It’s 11 p.m., and Hunter “Doc” Hayes is still at work. Not that this is an unusually hectic day for him. At the age of 27, this Texas native has already accomplished more than most. At Generation America, the new coalition for people over 50 he helped launch, he spends his days in legislative battles with the Obama administration over health care, Social Security, and taxes. And while most college students spend their summers interning, partying, and playing video games, Hayes spent his as a combat medic with the U.S. Marines in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
After dreaming for years of joining the military, Hayes enlisted with the U.S. Navy just days before the 9/11 attacks. Following boot camp, he enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin, where he was a pre-med studying history while regularly training for deployment. In August 2004, he was deployed to Iraq with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines.
“I witnessed a little bit of everything,” Hayes recalls. His battalion was hit with indirect fire and mortar rounds day and night, so Hayes was constantly on edge. As a corpsman, he witnessed many of the horrors of the war first-hand tending to fellow soldiers and Iraqi civilians who had been wounded by mortars or IEDs. During one particularly tense operation, Hayes and his medical team performed life-saving surgery on a 22-year-old Iraqi woman who had been hit with shrapnel.
Yet when Hayes is asked to sum up his experience in Iraq, he immediately says it was “the compassion and care…exchanged” that made the most “lasting impact.” With his battalion, Hayes helped rebuild schools and construct water filtration systems to provide clean water for drinking and cooking. “The things we easily take for granted were often life-changing for the Iraqi people,” he says. Hayes remains optimistic about the mission in Iraq. “The U.S. has made incredible progress in Iraq,” he says, “and it is critical that we continue to do so. I can only hope that what we’ve done remains.”
Following his eight-month tour of duty, Hayes returned to Austin, graduated, and became actively involved with Vets for Freedom, a national organization of combat veterans from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. He also drifted away from his premed work, after deciding that the “health care profession wasn’t worth it.” Doctors, he says, are “demoniz[ed] for making money and wanting to do better for themselves and their families.” Instead, Hayes campaigned for 2008 presidential candidate John McCain, alongside his fellow Vets for Freedom, speaking at rallies in Texas and Washington, D.C.
In 2008, Hayes was introduced through the College Republicans to Michael Young, a retired Austin entrepreneur. Young was looking to create a conservative counter-weight to the AARP, advocating for a free-market solution to the health care crisis. And he wanted Hayes to come aboard as his new director of membership and communications.
Hayes agreed, and Generation America (Gen A) was launched in November 2009. Already, the group has tens of thousands of members. For $19 a year, Gen A, like the AARP, offers an array of benefits to its members with discounts at major retailers like WalMart and Apple, and travel deals from companies like Marriott and Hotwire. Like the AARP, Gen A will soon offer its own insurance plans. Where it differs is in the direction of its advocacy, especially on the health care bill.
For Hayes, that fight is personal. In 2001, he watched his grandfather’s health slowly deteriorate after a heart operation. A blood clot operation left a “tremendous wound” on his grandfather’s right leg, requiring the constant care of a nurse. But the family was adamant about keeping him out of a nursing home, and through sheer determination and the help of his grandfather’s at-home nurses, they did. Hayes says the support of his grandfather’s home health care providers was invaluable. “They were always willing to go the extra mile,” he says, despite being understaffed. Hayes notes that the Democrats’ bill severely cuts payments to these providers, even as it forces them to take on a much larger workload. He fears that such efforts to control costs will end in rationing, and advocates instead for consumer-driven health care. Free markets—not more government intervention—he says, are “the solution to our nation’s problems.”
If Gen A’s mailbag is any indicator, the health care battle is far from over. Many members, Hayes says, mail in their torn-up AARP cards along with their Gen A applications in protest of the AARP’s support of the bill. He was recently besieged with letters and emails from “disgruntled” former AARP members after Gen A was featured on the Fox News morning show FOX and Friends. One member told Hayes that she was joining because she was “scared to death by what our government is doing.” Another told him that the bill was “little more than rationing in disguise,” and he was ready to join “a real older person’s outfit.”
So Gen A is gearing up for round two of the fight, which probably means a lot more late nights for Hayes. Does he mind? “It’s a 24-hour a day, seven-days-a-week gig,” Hayes says. “I am passionate about the work I do.”
Maggie Donovan is an intern for the America’s Future Foundation. Kate Merrill is an AFFer in Washington, DC.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire