June Is PTSD Awareness Month — Let’s Talk Mental Health, Join Us at the Forum

Posted: 11:13 pm  EDT

Join us at the forum today at http://forums.diplopundit.net, noon – 2pm, EST

I’ve blogged about mental health in the State Department for years now (see links below). I know that a mental health issue affecting one person is not a story of just one person.  It affects parents, spouses, children, siblings, friends; it affects the home and the workplace. It is a story of families and communities. While there is extensive support in the military community, that’s not always the case when it comes to members of the Foreign Service.

I once wrote about a former Foreign Service kid and his dad with severe PTSD. A few of you took the time to write and/or send books to the ex-FS employee incarcerated in Colorado, thank you.

I’ve written about Ron CappsRachel SchnellerCandace Faber, FSOs who came forward to share their brave struggles with all of us. There was also a senior diplomat disciplined for volatile behavior who cited PTSD, I’ve also written about Michael C. Dempsey, USAID’s first war-zone related suicide, and railed about suicide prevention resources.  The 2014 Foreign Service Grievance Board 2014 annual report says that eight of the new cases filed involved a claim that a disability, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or other medical condition affected the employee performance or conduct that resulted in a separation recommendation.

With very few exceptions, people who write to this blog about mental health and PTSD do so only on background. Here are a few:

  • A State Department employee with PTSD recently told this blog that “Anyone outside of our little insular community would be appalled at the way we treat our mentally ill.”  The individual concludes with clear frustration that it “seems sometimes the only unofficially sanctioned treatment plan encouraged is to keep the commissaries well stocked with the adult beverage of your choice.” 
  • Another one whose PTSD claim from service at a PRT in Iraq languished at OWCP said, “I can assure you that OER and State Med have been nothing but obstructions… as a vet, I have been treated at VA for the past ten months, else I would have killed myself long ago.”
  • Still another one writes: “VA indicates the average time between trauma and treatment-seeking is eight years. The longer it is undiagnosed and treated, the more difficult to ameliorate. I have a formal diagnosis from VA but could not even get the name of a competent psychiatrist from DoS. The bulk of DoS PTSD claims are still a few years away (2008/2009 PLUS 8), with no competent preparation or process.”
  • A friend of a State employee wrote that her DOS friend was “deployed/assigned to a  war-torn country not too long ago for a year. Came back with PTSD and  was forced by superiors to return to very stressful/high pressure work  duties while also seeking medical attention for an undiagnosed then, but eventually diagnosed (took about 6 months) disease  triggered by environmental conditions where s/he was last posted.”
  • Another FSO said, “I actually thought State did a decent job with my PTSD. After I was subject to an attack in Kabul, the social worker at post was readily available and helpful. He indicated I could depart post immediately if I needed to (and many did after the attack). When I departed post I was screened for PTSD and referred to MED here in DC. After a few sessions here with MED, I was referred to a private psychologist who fixed things up in a few months.”
  • One FSO who suffered from PTSD assured us that “State has come a very long way since 2005” and that it has made remarkable progress for an institution. Her concerns is that PTSD is widespread in the Department in the sense that people develop it in a wide range of posts and assignments. She cited consular officers in particular, who evacuate people from natural disasters and civil wars and deal with death cases on a regular basis, and are particularly at risk.


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June is PTSD Awareness Month. We are hosting a forum at http://forums.diplopundit.net for an open discussion on PTSD.

It’s not everyday that we get a chance to ask questions from somebody with post traumatic stress disorder. On Monday, June 29, FSO Rachel Schneller will join the forum and answer readers’ questions  based on her personal experience with PTSD.  She will be at this blog’s forum from noon to 2 pm EST. She will join the forum in her personal capacity, with her own views and not as a representative of the State Department or the U.S. Government.  She’s doing this as a volunteer, and we appreciate her time and effort in obtaining official permission and  joining us to help spread PTSD awareness. Please feel free to post your questions here.

