December 10th, 2013

Let’s Talk with Kalola: U.S. Veteran’s Experience


Dear Kalola,

When I found this website I learned so much more about myself, and what is going on. I want to lead off with this.

  

In 1996, I left the military after three years as an infantryman.  In that same year, I started working in state government.  I have put in about 16 years of state service, and have worked for three different agencies during this time.  I worked the longest for the state department of corrections (12 years). During this time,  I re-enlisted into the Army National Guard and volunteered for Afghanistan.

 

After 10 months in theater,  here are some things that happened to me in Afghanistan: I was told by the commander that all the equipment has been accounted for and that the property book was straight. Come to find that it was the opposite and learned only a few months prior to my arrival that the previous property book officer actually had to take a pad of paper and inventory all three F.O.B.’s,   We had missing high-dollar equipment and even lost a vehicle. Not knowing my job very well I had to search for missing paper work and equipment with no help from anyone.

From 7:00 am to 10:00pm,  I was constantly trying to locate paperwork and inventory.  Once the Captain realized that I was having trouble the bullying and harassment began.  He started to become very paranoid questioning everything I did because he was actually the one responsible for millions of dollars of equipment. I was just the book keeper basically.  Then after a month or so as our mission continuously was changing, I started to receive verbal abuse and on several times threats of verbal abuse.  Just being in a combat zone was stressful enough. I can’t list all the incidences that I remember but give an idea.

On many occasions I was brought into his very small office almost like an interrogation room.  The Captain would be sitting there in his chair along with another Captain who stood right next to me with his arms crossed.   If I was being interrogated they would repeatedly say things such as:   "you don’t have clue", "you’re going to go to jail if you lose any of my equipment." It would be an intense discussion while trying to tell him that the other parties that I work with were not doing anything right, constantly telling me I have no Idea what I am doing. These occasions were often as tried to find help, as I tried in vain to get some relief. I also was repeatedly told I was fired and they were going to move me. It was constant as time went on it got worse. It got to a point were I had to get medicine from the F.O.B's doctor, and almost had a nervous breakdown.

This is one piece I will never forget, a slow day and I was wrapping up the days business and it was approximately 5:00pm the Captain came out of his office and stated, “What are you still doing here?” I stated, “You didn’t say I could go yet." He then said "Get out of here", so I left. When I left he stated, “You don’t have to ask”.

Well the very next day, I was done for the most part and I wanted to go work out at the gym.  It was about the same time as the day prior. As I started to leave and told the Captain what I was going to do, he jumped out of his chair and came out of his office, and stated, “Who told you could f-ing leave!”, One of many incidences.

I can also remember several occasions where the Captain threatened me by physical violence and one occasion in front of our first Sgt. Remarks that were stated as I can remember, "You want me to beat the shit out of you", another one was "We are going to do wall-to-wall counseling". There were several other incidences of that nature.

I came home and within 2 months I was diagnosed with PTSD and later awarded 70% VA disabled. I returned back to the prison and lasted about 2 months before I went on medical leave. I could not handle it anymore. So I went and found another job within the state, I enjoyed the new job but lost about 30 thousand dollars a year in income. I started as an office clerk and my supervisor and I got along extremely well and was promoted to office associate and lead worker and was recovering from the PTSD.  I had two good years there. Then all of a sudden we were faced with a new division manager, this woman was very difficult to deal with.  She was like a pit-bull and turned our department upside down. My supervisor stated to me and said "I'm not dealing with her", and retired.  Within 2 weeks another supervisor under her left abruptly and all the veterans to this day have left or retired. I am the only one left, back in last December . It finally got to a point were I had to get on FMLA through my VA doctor.   Because I was seeing the how things were unfolding, I felt alone as the lead worker in our department I was not allowed to do anything.  There were constant changes and procedures that did not make any sense. I was left out of meetings and trying to talk with her about issues and problems and questions were stopped, one day I was the lead worker then the next day I was. On one occasion I actually wrote an incident report on her, the outcome made things worse.

Within a week she made things so much worse for me that I had a breakdown due to PTSD and went off emotionally towards her. Also to include others in the work area which caused me a disciplinary hearing. She would not let up and so I went to my VA doctor and was put on a leave of absence for about three months. When I came back I was subjected to working as a office clerk and my office associate was reduced back down as an office clerk.  Within the first four days I ended up falling off a ladder re-injuring by back.

During my leave of absence I spent two days a week with my VA counselor, she and I developed an ADA package and submitted it to the agency. Basically negotiated with the legal department. After I fell off the ladder I was put on a 20-lb lifting restriction and not due back until I'm 100%.

During those four days I was back she failed on some of the ADA agreement's and I filed an EEO complaint through the state's Department of Human Rights which  is still ongoing. To date I am still on Worker's Compensation.

I continue to work with my counselor on a weekly basis and also work on my own to try to understand my situation. One thing I have to remember is that I'm not in a uniform anymore. Meaning I spent almost my whole adult life in some form or another in uniform, i.e., the military and Department of Corrections. My mind set is different than others. but this me and hope you start to learn how to function and learn.

