Monday, January 24, 2011

Agent Orange In Auburn, Washington?

Dear Readers,

I was raised in Colorado Springs, government central with the Air Force Academy at one end, and the Fort Carson Army base at the other with freedom loving anti-government people all over the city. Sure, growing up in this environment left me a bit confused. Was I supposed to love or hate the government? Even my first newpaper job was for a libertarian daily newspaper in government infested Colorado Springs. How could so many government workers be so anti-government? This has always confused me.

After becoming disabled, I found that becoming a government employee was not that difficult. I became highly hirable under federal laws that require government agencies to hire the disabled. This does not mean, however, that disabled employees must be retained. Congress has no mandates requiring retention, only obtainment. So I was obtained or detained as you might view it by The Social Security Administration in 2001 to work in an enormous call center for anyone attempting to get a straight answer about social security benefits. If you think it's easy to get a straight answer to a question about social security, you ought to try training for and doing this job. It's also no surprise that so many employees go bonkers trying to do a job like answer calls all day about social security benefits.

This brings me to the first story about working for this agency. An employee with a pretty severe disability took great pleasure in following me very closely into the building. Yes, she issued some verbal threats along with the stalking. I was then called into a meeting about this other employee and invited by management to complain about her. I did not do this. I had more concerns about the once already retired government employee who read Tom Clancy novels all day long. I mean, is Clancy even worthy of eight hours of attention? I figured the other employee ought to be left alone. My colleague said, "She calls us from the median on the freeway sometimes and says she is going to walk into traffic." Well, I thought, she must need the mental health benefits from the job. Leave her alone.

Reading Tom Clancy novels, though, that is just plain bad taste and that, I thought, ought to be addressed by management. Once trained after a vigorous three-month training class, I was out on the floor taking calls from fine American crime ridden cities. "M'am," I said to a caller one day, "please turn down your television set so I can hear you." She said, "Honey, that ain't my television. That's my neighborhood!" One caller stated she was from Brooklyn and I said, "Oh I hear it's nice there." She said, "What's nice about Brooklyn?" I said, "I hear a tree grows there." Other callers said I had a tremendously good sense of humor for a government employee. Well, I had to have one. I was suffering the sudden onset of bizarre shaking episodes which I thought must be my MS. Extensive testing done at The University of Washington revealed no definitive separate condition other than my MS. The story gets stranger.

"They used to store agent orange in this warehouse," my union representative told me one day. As a sometime reporter, I really wanted someone to look into this. I also wanted someone to take note of the incredible number of strange illnesses plaguing the employees. Alas, no one would talk to the press. Even my union representative would not talk to the press. The last time I called the SSA 1-800 line and got a representative at this call center, I was informed he had retired due to a seizure disorder. If his seizures were anything like mine, they stopped as soon as he stopped working in that building. Still, to my knowledge, no one has ever written a story about the storage of agent orange in this Auburn, Washington building now an enormous social security adminsitration call center.

And what happened to me? Well, the alleged mentally ill employee was of no detriment to me. It was my supervisor who had a long history of chasing disabled people off the job. Literally. And figuratively. One day she chased me down an aisle as I sported away from her. It took all the courage I could muster to inform her that grabbing my arm while on the job was unacceptable behavior. It has never been clear to me what her issue was. She spent hours daily on the internet and frequented the FBIs most wanted list. She had a very bad ex-husband.  "We can't retain our disabled employees," a union representative told me. Well, especially twitchy ones. I was told I could twitch for up to thirty minutes, but after that I had to take my twitching body home. Of course I would have to fill out paperwork prior to taking that body home too. No matter how twitchy the hand, there is always paperwork at a government job.

After the agency found enough reasons not related to my twitching to ream me, I left the allegedly tainted warehouse and have not twitched since. Ten years have passed and not a single twitching epsiode. There has never been any investigation into this building. And to date I have never read a Tom Clancy novel either. -Alison Whiteman


Linda Medrano said...

Alison, I know this isn't funny. But the way you told it is funny. What a screwed up system!

Tacoma Gawker said...

My aim is to be funny no matter what. It runs in the family. We laugh at all tragic events. Muuuuha ha ha!

syrVIV said...

Alison, how long were you employed in that facility? And, how long did it take you to recover from the illness? Whatever the exact cause, the general name for it is "sick building syndrome". Sometimes a particular chemical can be isolated as the cause. Sometimes it's that the building is so tight that the air is full of chemistry and particles that are never cleared and it just overwhelms living creatures with its "sludge". I have had two extreme exposures and each of them nearly took me out. One was a new mobile home - my doctor told me to leave immediately. (I've never recovered.) The other was a change of building at work. The "new" building attacked my lungs the first day the central air/heat was turned on. Later that week I was taken off the job for a month by my doctor, because my breathing was down nearly 50%. It was finally back up to a reasonable level after a month and I went in and had to leave the same day and go back to the doctor because I was having trouble breathing. My breathing was down so far, I was taken off the job for good because of my medical condition. My boss, the owner, fought my case, but lost. He didn't believe my illness was caused by the building. Later, I ran into a gal who I'd worked with and she said that he nearly died from the same illness. It's amazing what we get ourselves into!! I'm so glad that you got out of there. Too bad that so many people aren't aware of what is causing them to get sick!