Open Letter to President Obama: Education, Employment, Health and Welfare


I’ve posted this on other blogs and social media sites.  It’s my experience with reverse discrimination over a ten year period, in a variety of settings.

To:  President Barack Obama, United States, president@whitehouse.gov
Governor Christine Gregoire, Washington, governor.gregoire@governor.wa.gov
New York Times, editorial@nytimes.com
Mr. Frank Blethen Seattle Times, dboardman@seattletimes.com
Council on Certified Rehabilitation Counselors, info@crccertification.com
Department of Vocational Rehabilitation in the States of Missouri info@vr.dese.mo.gov, Nebraska VR.InfoLincoln@nebraska.gov, Texas
DARS.Inquiries@dars.state.tx.us, Washington ruttllm@dshs.wa.gov
Department of Veterans Affairs, various states and offices
Department of Health and Human services, various states and offices
Re:  Education, Employment, Health and Welfare
Greetings from Seattle, Washington, Mr. President, everyone.  This winter of ’10-’11, long, bleak and dreary, weighs heavily on the Nation. It is apropos for the country’s mood, economic outlook and health.  Not that the Nation is full of pessimistic self-doubters.  Very much to the contrary, the Nation is full of optimistic go-getters that have been weighted down by many difficult trials.
As such, there has been much talk in the United States about employment, healthcare, Social Security and education; their role for a healthy, vibrant Nation.  People can only do so much with so many roadblocks and ‘windows of opportunity’ snatched away from them.
I can offer my own story, to enlighten you.
Back in 1997 I was an idealistic young man graduating from East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma with a Masters degree in Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling and an official holder of the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRC).  I was told, since I received the Government Scholarship in the field as well as being a CRC, States would place me higher in status for State and Federal jobs as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor.
Over the next ten years, the only words that State Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling and Federal Veteran’s Affairs interviewers for Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling jobs that I would hear was “I would love to hire you, but we have to hire a Black Woman”, “I have to fill a minority position, but you are exemplarily qualified”, “Are you Hispanic, by any chance?”  I even heard from VA that I had the wrong degree.  After I interviewed.  Twice.  I travelled many thousands of miles over that ten year period, in 18 states, only to hear those exact words, over and over.  It seems my crime was to be born a White Male of non-Hispanic origin.  Not only have I been denied State and Federal jobs to which I am qualified, but I also owe student loans (and possibly Federal Scholarships) that I will never be able to pay back.
There were jobs as a Workers’ Compensation Adjuster to be had.  After four years and eight jobs (in Washington State, Nebraska, Texas–handling claims in the N.E. US), I realized that that particular field was not for me.  It is a harsh field, where the Adjuster’s hands are tied, ordered to treat Injured Workers with kid gloves.  Did you know, that by the time clients (as they are called) came to me, they had been on Workers’ Compensation for at least ten years?  Ten years.  And the state workers compensation boards expected me to be a miracle worker, getting them off the rolls and back in the workforce.
No one in ‘the system’ wanted me involved: Neither the injured workers, the doctors, the lawyers, the employers.  They had a good system going.  If I had an approved Job Analysis, next to the last step in getting them off Work Comp, the client simply changed doctors.  Then the process started all over again.  That is, if I could even get clients to return calls, certified letters, emails.  My hands were tied and the state and company supervisors breathed down my neck asking why the case wasn’t moving.  Oh, and don’t threaten the client that you’ll stop their workers compensation checks.  They’ll keep getting that.  Did you also know that at least 10% of my clients were committing outright fraud?  That’s right.  Some even had ads out for their private businesses in local papers. That didn’t matter to the State(s).
I digress.  That diatribe is to simply draw a picture of the field of Workers’ Compensation in the years of 1996-2001 in the States of Washington, Nebraska, Texas and the N.E. U.S.
In the meantime, I had applied to numerous Doctoral programs in Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling, interviewing at four of them, over an eight year period, from 1999-2007.  My plan was to teach in the field at the University level.  Can you guess what I was told?  That’s right, read the above responses when I interviewed for State and Federal Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling jobs:  “I would love to admit you, but we have to admit Black and Hispanic Woman”, “I have to fill a minority position, but you are exemplarily qualified”, “Are you Hispanic, by any chance?”  Some just gave me the runaround completely.
What happened in 2001 when I stopped working?  My kidneys failed; I had Renal Failure due to a rare, degenerative kidney disorder called Alports Syndrome.  I won’t go into the discrimination I suffered by the doctors, social workers, Medicare, and hospitals in Texas, where I was living at the time.  Suffice it to say, I moved to Omaha, Nebraska, where I knew the University of Nebraska Medical Center was the top Renal Transplant center of the United States.  I did receive a kidney transplant in 2003, which I still have.
When I experienced Renal Failure (that led me within hours of death), it also led to other health issues: four different types of heart failure–cardiomyopathy, left ventricular heart failure, left branch blockage and congestive heart failure–(my heart was at 23% functioning before the transplant);  I also suffered unexplained seizures that almost killed me. Other health issues that developed solely due to either the Renal Failure or as a side effect of medications were Diabetes and severe Hearing Loss.  Hearing Loss is one symptom of Alports Syndrome.  When I was diagnosed officially (being a CRC, I did diagnose myself and went to my Dr. to verify) as having Alports Syndrome, my hearing was at a 35% loss in 1999.  Then, my hearing went down by 5% (or decibels) each year.  Now, in 2011, my hearing has stopped its loss at 65% and my Speech Discrimination has stopped its loss at 65% as well, and I am grateful.  Let me tell you, hearing aids are a great boon to hearing loss, but do not replace natural hearing.  They amplify hearing, not filter mushmouths, mumblers or low-talkers.  Imagine the adults in Charlie Brown.
Which brings me to my next point:  I’ve been on very expensive medications and devices since 1999.  At this point, it wouldn’t be worth my while to return to work.  “Why not?”  I hear some of you gasping in shock?  A company would have to pay me an exorbitant salary to even meet my current level of living.  And, frankly, I’ve gotten tired of interviewing.
I would lose the Medicare insurance I currently have; that means very pricey private insurance premiums, copays and deductibles.  My medications alone are thousands a month, not to mention lab work, multiple doctors’ visits, needed procedures, etc.  I would need a vehicle and car insurance; my rent would increase exponentially, as I’m living in low-income housing.  I would also lose food stamps–the only other benefit I receive, other than SSDI.  I need dental work as well–which is also pricey. When I moved from Nebraska to Washington State, I lost all my Medicaid dental and hearing insurance, as I don’t qualify under Washington State’s Medicaid laws.
So, what have I been doing?  I’ve been developing a small writing business.  I inherited my writing gift from my Mother, Leota Henderson (d. 2006) who was a gifted poet.  The business has only one client, my own non-paid blogs and the first book in a series I’ve written.  (All can be found at www.LioneServices.com).  I always ensure the income is well-below the amount that is required to submit to the various Governmental agencies: it’s not worth breaking the law.  I’ll never own a house (especially in this foreclosure climate), a car, have kids or anything nice in life.  But I make do with what I do have.  And I’ve learned to be happy with far less.
What would I like to see happen?  Something positive.  What I really wanted to do was to illuminate what happens to people when life keeps knocking them down exponentially.
Thank you for your time in reading about my life.
Respectfully and Sincerely,
Brick ONeil, CRC
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