Desperate Measures: Man Joins Army for Health Insurance

Photo: Desperate Measures: Man Joins Army for Health Insurance: Michelle Caudle has Ovarian Cancer; Husband Joins Army to Pay for CareMichael Sears/Milwaukee Journal Constitution
Michelle Caudle gives her husband Pvt. Bill Caudle a tearful hug as he comes up to greet her, after his graduation ceremony from Army basic training in Ft. Knox, Ky., in this Dec. 17, 2009 file photo. Its the first time she been able to be with him since he left his Watertown, Wisc., home for basic training. They will head back home on leave over Christmas and New Years, after which Bill Caudle will report for advanced individual training in the Army. His wife, who is fighting cancer, and other family members traveled to Ft. Knox to be at the graduation. Caudle entered the military after being laid off to provide for his family and get health care for his wife, after his civilian insurance was going to lapse.

Bill and Michelle Caudle were teenage sweethearts. They've been married 22 years.

They never guessed life would throw this at them.

For the last three months, Michelle Caudle has been going to a Wisconsin hospital to get chemotherapy treatments for ovarian cancer. She has been going alone -- because Bill has gone off to join the Army.

They figured it was the fastest way to get medical coverage after he lost his job at a Milwaukee plastics company.

"I was concerned she was going to need continuing treatment, and with the lapse in coverage, I didn't want that lapse," said Bill Caudle.

"That's what everyone told me," said Michelle, "with the cancer, don't let the health insurance lapse."

The Caudles have three children -- Alycia, now 21; Bill Jr., 18; and Chelsea, 14.

They say they are not activists, and they never pictured themselves on the front lines of the health-care debate. They also never thought they would be part of the story of the great recession.

Bill Caudle worked as a raw materials coordinator for a firm called PolyOne. He had been on the payroll there for 20 years when he was laid off, another victim of the fragile economy.

The Caudles say the doctors and staff at the Aurora West Allis Medical Center have been wonderful. But there is only so much they can do to keep Michelle's cancer in check, and the medical bills are staggering.

Bill is now in basic training at Ft. Knox, Ky. He is 39. Some of the drill sergeants are half his age.

He just graduated from boot camp, and he is home for the holidays. But in eight days he will have to leave again, beginning a four-year tour of duty.

He talked about those young drill sergeants.

"Yes, they're yelling at you," he said. "And then it hits you -- what am I doing here?"

"What do you tell yourself?" we asked.

"That this is nothing compared to what she goes through every day," he said, looking at his wife. "So I figure this is the easy part."

Letters Home

Michelle Caudle read us one of the letters her husband sent during training. One unexpected effect of their situation, they said, is that they are sending each other love letters -- for the first time since they were teenagers.

"We just have to be strong and stick together," said the letter. "After basic training, things will get better."

Health Care Battle: Man Joins Army for Insurance Coverage

Alycia, the Caudles' first daughter, is older than some of her father's fellow army recruits.

"You see what real love is, when you see this," she said. "He's willing to give his life for his family."