Rachel Schneller joined the Foreign Service in 2001. Following a tour in Iraq 2005-6, she was diagnosed with PTSD. Her efforts to highlight the needs of Foreign Service Officers returning from tours in war zones helped prompt a number of changes in the State Department, for which she was awarded the 2008 Rivkin Award for Constructive Dissent.

Prior to joining the U.S. Department of State, Rachel served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali from 1996-98. She earned her MA from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in 2001. We have previously featured Rachel in this blog here, and here.

The forum, specifically created for PTSD discussion is setup as an “open” forum at this time; readers may post questions without registration.  We’re hosting, same Privacy Policy apply.


Below are some of our previous blog posts on mental health, PTSD, security clearance and the State Department’s programs:

What to do when different voices start delivering multiple démarches in your head?]

USAID’s First War-Zone Related Suicide – Michael C. Dempsey, Rest in Peace

State Dept’s Suicide Prevention Resources — A Topic So Secret No One Wants to Talk About It

Former Foreign Service Kid Writes About Dad With Severe PTSD  (Many thanks to readers who took the time to write and send books to Tony Gooch! We appreciate your kindness).

Ron Capps | Back From The Brink: War, Suicide, And PTSD

Rachel Schneller | PTSD: The Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me

Senior Diplomat Disciplined for Volatile Behavior Cites PTSD in Grievance Case, Fails

Pick the Long or Short Form, But Take the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Screening

On the Infamous Q21, PTSD (Again) and High Threat Unaccompanied Assignments

Ambassador Crocker Arrested for Hit and Run and DUI in Spokane

Quickie | Running Amok: Mental Health in the U.S. Foreign Service

Former FSO William Anthony Gooch: No Mercy for Broken Men?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: The Ticking Bomb in the Foreign Service

Clinton issues note on mental health; seeking help a sign of maturity and professionalism

EFM shouldn’t have to see three RMOs, do a PPT presentation and wait 352 days for help

Join the Petition: Revised Q21 for the Foreign Service

State Dept’s WarZone Deployment Incentives, Programs, Training and Medical Support

DMW: Mental Health Treatment Still a Security Clearance Issue at State Department

Insider Quote: Returning to the Real World

What’s State Doing with Question 21?


Foreign Service Grievance Board Annual Report 2014 — Noteworthy Cases

Posted: 1:30  am EDT


The Foreign Service Grievance Board recently released its 2014 annual report:

A primary goal of the Board continuing during this past year (and in prior years) has been to improve its timeliness in terms of issuing its orders and decisions. The Board is acutely aware of the short timeframes that impact the careers of Foreign Service employees, and especially the schedules of various agency-appointed boards that grant tenure, decide on promotions, rank (and “low rank”) employees, and make other career-defining personnel decisions. While the Board does not fully control the entire grievance appeal process, e.g., the period during which the parties engage in sometimes lengthy discovery or file time- consuming motions, it has put in place procedures to expedite where possible those actions it does control.
The three-member panels selected to decide grievance appeals continued to work effectively during the year, producing several orders and decisions with significant issues of first impression or complexity. Social media has had an impact on some of the Board’s grievance appeals, and is likely to expand as a growing presence in both professional and personal interactions among Foreign Service employees. The increased exposure of what may have been considered private communications in the past has produced challenging questions regarding standards for personal and professional conduct of Foreign Service personnel, including the issue of what is a reasonable expectation of privacy; similarly, rapid changes in technology, in particular the growth of digitally based communications and cyber tools such as cloud computing, have altered methods of information storage, access and security that undoubtedly affect Foreign Service operations. These developments, along with rapidly evolving social and demographic changes, both within the Foreign Service and the society at large, are likely to influence to some degree future grievance disputes. A major challenge for the Board is to maintain its level of institutional and technological awareness to keep pace with the dynamic environment in which future dispute resolution will be necessary.

