AFSA Retiree Newsletter - October 2017

In this issue you will find:

  1. Threats to Your Retirement Benefits
  2. Nobody Tells Our Story Better Than You
  3. Choose the Best FEHB Health Care Plan for Your Needs
  4. Read the 2018 Foreign Service Annual Annuitant Newsletter
  5. Divorce and Foreign Service Retirement Benefits
  6. Outreach in the Classroom
  7. Have You Joined a Retiree Association?
  8. Join AFSA at an Upcoming Event!
  9. Attention Foreign Commercial Service Retirees
  10. Interested in Mentoring Opportunities?
  11. The 2018 AFSA Retiree Directory
  12. AFSA Seeks Chief Operating Officer
  13. Contacting AFSA

Threats to Your Retirement Benefits

On October 5, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would cut federal retirement benefits by $32 billion over the next ten years. The bill does not specify what is to be cut, but suggests they include one or more of the following: require employees to contribute more into the trust fund from which their retirement pensions will be drawn, eliminate the Annuity Supplement paid to employees hired in the post-1983 “new” retirement systems who retire prior to age 62, reduce the government contribution to Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) insurance premiums, and decrease the rate of return of the Thrift Savings Plan’s G Fund. Not on the list is President Trump’s proposal to eliminate Cost of Living Adjustments on federal pensions.

The Senate version of the bill does not call for cuts. Thus, the House-Senate Conference Committee that is expected to take place by early November may strip them out. AFSA, as a member of the Federal-Postal Coalition made up of 30 organizations including the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE) and the large civil service unions, has co-signed several letters to Congress opposing cuts to retirement benefits. If any benefits changes do get approved, the effective date will likely not be until 2018. A change in the FSPF Annuity Supplement, if adopted, will likely apply only to future retirees.

 

Nobody Tells Our Story Better Than You

AFSA continues to emphasize the importance of outreach and public engagement to tell the story of the Foreign Service. We’d like to highlight some individuals who have participated in outreach events in the last few weeks.

  • Connecticut: In August, retired FSOs Douglas Wake and Connie Phlipot met with residents at the StoneRidge Senior Independent Living Community in Mystic, Conn. Their topic was “U.S.-Russia Relations Under Putin.”
  • Pennsylvania: Ambassador (ret.) Patricia Butenis spoke about the Foreign Service as a career during new student orientation at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Penn.
  • Virginia: In early October, retired FSO Philip French spoke on Venezuela at The Shepherd Center in Oakton, Va.
  • Texas: Retired FSO Molly O’Neal discussed life in the Foreign Service during an appearance at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
  • Washington, D.C.: Ambassador (ret.) Linda Thomas-Greenfield gave a keynote speech during the National Student Leadership Conference’s International Diplomacy summer program.

These engagements, and all those like them, make a difference. If you are interested in participating in AFSA’s outreach efforts, please join the AFSA Speakers Bureau if you have not done so already.

 

Choose the Best FEHB Health Care Plan for Your Needs

Open Season for changing 2018 FEHB Health Insurance Plans runs from November 13 to December 11. AFSA purchases the Consumer's Checkbook to Federal Health Plans as a service so members can shop around each Open Season for the most cost-effective FEHB plans to meet their changing health care needs. Whether FEHB is your primary health insurer or your secondary insurer to supplement your Medicare Part B, Consumer's Checkbook can help you save. Members will receive an email from AFSA in early November with instructions on how to access Consumer's Checkbook.

 

Read the 2018 Foreign Service Annual Annuitant Newsletter

Retirees please take note: in mid-November, State's Office of Retirement will post the "2018 Foreign Service Annual Annuitant Newsletter" online at https://rnet.state.gov under the “What’s New?” tab. Retirees should receive a postcard this month advising you of that as well as how to request a hard copy (since last year, hard copies are only mailed out on request). The Annual Newsletter contains information retirees need on health and life insurance, taxes and survivor benefits, the FSPS annuity supplement, the Re-Employed Annuitant program, and other important information for Foreign Service annuitants, along with forms needed to secure or make elections on these benefits. If you have questions, email HRSC@state.gov or call 1-866-300-7419. And as always, we at AFSA are happy to help you navigate these retirement issues; email us at member@afsa.org or call Retiree Counselor Todd Thurwachter at (202) 944-5509.

 

Divorce and Foreign Service Retirement Benefits

Active-duty members take note: divorce can impact the division of retirement benefits. Foreign Service spouses enjoy a default statutory entitlement to benefits under the Foreign Service Act if they meet certain requirements. The default entitlements can be altered through a court order or spousal agreement. However, the court order or spousal agreement must include specific language to be valid – a fact that even some Washington, D.C.-area divorce attorneys are unaware of. An explanation of the rules was contained in ALDAC cable 14 STATE 126786 transmitted on October 28, 2014. That cable is posted on the AFSA website and in the ALDAC archive on the State Department’s Intranet.

To check prior to retirement for problems with improperly drafted divorce decrees, property settlement agreements, or other relevant court orders, active-duty Foreign Service members should submit certified copies of those documents to the Office of Retirement (HR/RET) through the Shared Services Center in Charleston, S.C. Employees may either scan and email the documents to HRSC@state.gov or mail the forms to 1999 Dyess Avenue, Bldg. 644-E, Charleston, SC 29456. HR/RET will issue a divorce determination letter.

As for Foreign Service retirees, they should promptly report any post-retirement change in marital status to HRSC@state.gov since adjustments may be required in annuity withholding and health insurance coverage.

