDI, my husband and I never felt it was necessary or something we wanted to pursue. We both believed, as their parents, we should support them and not rely on the government for assistance. Until now.
In August of 2008, I was fired from my job. For several months leading up to my termination, my family suffered serious health problems: I was needed to provide care and transportation to medical appointments for my mom who consequently died from her condition in October of 2007; my husband suffered a stroke in very early May 2008; 3 weeks later, I was involved in an automobile accident; in August our son needed emergency neurosurgery to replace a malfunctioning VP shunt. I was fired from my job the day after my son's first surgery because I had missed too many days of work by that time. My employer denied me unemployment benefits because they claimed I had "attendance/tardiness" issues.
On 2 separate occasions; during my mom's illness and when my son started to show signs of shunt malfunction, I did ask about using the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) but both times was told by my employer that I did not qualify for it because of the size of the company. The company I worked for had over 500 employees in 22 offices in the western half of the U.S.
Immediately after my car accident, my primary care physician suggested I use my short-term disability (STD) insurance, which I paid for through my employer but at the time I did not feel I would need that much time off. To use STD I would have needed to take an entire 6 weeks off of work.
Medical bills are piling up. And our savings account has been wiped out. We have resorted to selling our personal belongings on ebay and Craigs List to raise extra money. Fortunately, from the items we sold, we were able to make a $4,500 payment to US Bank in late December of 2008. That payment got us all caught up. But this was our last payment to them and now we do not have too much left to sell.
My husband's bi-monthly paychecks do not cover all of our current expenses. To make matters worse, on January 1st the premiums for health insurance have increased so his paychecks have decreased. Between the 4 of us, we are spending approximately $500.00 per month on drugs and co-pays for doctor visits. That amount can go up any given month depending on the number of doctor visits and/or prescription medications. Right now we have to pick and choose which doctors to go to, who gets to go, and whose prescriptions get refilled. I quickly reached the limit allowed under the medical portion of my auto insurance so now we have to pay out of pocket, for any care I receive. Yes, that money will eventually be reimbursed but it is a struggle to pay it now.
As things would have it, the person that hit me did not have auto insurance. So, unfortunately, we will have to sue our insurance company to recover the money we have lost. But we cannot -- and will not -- pursue it until all of my treatment is complete.
Our top priority is to maintain my husbands health, as he is the sole-provider at this point. His stroke primarily affected his inner ear. It has left him deaf in one ear and he has daily episodes of vertigo. Unfortunately, we cannot afford to get him a hearing aid and our health insurance will not cover it. Because of the vertigo he cannot drive a car. My oldest son takes him to/from work everyday.
We moved from Minnesota to New Mexico about 5 years ago. We owe approximately $215,000 on our house. Because of the current housing market coupled with the fact that it needs a few repairs, which we cannot afford to do, I do not know if we could sell it anytime soon. In our neighborhood alone there are 4 houses for sale that have been on the market for over 6 months. We have received some phone calls and some letters in the mail from people interested in buying our house but they are very low offers and we would actually lose money if we sold it to any of them. So, of course, we do not want to do that. Besides, we do not want to sell it. We like our house and moving now would be physically difficult for both my husband and myself.
We have been working with our lender, US Bank, trying to get a loan modification. The person I am working with seems nice enough but unfortunately he is so far behind that he has not been able to complete the process yet. The last time I spoke with him was last week. He said that his caseload was backed up about 6-8 weeks and he would try to get back to me within the next few months. In the meantime, he said to "sit tight and send in a payment when you can." He said we should not get 4 months behind otherwise our case would go to the foreclosure department and there would be nothing he could do for us, at that point. I have no idea what he will offer us, if anything, as we haven't gotten that far along in the process. Since we may have a little equity in our house, we are very worried that the bank will not modify our loan and in fact, move forward with foreclose.
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Find out more about Dispatches from the Displaced, HuffPost's Eyes&Ears series of reader-submitted foreclosure stories.