See the stats here:  Snapshot: Foreign Service Grievance Board Annual Report 2014 – Statistics

According to the 2014  report, the largest number of grievance appeals by office were those filed by employees of the Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (31% of the total). The Board is now seeing cases on disability, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or other medical condition that affected the employee performance or conduct that resulted in a separation recommendation.  The average time for disposition of a case, from time of filing to Board decision, withdrawal, or dismissal, was 45 weeks. This is two weeks longer than the average time of disposition in 2013. The Board currently has 19 members, with 12 retired foreign affairs members and 7 legal professionals.

Below is an excerpt from the report:

Fifty-three new cases were filed with the Board in 2014, comparable to the number filed the previous year (54). Over the past six years, the number of new cases has ranged from a high of 74 to a low of 43. Of the 2014 cases, 47 cases were filed by employees of the Department of State (or survivors of State Department employees); five by employees of USAID; and one by AFSA. No cases were filed by employees of the other agencies under the Board’s jurisdiction.
Timeliness of disciplinary actions, as governed by agency regulations, also continued as an issue of concern to employees. In three new cases filed, the employees alleged that delays ranging from 14 to 36 months violated Department regulations and disadvantaged them. Two cases involving timeliness were decided by the Board this year. In the first case, the Board found that a three-year delay was prejudicial to the employee and dismissed the charges. In the second, a two-year delay was deemed not to be prejudicial, but the charges were dismissed as not proven.

Eight of the new cases filed involved a claim that a disability, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or other medical condition affected the employee performance or conduct that resulted in a separation recommendation. Four involved allegations of alcohol abuse. The largest number of grievance appeals by office were those filed by employees of the Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (31% of the total).

A number of individually noteworthy cases were filed in 2014:

    • A USAID case involved the starting salary of a new hire, whose documentation of his previous salary while self-employed was alleged to be fraudulent. The grievant was one of several USAID new hires who were issued bills of collection for overpayment of salary following an agency audit of the starting salaries of new hires. Regulations for establishing starting salaries primarily took into account standard salary histories, and did not address factors stemming from self-employment or lower salaries/stipends earned while an applicant was earning an advanced degree.
  • The daughter of a State Department employee contested a bill of collection issued by the Department for $311,000 in overpayment of a survivor annuity and denial of a waiver for the overpayment. The grievant was unaware that she needed to notify the Department upon the death of her mother. Survivor annuity payments were deposited into a joint account for several years before the error was discovered.
  • AFSA filed an implementation dispute challenging the Department’s decision to deny payment of Meritorious Service Increases (MSIs) to outstanding employees identified by the selection boards in 2013. AFSA maintained that its agreement to defer such payments during sequestration of the budget in 2013 did not extend to a discretionary decision by the Department to withhold such payments permanently after the funds were available.
  • A former president of AFSA contested the propriety of an email sent out by senior Department staff criticizing her for an op-ed piece she had co- authored with two former ambassadors. The op-ed piece, published in the Washington Post, expressed the authors’ perception that State was inappropriately placing an increasing number of civil service and political appointees in the highest leadership positions. The grievant also challenged the failure of one of the authors of the email to recuse herself from service on the grievant’s promotion board that year.
  • A retired Foreign Service Officer filed a grievance alleging that remedies granted to him pursuant to the first grievance ever filed, in 1972, under authorities preceding the establishment of the Foreign Service Grievance Board, had never been implemented. He is seeking monetary relief.
  • A grievant who in 1998 claimed bias on the basis of sexual orientation and a procedural error, and who appealed the FSGB decisions to both the district court and court of appeals, filed a new grievance claiming that Time-In-Class (TIC) and Time-in-Service (TIS) extensions awarded in that case had never been properly implemented, resulting in his impending separation for expiration of his TIS.


