Note: To date, over 33,000 Cold War nuclear workers have died from work related illnesses in the U.S.. These are not illnesses from nuclear power plants (a common misconception) but from nuclear weapons production. My little home town, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was and continues to be ground zero for nuclear weapons production in the U.S.
My boys used to love to go grocery shopping when they were little. The Kroger's in Bearden was sample heaven. The deli regularly gave away toothpick speared cubes of cheese and luncheon meat while the adjacent bakery counter freely sampled bite sized morsels of donuts, muffins, brownies and other in store baked treats.
I never chided my children for helping themselves to more than one sample. I didn't care how many samples they took. Why would I? Why would anybody? Kroger's was and still is a mega corporation that can well afford to give away more than a few samples.
But there was one deli clerk in particular who did care, a lot, apparently. She was the self appointed guardian of free samples. She hovered over me and my boys, giving us dirty looks, scolding ("Only ONE per customer!") snatching trays up and whisking them behind the counter with an exaggerated air of disgust.
I told my small sons to be polite and not talk back, but to ignore her and take what they wished. Why?
"She's an employee," I explained. "She doesn't buy the samples and they don't belong to her. They belong to Kroger's. Eat what you want."
Fast Forward, 2015
I'm in the Oak Ridge History Room at the public library, talking to the surviving widow and daughter of a dead nuclear worker. I'm there to work on my memoir. They've come to research as they desperately try to navigate the labyrinth of the federal nuclear worker's compensation laws, but they've been repeatedly road blocked by the federal flacks that administer the program.
Their experience is not unique either. I've been told repeatedly by sick workers and their survivors of the ridiculous hoops they have to jump through, often for years, before eligibility for benefits or compensation is finally granted...IF they're lucky!
I wonder why the victims bear such onerous burdens of proof? Why are they charged with submitting dosimeter records? Why must they submit incontrovertible evidence that a certain cancer or illness could only have been the result of a particular incident or work place exposure? Why have I been told repeatedly of the disdain and rudeness with which the Department of Labor flacks treat the sick nuclear workers and their survivors?
When I hear these litanies of abuse, I wonder why federal employees would treat their sick and suffering fellow citizens so callously. After all, the monies they dispense don't come out of their pockets any more than those little cubes of bologna came out of the pocket of that demented deli clerk.
I wonder what motivates such people. Some kind of psychological illness, I suppose. But the stingy deli clerk was relatively harmless. The stingy federal flacks who make it difficult, if not impossible, for sick nuclear workers and their survivors to qualify for benefits and compensation, are doing real, grievous harm.
By the way, I took three samples of pumpkin cheese cake when I checked out at Joe Muggs in Books A Million yesterday and they were delicious!
Be Well and Good Luck,