AFSA Retiree Newsletter - October 2016

In this issue you will find:

  1. AFSA’s TSP Presentation: A Recap
  2. Retirees Engaging with Local Communities
  3. Special Benefit for AFSA Members: Checkbook Guide to Compare Health Plans
  4. 2017 Retiree Directory
  5. FEGLI: Check Your Benefit
  6. Care Update

AFSA’s TSP Presentation: A Recap

On October 6, AFSA hosted the 11th program in its series on federal benefits with a return engagement by Randy Urban, a TSP Training and Liaison Specialist with the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (FRTIB), who had spoken to AFSA in 2013. The room was packed, with close to a hundred in attendance.

It’s not surprising that many Foreign Service employees have committed to making the maximum annual contribution (currently $18,000/year and an additional $6,000 “catch up” for those 50 and over) to build up comfortable nest eggs. But in retirement, or as retirement approaches, focus shifts to withdrawal strategies, as reflected by a very robust discussion of TSP withdrawal options earlier this year on the online AFSA Community. That is why AFSA asked Mr. Urban back, to present a TSP Pre-Separation Workshop, to help AFSA members understand and assess their withdrawal options.

Mr. Urban took questions throughout his over 2-hour workshop and then stayed to answer questions for an additional 40 minutes. Because of the amount and complex nature of much of the material, he brought a number of brochures for reference, information which is also available on, along with all the forms and procedures they will need to manage their TSP accounts. To see the video, summary recap and Power Point of Mr. Urban’s presentation, click here.

Retirees Engaging with Local Communities

AFSA continues to emphasize the importance of outreach and public engagement to tell the story of the Foreign Service. There is no better person to tell that story than YOU – someone who devoted his or her career to the profession. We’d like to highlight eight individuals who have participated in exemplary outreach events in the last few weeks.

Daryl Brehm

• Retired Foreign Agricultural Service Officer Daryl Brehm recently spent a week at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Id. Most recently the FAS Deputy Administrator, Mr. Brehm spent the week meeting with students, faculty and members of the community to discuss the importance of agriculture and trade in our nation’s diplomacy. Among other engagements, he participated in the Martin Forum—the University’s premier speaker series on international issues—as the academic year’s inaugural speaker. He was also featured by the local NPR station; click here to read the story.

Ambassador Jerry Lanier

• In early September, retired Ambassador Jerry Lanier traveled to his alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. While on campus, he met with students to discuss his career and the Foreign Service, had a private meeting with the university’s chancellor, and participated in the school’s ongoing campaign featuring notable alumni. AFSA encourages all retirees to seek out such opportunities at their alma maters. Contact us if you are interested in doing so.

• Finally, during the week of October 9-14, six retired diplomats spent a week at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York, where they lectured to close to 150 participants in this fall’s iteration of AFSA’s popular Road Scholar program, “U.S. Foreign Policy for the 21st Century.” AFSA offers this program twice a year at Chautauqua, and it has become one of our very best outreach opportunities. We thank the six speakers—Ambassador Robert Gribbin, Dr. Elizabeth Shelton, Donald Hamilton, James Pierce, Allen Keiswetter and Thomas Gallagher—for their participation. If you are interested in participating in AFSA’s outreach efforts, including Road Scholar programs at Chautauqua and in Washington, D.C., please join the AFSA Speakers Bureau if you have not done so already.

Special Benefit for AFSA Members: Checkbook Guide to Compare Health Plans

AFSA is pleased to provide free online access to the 2017 Consumers' Checkbook Guide to Federal Health Plans for all its members. To access this member benefit, visit during open season. Click on the Checkbook logo on that page and you will be directed to AFSA’s Consumer Checkbook page. There is no need to log in, as the link is specific to AFSA for our members. 2017 health plan information will be released on the first day of Open Season, November 14, and AFSA members will have access throughout Open Season which runs through December 12.

The Guide offers vital insurance information by telling you how much you can save by changing or by staying in your health insurance plan. It provides an easy-to-understand summary of all the facts about the plans to help simplify your choice. The Guide rates over 200 health insurance plans available to Federal employees and retirees. The ratings are based on premium costs, catastrophic limits, out-of-pocket expenses, how each plan covers low, average, or high medical expenses, plan quality and enrollee satisfaction.

Unlike other comparison calculators, the Guide offers a tool that uses actuarial methods to estimate out-of-pocket costs. The tool takes into account expenses one can forecast (for example, pregnancy or maintenance drugs), as well as possible expenses for diseases and injuries one cannot anticipate — a key reason for insurance. This Open Season, we hope you find this member benefit useful in selecting the best health plan for you and your family.

2017 Retiree Directory

Last chance to update your information for the 2017 Directory of Retired Members! Please take this opportunity to update your address, phone number and email information by visiting

FEGLI: Check Your Benefit

In mid-July, an AFSA member posted a notice on the online AFSA Community advising all retirees, indeed all AFSA members, to “check with FEGLI to obtain in writing the level of their life insurance,” since “FEGLI does not provide this and it is not in any of the Employee Express information.” He then related a horror story in which FEGLI had grossly underestimated his death benefit. That would have resulted in potential hardship for his surviving spouse had he not managed to successfully correct the mistake, through a long and arduous process. The Office of Retirement confirms that OPM’s error seems to have been related to the annuitant’s unique situation in having returned to fulltime government work after retiring and is thus not a likely problem for most annuitants. But State’s Office of Retirement and AFSA encourage FEGLI policy holders to seek confirmation in writing of the level of their FEGLI insurance.

Here’s the guidance from State’s Office of Retirement: once employees complete their retirement paperwork and lock into a FEGLI plan, any subsequent changes would be without the participation of or notification of State’s Office of Retirement. As of two years ago, OPM’s standard operating procedures call for direct communication with retirees when discussing coverage or for resolving issues. OPM is no longer willing to discuss individual cases with State’s Office of Retirement. Employees who would like to double check their FEGLI coverage need their OPM-provided CSI number (the name OPM has given for Foreign Service retirement claim numbers), and should contact OPM directly. If you don't know your CSI number, contact State's Human Resources Service Center at or 1-866-300-7419. It never hurts to double-check your coverage.

OPM is the only office with access to your FEGLI life insurance records. There are three ways to access your FEGLI coverage information:

1. Log on to Retirement Services Online to view and print a Verification of Life Insurance (VOLI). Your VOLI will show which types of FEGLI coverage you have, your amount of coverage before reduction, your post-65 reductions, and your amount of coverage after reductions complete.

2. Email to request that your VOLI be mailed to you. Be sure to include your retirement claim number (CSA/CSF – for retired Foreign Service annuitants the retirement claim number is called a CSI) in your email.

3. Call 1 (888) 767-6738 to request that your VOLI be mailed to you. The phone lines are open Monday through Friday 7:40 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time. The phone lines can get extremely busy so we recommend calling early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the lines are less busy. Have your retirement claim number (CSA/CSF – for retired Foreign Service annuitants the retirement claim number is called a CSI) or Social Security number handy.

Members are reminded to keep good records of their FEGLI coverage on hand and give copies to potential surviving spouses and children. Please let us know if you have any difficulty confirming your FEGLI coverage with OPM by contacting AFSA at or (202) 944-5509.

Care Update

Even as we retire, many of us become caregivers for elderly parents. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s recent report on family caregiving recommends six “to do” steps to better integrate family caregiving into the elderly loved one’s care, making us more effective caregivers and improving the care. Click here to learn more.


AFSA members should always feel free to be in touch with our Retiree Counselor Todd Thurwachter, who is available by email at or by phone at (202) 944-5509.