Being bullied is real— don't sit, stand up defend yourself. I found out that people usually sit and lie down like lambs when being punked, one trick I found out is write everything down or keep email messages, another is keep your ears open and keep quiet and develop your own notebook will help if you want change, also if you see a fellow worker being harassed document it in your own notes.

Jeremy


Dear Jeremy,


Thank you for writing in and sharing your experiences in the workplace.

 

Thank you for your military service to our country, and keeping all of us safe against those who would do harm to our country.  Due to the men and women who have voluntarily enlisted into military service there has been no need for our country to institute a military draft.  The military draft ended in 1973 during the war in Vietnam.  Since that time, the U.S. has had an all volunteer military force.

Life in the military is very structured.  It is physically demanding, mentally challenging as well as a life-changing experience. The same can be said for work life in a state prison facility.  Each has many rules and regulations, policies and procedures, etc. that have to be followed.  State prisons, additionally, have various watchdog groups that keep a close watch on how prisoners are treated in the system.

 

What is PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  The fight or flight response is a response or reaction to protect a person from harm.  When a person has PTSD that fight or flight response is damaged, and a person might experience fight or flight even when they are not in danger.  To read more about PTSD, go to the National Institute of Mental Health website.

A bullied target can fight back against the bully or the employer by using rules, regulations, policies, labor codes, government codes, federal laws, etc., to their advantage if the employer or the bully has broken a rule, regulation, policy, labor code, etc.  The problem that often occurs is when the employer or bully chooses to retaliate against the person who blew the whistle.   Whistle blowers are so often treated as if they are the problem rather than the employer or bully.  It is unfortunate but instead of doing the right thing, some employers choose to thumb their noses at agencies who enforce regulations, labor and government codes.

In your case, you believe that the employer crossed the legal line and did not follow the regulations under the American Disabilities Act (ADA).   In filing a complaint, it is important to have good documentation to back up the complainant's allegation(s).   Whether or not the employer violated a regulation covered under the ADA that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces will be determined by an investigation by that agency.  The process that the EEOC follows when it receives a charge from a worker or job applicant can be found on their website:  http://eeoc.gov/employees/process.cfm 

The EEOC does not pursue each and every charge that is submitted to them.  More often than not, the worker who files a charge of illegal discrimination against the employer with the EEOC will receive a notice of the right to sue unless the EEOC finds that there is no evidence that the employer illegally discriminated in which case the matter is then dismissed.  The right-to-sue the employer is a costly affair not only in terms of money spent for legal costs and fees but the emotional costs to the plaintiff which can be even higher.  The plaintiff will have to keep re-living what he/she experienced over and over again during the course of the matter which could take years should there be appeals.  Then there is the matter of finding an attorney to take the case.  Workplace Fairness discusses this in their article:  Will a Lawyer Take My Case?

Workplace bullying is not against the law in the U.S., and because it is not against the law, Targets find it very difficult to find legal representation.  It is still important to keep documentation should the bully or the employer cross the legal line and illegally discriminate.

Keeping Documentation.  Documentation can be in diary form.  It is important to list the date and time, location, and details of what happened.  Were there any witnesses?  Save e-mails, letters, text messages, voice mails, etc. We often think we will remember an important event but often, over time, the precise details become blurred.  I would suggest using a spreadsheet format to document.  If you forget a date and want to add information, it is easy to add a new row or a column to the spreadsheet.  Keep your documentation at home.  Make a back-up copy of the documentation and keep it in a separate location than the original or in a bank safety deposit box.  If the information is kept on a separate flash drive, it would still be prudent to keep a hard copy in case the flash drive is damaged.  Never use the company computer to keep documentation as the employer has access to everything that is done on the work computer.  Never keep the documentation at work as the employer can go through your hard copy files at your desk.  Don't tell anyone that you are documenting.  People talk. 

If a worker is fired, and the worker believes it is a wrongful termination, the worker can then show their documentation to an employment and labor attorney who works with workers only.  The documentation may also help prove your case in an unemployment insurance benefits hearing, or if the worker files a charge or makes an allegation against the employer with a state or federal agency.  Don't expect an employer to play fair—they won't.  The employer, generally, will support and defend their management team. 

Targets know when their job circumstances are not looking good.  It would behoove the Target to begin looking at their options whether it is applying for a job transfer or looking for another job.  It is better to apply for jobs when the worker still has a job rather than after the worker has been let go or quits because they have had enough.  It is also a good time to start collecting letters of recommendation and/or character references, and taking time to update your résumé. 

If a worker is given a written reprimand which will end up in their employee file, the worker should write a response to the allegation(s).  Don't procrastinate as there may be less than 10 working days to do this.  Try to submit a response within 3-5 days of receiving a written reprimand.  Write a draft of the response, put it away, and then re-read the next day and tone it down until you have created a response that lists the facts as it pertains to your situation and is devoid of anger.  If the worker belongs to an employees' union, see your shop steward immediately and tell your union rep what is going on and ask for representation.  A union that supports its workers will be there for you.

 

Jeremy—Thank you for sharing your words of wisdom.

 

"May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right."  ... Peter Marshall

 

"The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any."   ... Alice Walker

 

Sincerely,

Kalola

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 10th, 2013 at 5:00 am and is filed under Let's Talk with Kalola. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.



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