The Foreign Service Journal, May 2021

62 MAY 2021 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Staying Connected with Colleagues The pandemic has shut- tered most of the 18 state and regional Foreign Service retiree associations around the country. These groups, while independent of AFSA, support the common goal of keeping Foreign Service retirees and other former foreign affairs personnel in touch with each other and the profession to which they dedicated decades of their lives. The group that I coor- dinate—the 260-member Foreign Affairs Retirees of Northern Virginia—suspended bimonthly luncheons in March 2020 when our venue in the Fort Myer Officers’ Club closed. While a fewmembers suggested that I organize guest speaker presentations via Zoom, I view the best part of the meetings to be the informal table talk before the presentation during which longtime friends catch up with each other and meet other colleagues who served at the same posts during different years. I did not see how those social connections could be re-created online for 80 participants (our typical in- person attendance). Hopefully, by the time you read this column, COVID-19 cases nationwide will be down and vaccination rates up. If a return to seminormalcy is in sight by fall, I encourage the leaders of these retiree associations to make plans to resume their operations. If you have never partici- pated in one of these groups, please see the list in your 2021 AFSADirectory of Retired Members or at retiree-associations. They are in 18 cities across 13 states, with several serving a mul- tistate region (for example, New England). If you live near one, please consider contact- ing the organizer to join. If the leaders of any of these groups have stepped down during the long pan- demic hiatus, or if there is not a group in your area and you are interested in starting one, AFSA is available to help area retirees connect with each other to form a coordinating committee. Please contact Christine Miele, AFSA’s director of pro- grams and member engage- ment, at . In addition, I am available to share my insights on pro- gramming and coordination based on five years leading the Northern Virginia group. You can reach me at naland@ n RETIREE VP VOICE | BY JOHN K. NALAND AFSA NEWS Contact: Annual Report: Legal Defense Fund BY LDF COMMITTEE CHAIR KENNETH KERO-MENTZ The governing documents ( for AFSA’s Legal Defense Fund—which provided much-needed sup- port to members during the congressional hearings involv- ing Ukraine and a potential class action EEO case against USAID—call for an annual report to our membership. Since October 2019, the LDF raised nearly three quarters of a million dollars from members and sup- porters. (See my previous column on this at oct2020.) Between October 2019 and Dec. 31, 2020, AFSA has assisted 12 mem- bers with legal fees, spend- ing roughly $468,000. The LDF Committee, work- ing with the AFSA Govern- ing Board, has invested the remaining funds, just over $300,000, to ensure our members will be protected in the future, as well. Looking forward, we’ll be going back to our roots. The AFSA Labor Manage- ment staff routinely provides legal assistance to hundreds of Foreign Service members annually, both active-duty and retired, from all six foreign affairs agencies. Inevitably, cases come along where AFSA is unable to provide the time and attention or does not have the particular exper- tise that is required. It is for these reasons that the Legal Defense Fund was initially created in 2007. Over the years, the LDF has provided financial assistance to more than two dozen members, enabling them to retain outside attorneys with expertise in a particular area of law. These cases have been— and will continue to be— limited to those with legal issues that have far-reaching significance for the rest of the Service, such as cases involv- ing due process or fundamen- tal fairness. Prior to the Ukraine- related proceedings, the LDF saw, at most, only one or two requests for assistance a year. Moving ahead, the LDF Committee and the Govern- ing Board look forward to helping our members through this program that supports individuals and all members of the Foreign Service. We will also continue to raise funds for the LDF as needed via AFSAnet and The Foreign Service Journal , to ensure the long-term sustain- ability of this vital member- centered program. If you think you require assistance through the Legal Defense Fund, please reach out to AFSA at afsa@state. gov. n