The Board resolved 12 appeals from discipline imposed by the Department of State. There were no appeals from disciplinary decisions of other agencies. In discipline cases, the agency has the burden to prove that the charge is factually correct; has a nexus to employment; and that the penalty is appropriate. The appeals covered a range of issues: alcohol and/or weapons-related incidents (five cases); filing false claims for reimbursement; false statements given to explain an absence from work; failure to maintain control of a diplomatic pouch; interfering with an investigation; the appearance of prostitution (two cases); and a security violation. In eight of the cases the charged employee alleged that the penalty was too harsh. In five of the discipline cases the Board affirmed the Department’s decision; in two it found in favor of the charged employee; in one it partially affirmed and partially reversed; and four cases were settled before reaching a decision on the merits. Nine of the cases involved employees of the Office of Diplomatic Security.

In one discipline case and a handful of others, the employees claimed that the incidents were related to the stress of service at hardship posts. As more employees are assigned to posts in countries where violence is endemic, the Board will be sensitive to similar conditions in appeals arising from this issue.


Eighteen appeals involving inaccuracies, omissions, prejudicial statements, or prejudicial errors in employees’ Official Performance Files that could affect their promotion and/or tenuring competitiveness were decided by the Board. The Board affirmed the agency decision in ten of the cases; reversed in two; and partially affirmed, partially reversed in three cases. Two appeals were settled, and one was withdrawn.

Two of the appeals contested IERs issued by the Office of the Inspector General, one involving an ambassador and the second a public affairs officer. In the first, the Board found that the right to counseling applied equally to ambassadors as to other employees. Although the bar may be higher in what an ambassador is expected to know, the Board found that in this particular case the ambassador had no reason to know of the deficiencies identified in the IER, and, therefore, lack of counseling by her supervisors prior to inclusion of the criticisms in the IER and her OPF was not harmless error. The Board also found that several comments in the IER about another, identifiable employee should not have been included in the ambassador’s OPF. The Board ordered that the IER be removed from the ambassador’s OPF. The second case was settled and withdrawn prior to a decision on the merits.

See The Buck Stops Where? Ambassador Files Grievance Over an OIG Evaluation Report


In general, the Board does not have jurisdiction over assignment actions. However, the Board may hear appeals in which the employee alleges a procedural violation of the assignment process. Two such cases were resolved last year. The first case stemmed from the 2012 violence in Benghazi. The employee alleged that he was removed from his position based on ill-founded conclusions by the Benghazi Accountability Review Board, and that he had been made a scapegoat as part of a politically motivated damage control effort. Prior to the conclusion of the appeal process, the grievant retired from the Department. The Board found that most of the remedies he had requested were no longer viable post-retirement, and it therefore drew no conclusions based on the merits. In the second case, the Board also found that the requested remedy, a change in eligibility requirements for long- term training, was outside its authority and dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.

See The Cautionary Tale of Raymond Maxwell: When the Bureaucracy Bites, Who Gets The Blame?


Eight appeals involving financial claims were resolved by the Board last year, each presenting different, complex issues:

