Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Agent Orange, PTSD and Why an Activist Fights
I grew up in central Virginia in the 1990s. My mother was a court reporter who owned her own business. Our family did pretty well. She had deep connections to the legal profession and like all parents, she wanted me to be successful. So I got my degree in philosophy with a pre-law concentration and I went to work in legal services, where I worked as an independent contractor for seven years, until I was 25.

In 2010, the bottom fell out. After watching my mother work all through my childhood to build a business, sell it for over a million dollars, and begin her retirement, I watched everything my mother had slaved for evaporate overnight when the housing bubble collapsed and their beautiful property in Louisa County became basically worthless. I watched her go back to work two years into retirement, punching keys for rich attorneys with a barely-healed greenstick fracture in her arm and the beginnings of carpal tunnel in both hands when she had worked hard her whole life and mine to play by the rules and do everything right.
Watching all of this happen, I realized I was running myself ragged working up to 80 hours a week with no health insurance and no retirement plan. Worst of all, not only was I sworn to secrecy about the sometimes questionable things I learned, but the work itself did almost nothing but make doctors and lawyers richer. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake the idea that there had to be something better than this. But I needed the money. I didn’t know what else to do.
Then, one seemingly regular day, my stepfather had his first seizure. I was laid out sick three hundred miles away, with less than a thousand dollars in the bank and unable to work, when my mother called to tell me that they were at the hospital. “They don’t know why this is happening,” she told me, “but I think it’s the Agent Orange.” hung up the phone and cried.


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