The Foreign Service Journal, September 2021

56 SEPTEMBER 2021 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL The Retiree Agenda for 2021-2023 RETIREE VP VOICE | BY JOHN K. NALAND AFSA NEWS Contact: As you read this, the new AFSA Governing Board that took office in July is already hard at work advancing member interests. During the next two years, here are some of the issues that I will contribute my time and energy to as your retiree vice president: News You Can Use. I will assist AFSA Counselor for Retirees Dolores Brown in creating additional retiree benefits information for the AFSA website, bimonthly retirement newsletter and annual retiree directory. To keep informed, please watch for those updates and for announcements of future AFSA webinars on federal benefits. Member Services. As a former director of the Department of State’s Office of Retirement, I will assist AFSA staff in responding to member inquiries regard- ing retirement benefits. As needed, we will meet with the current leadership of the Office of Retirement and the Bureau of the Comptroller and Global Financial Services to raise member concerns. Congressional Advocacy. While we do not anticipate a push by the White House or Congress to cut federal retirement benefits in the next two years, pressure could build to revise or replace the Foreign Service Act of 1980. If that happens, I will use my knowledge of retirement benefits to help AFSA lobby against harm- ful changes to the Foreign Service pension system. Centennial. The new Governing Board will accel- erate planning to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 1924 founding of the Foreign Service and AFSA. A key objective will be to educate the American public about the U.S. Foreign Service. We will invite Foreign Service retirees to share their ideas and participate in planning. Other Duties as Assigned. I will join other Governing Board members in serving on several AFSA com- mittees and in participating in board discussions of criti- cal issues facing the Foreign Service. Over the next two years, if you have questions, con- cerns or suggestions on any issue in my portfolio, please contact me at naland@afsa. org. n Unexplained Heath Incidents: AFSAAdvocates for Members There is growing concern about “unexplained health incidents” (UHI) that began some five years ago in Havana. New UHIs have been reported at some posts over- seas recently, and affected members have continued to reach out to AFSA. We are persisting in our advocacy efforts on behalf of members that began when the first UHIs were reported from Havana and Mission China between 2016 and 2018. Officials and family members from nearly all the foreign affairs agencies have been affected, including the State Department, the Foreign Commercial Service, the Foreign Agricultural Service and USAID. There is a robust interagency effort underway to investigate. But with causation not yet established, AFSA’s focus has been on ensuring that mem- bers receive the best health care and medical treatment available.  AFSA members may recall that when these cases were first reported, we suc- cessfully pushed for parity for those “unconfirmed” cases from China with the Cuba cohort. The depart- ment agreed to include the China group in Cuba cohort meetings and subsequently deemed them eligible for administrative leave. Also, in response to AFSA requests, the department agreed to provide a causation briefing to the Cuba cohort. The China group, however, still awaits such a briefing because, to date, an account- ability review board for China has not been convened. Shortly after UHI events occurred in Cuba, AFSA filed an implementation dispute to allow us to represent our members when the depart- ment initially objected to the union’s attendance at the Cuba cohort meetings—a settlement was later reached, assuring AFSA’s participation. Since then, AFSA has repeatedly pushed for affected members to be permitted to speak freely in meetings with the depart- ment about their specific health concerns. In a recent welcome development, the depart- ment agreed to this proposed change, and a June 30 meet- ing with Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Brian McKeon was thus more open and productive. The Deputy Secretary was supportive of our affected members, acknowledging their struggles and the seri- ousness of their illnesses. He committed to regular future meetings with AFSA. The department has also already initiated follow-up with AFSA on issues of con- cern raised at this meeting. n