The Foreign Service Journal, November 2018

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | OCTOBER 2018 73 You may have seen the classic Seinfeld episode in which a rude restaurant worker refuses to serve a customer for a bewildering reason, exclaiming “No soup for you!”That phrase has since become a meme for arbitrarily denying someone something. Foreign Service retirees also face some mys- tifying restrictions. Below are two that members often ask AFSA about. Retirement Age and Social Security Why doesn’t the Foreign Service mandatory retirement age match the age at which full Social Security benefits are available? In 1980, Congress raised the Foreign Service manda- tory retirement age from 60 to 65. Although that matched the Social Security retirement age then in effect, no linkage was intended since Foreign Service retirement at the time did not include Social Secu- rity coverage. However, three years later, Congress enacted a new Foreign Service retirement system that included Social Security coverage. In separate legislation that same year, Congress raised the full-ben- efit age for Social Security— for example, to age 67 for workers born after 1959. That would have been the logical time for Congress to synchro- nize those retirement ages, but it was not done. Now, 35 years later, with almost all active Foreign Service members covered under that post-1983 retire- ment system, the case is even stronger for raising our mandatory retirement age to match the full-benefit age for Social Security. For example, a worker born in 1960 will get 13.3 percent smaller monthly Social Security payments if he or she signs up at age 65 instead of waiting until his or her full retirement age of 67. However, raising the mandatory retirement age to 67 would require chang- ing the Foreign Service Act. The problem is that opening that law to amendment could prompt unwanted propos- als to change other aspects of our retirement benefits. Thus, helping the relatively few Foreign Service mem- bers who are not required to retire prior to age 65 due to reaching time-in-service or time-in-class limits could end up hurting the numerous For- eign Service members who voluntarily retire soon after first eligibility. In recent decades, neither AFSA nor the Director General of the Foreign Service has judged that a risk worth tak- ing. Remarriage after Retirement I remarried after I retired, but was slow to apply for survivor benefits for my new spouse. Now I am told that I am too late, and that there is no waiver or appeal possible. Why is that? Foreign Service retire- ment benefits are paid from a dedicated trust fund held by the U.S. Treasury. That fund is actuarily sound—meaning that it contains enough funds (current and projected) to pay its obligations (current and projected). Amajor source of funding is contributions by active and retired Foreign Service members. When electing a survivor benefit, a Foreign Service retiree’s monthly pension is reduced to retain money in the trust fund to cover the cost of paying a survivor annuity should the annuitant predecease his or her spouse. If married retirees could receive a full annuity for decades and then wait until their health was declining before they elected a reduced pension to fund a survivor’s annuity, then some might do that. This would deprive the pension fund of the decades of income needed to potentially cover subsequent decades of survivor benefits. Thus, by law, an annuitant in the pre-1984 “old” retire- ment system who marries after retirement has one year to elect a survivor annuity for his or her spouse. An annui- tant in the post-1983 “new” retirement system has two years. Procedures for making that election are spelled out in the annual annuitant news- letter that is updated each November by the Department of State’s Office of Retire- ment. That newsletter can be viewed at https://RNet.state. gov under the “What’s New?” tab. n RETIREE VP VOICE | BY JOHN NALAND AFSA NEWS Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA Retiree VP. Contact: | (703) 437-7881 No Soup for You! Last Chance! Update Your Information for the 2019 Retiree Directory Retiree members have just a few more days to ensure that their information is correct for inclusion in the 2019 AFSA Retiree Directory. The deadline for submitting new information is Friday, Nov. 9. If you have moved or changed telephone numbers or email addresses in the last year, please let us know at If not, there is no need to send any infor- mation. Please note that if you previously requested that your name not be included in the directory, we have that informa- tion recorded and will ensure that it’s not included. n