At the age of 36 and looking at the balance sheets, it was clear I needed to do a few things to protect my long term financial future and that of my family. So, I called up my bank, a bank who only has as customers those who served and their family members. They understand my needs as a veteran. I spoke with a financial adviser and followed through with his advice that I apply for life insurance.
What happened next was that I got punished for being honest and got denied term life insurance.
I have a past history of substance abuse.
I rock climb.
I travel internationally.
I am not insurable.
The bank told me in a letter but gave me a number to call to discuss other options about securing my financial future. I spoke with two very polite customer service representatives who painstakingly explained to me the situation. The first person I spoke with, a registered financial planner told me not to worry too much about the life insurance. Only 2% of all policies he said ever paid out.
Next, I spoke to the underwriter who told me the issue was not just my substance abuse, which they could find out about if any of the treatment providers I have used in the past reported our meetings to the medical information bureau--you're records aren't that private. It also was not just the fact that I rock climb or climb frozen waterfalls, it was that I rock climb, climb frozen waterfalls, AND have a history of substance abuse.
So let's take a wider lens to recap:
I joined the Army. My being in the Army gives me access to a bank that understands the needs of service members. I came home from the Army and could not handle the challenges of coming home in a healthy way and I got drunk and I got high. Later, I started rock climbing and climbing frozen waterfalls and that helped me to get help, gave me a purpose, a reason to keep clawing forward in life and moving one foot in front of the other. The catch is: that which helps me live, makes me statistically likely to force a pay out that less than 2% of people ever get.
So had I just kept doing the drugs and hitting the bottle, never sought out treatment so treatment would never be on a file anywhere, and just stuck to sitting on my couch, I would be insurable--not a risk for that 2% pay out.
Or, I could have lied and hoped none of the treatment I ever got showed up in my official medical records and we could all pretend I never climb. I told the nice people this created a perverse incentive structure and stigmatized mental health and recovery. They told me about the gap in coverage for folks like me and that they could not help me.
What could I do?
Well, if I quit climbing now and don't have a relapse for two more years and don't travel anywhere 'not safe' maybe I could get life insurance.
I'm glad my bank understands my needs...as a soldier and as a veteran.