 

Outreach in the Classroom

Upon retirement, many members of the Foreign Service share their professional skills and expertise through a second career as a lecturer or professor. Whether teaching undergraduates, graduate students, or in community learning programs, sharing personal firsthand experience not only enhances the academic presentation of foreign policy and diplomacy, but plays an important role in expanding the understanding of the complex role and critical function members of the Foreign Service play in promoting peace and protecting and advancing U.S. interests around the world.

This year AFSA has collaborated with Encore Learning, a non-profit educational organization which offers college-level courses to anyone over 50 years old, to design a semester-long course at George Mason University in Arlington, Va. entitled “American Diplomacy from the Inside.” Beginning in October and running through December, the course features seven lectures from retired members from the Foreign Service, including three former Ambassadors, whose diverse backgrounds include military service, development, public diplomacy, trade, counterterrorism, and conflict resolution. Each session is designed to cover a fundamental area managed by diplomatic personnel at overseas missions including: economic policy; public diplomacy; agriculture/trade; arms control; conflict resolution; and development/foreign aid. AFSA would like to recognize Gordon Brown, Richard Kauzlarich, Donald Bishop, Patterson Brown, Clarence Hudson, Jr., Rudolf Perina, and Bill Anderson for volunteering their time and sharing their expertise.

AFSA offers the following resources to retirees sharing their expertise in the classroom:

  • AFSA’s Speakers Bureau: Whether looking for a colleague to speak on a specific topic, or offering your own expertise get in touch with our Speakers Bureau;
  • The Foreign Service Journal Archives: Available online, the FSJ archives include fascinating articles on an array of topics from foreign policy practitioners;
  • AFSA.org: Our resource page on the AFSA website serves as a gateway to online resources including think tanks and Foreign Service blogs which offer current perspectives on hot topics.

If you’d be interested in connecting with other retired members of the Foreign Service who are teaching foreign policy to share ideas and best practices please email Retiree Outreach Coordinator Christine Miele at miele@afsa.org.

 

Have You Joined a Retiree Association?

Did you know there are multiple Foreign Service retiree associations around the country? While unaffiliated with AFSA, these groups are an ideal way to stay in touch with your profession as well as old friends and colleagues. You can find a full listing of these groups at www.afsa.org/retiree-associations. If there is no group in your area and you’d like to start one, let us know at miele@afsa.org. There are also some associations without current leadership, including Arizona and Eastern Washington-Idaho. If you’d like to throw your hat in the ring, let us know!

 

Join AFSA at an Upcoming Event!

There’s always something going on at AFSA – here are some events we hope you can attend.

  • The AFSA Book Market makes a happy return on November 16. This year, we will welcome up to 24 Foreign Service authors to discuss and sell copies of their books. Click here for a continually-updated list of confirmed authors. In addition, a respected literary agent will be in attendance and speak—no doubt many FS members who have the writing bug will be interested in what she has to say. No need to RSVP; the event runs from 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. and light snacks will be available during the lunch hour. A great opportunity to buy early holiday presents!
  • Finally, please join AFSA at our holiday happy hour on December 13! It’s a great time to see friends and colleagues and bask in the holiday spirit. Holiday-themed snacks will be served, and drink tickets (wine/beer) are available for $5. Click here to register.

And if you missed any event, most of them are recorded and made available on the AFSA website at www.afsa.org/video.

 

Attention Foreign Commercial Service Retirees

The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST) invites Foreign Commercial Service retirees to record the oral history of their career. There are two goals for these narratives. First, ADST's mission is to offer both the expert and general public a record of how U.S. diplomats have advanced U.S. interests abroad in the voices of the practitioners. Second, with the support of the Una Chapman Cox Foundation, ADST would like to record the insights and suggestions of FCS officers on how FCS can adapt its programs and training to the challenges of 21st commercial advocacy and diplomacy. ADST hopes that FCS retirees will agree that capturing and maintaining the story of their work, and the FCS as an institution, is a vital part of their legacy of service. To take part either with a full oral history, or in recording shorter pieces on key moments, contact Mark Tauber, Deputy Director, Foreign Affairs Oral History Program at tauberms@adst.org or (703) 302-6820.

 

Interested in Mentoring Opportunities?

AFSA has recently partnered with Delta Phi Epsilon, a professional Foreign Service fraternity with a national presence. One aspect of the partnership involves mentoring opportunities, pairing retired members of the Foreign Service with students and young professionals. For the time being, these opportunities are focused mostly in the Washington, D.C. region, but we expect that they will expand nationwide over time. If you are interested in participating, please contact Allan Saunders at saunders@afsa.org.

 

The 2018 AFSA Retiree Directory

The deadline for ensuring that AFSA has your updated address for inclusion in the next retiree directory is drawing closer! This information must be provided to AFSA by close of business on Wednesday, November 22. Otherwise, outdated information will be printed in the directory. To update your address, simply send us a quick email to member@afsa.org.

 

AFSA Seeks Chief Operating Officer

AFSA seeks an experienced manager with strong skills in finance, administration, and member services to serve as Chief Operating Officer. Reporting to president and CEO, and working with the seven other members of the board’s management committee, which meets monthly, the chief operating officer is responsible for the day-to-day management of AFSA, with a focus on overseeing finance, human resources, member services, information technology, and facilities. The search is being conducted by Slesinger Management Services; please click here for additional information.

 

Contacting AFSA

If you encounter problems with your federal retirement benefits or have related questions, AFSA’s Retiree Counselor Todd Thurwachter can be reached at thurwachter@afsa.org and (202) 944-5509. Retiree Outreach Coordinator Christine Miele is at miele@afsa.org and (202) 944-5517. AFSA Retiree Vice President John Naland can be reached at naland@afsa.org.