  • In an appeal challenging denial of a medical evacuation allowance, the Department followed a long-established Standard Operating Procedure in denying medical evacuation for a high-risk pregnancy prior to the 24th week of gestation. The employee was directed to seek instead the lower separate maintenance allowance, even though all medical personnel agreed that grievant’s spouse needed to return to the U.S. in the 10th week of pregnancy.  The Board found that the Department’s practice was inconsistent with its own regulations and directed the Department to recalculate grievant’s per diem based on the medical evacuation rate.See High Risk Pregnancy Overseas: State/MED’s SOP Took Precedence Over the FAM? No Shit, Sherlock!
  • Six Security Engineering Officers (SEOs) challenged the Department’s decision to limit hiring of their class to an FP-06 pay level, while hiring preceding classes with similar qualifications up to the FP-04 level. In addition to charging a violation of merit principles, the grievants claimed that there were no jobs available at the lower level, so they were unjustly required to work at a higher pay grade than they were being paid. The case was resolved with respect to four grievants when they withdrew their appeals. The appeal of the other two is pending.
  • A career Civil Service employee was given a Limited Non-career Appointment in the Foreign Service, then granted a conversion to career Foreign Service. While in the U.S. working to satisfy the language requirement for a pending overseas FS assignment, grievant’s position was first designated FP-02, then retroactively downgraded to GS-12. The Department required her to reimburse the overpayment in salary resulting from the initial designation. The Board found that, while the Department’s regulations regarding conversions are unclear, in this case the downgrade without notice was an improper application of the relevant laws and regulation, and the employee was entitled to recover the funds repaid to the Department.
  • The Department denied a cash award to an employee for a suggestion he had made and that it had implemented. The primary basis for denial was that grievant had received a cash award for a similar reason, and thus was not permitted a second cash award for the suggestion. Grievant also claimed that the official who denied the award was the deciding official in a disciplinary action pending against him, and thus should have recused himself. The Board found that the two awards were for different purposes and thus not prohibited by the regulation, and agreed that the deciding official should have recused himself from the award decision. It remanded the case to the Department to reconsider its original decision.
  • A Diplomatic Security agent was required to surrender his law enforcement credentials and was denied law enforcement availability pay (LEAP) when the Secret Service investigated him regarding a collectible coin that he had purchased and sold, which turned out to be counterfeit. The investigation remained pending for a number of years, with no charges brought against the agent. During that time, his LEAP pay remained in abeyance. The Board found that although the Department did not have regulations addressing these circumstances, it had implemented a clear and consistent policy and did not act arbitrarily in denying grievant LEAP pay.
  • A retired criminal investigator with the USAID Inspector General’s Office alleged that the State Department miscalculated his retirement annuity by applying a pay cap imposed by the USAID IG through a 2006 memorandum. The Board found that the Department’s reliance on the memorandum was proper, and denied grievant’s claim to a higher annuity. The grievant has appealed this decision to the D.C. district court.

Judicial Actions Involving Board Rulings

One new case was filed in the District Court for the District of Columbia last year. Gregory Picur, retired from USAID’s Office of Inspector General, appealed the Board’s decision to uphold the Department’s calculation of his retirement annuity. A decision is pending.

Three other cases are pending decisions in federal court:

    • The five plaintiffs in Richard Lubow, et al. v. United States Department of State, et al. (923 F. Supp. 2d 28 (D.D.C. 2013)), retired and active duty Diplomatic Security agents who served in Iraq in 2004, appealed a district court decision granting summary judgment to the Department. The plaintiffs had grieved the Department’s application of a cap on their premium pay during their time in Iraq and its decision not to grant them a waiver of repayment of the amounts they had been paid in excess of that cap. The Board had affirmed the Department’s decision applying the cap and denying the waiver.
      (note: a ruling was issued on this case this past week, we will post separately)
    • In November 2012, Jeremy Yamin petitioned the D.C. district court to review a FSGB order denying in part his request for attorney fees incurred in a grievance appeal.
  • In January 2011, Joan Wadelton appealed a Board decision ordering six new reconstituted selection boards be convened as the remedy for three prior grievances. Ms. Wadelton’s appeal contests the Board’s decision to order a new round of reconstituted boards, rather than direct a promotion, as she had requested. Ms. Wadelton is separately engaged in litigation against the Department concerning compliance with three related FOIA requests she filed seeking certain Department records about her. The Department has completed its production of documents pursuant to those requests and is currently engaged in briefing related to motions for summary judgment. (see  Former FSO Joan Wadelton With Truthout Goes to Court Over FOIA Case)

One of the “other” cases adjudicated by the Board.

[T]he employee had been assigned to a senior job in an international organization for five years by virtue of separation/transfer with reemployment rights. Under that particular arrangement, his OPF was not reviewed for promotion for those years, and he was reemployed by State at the same grade as when he had left. Grievant contested the legality of that policy. The Board found that, although there was confusion within State about the ramifications of different transfer/secondment actions and grievant had not always been given consistent information, the precepts were clear and no remedy was warranted. Grievant has two related cases pending. (see Secondments to international organizations and promotions? Here comes the boo!).

The full report is available here.


State Department on PTSD Workers’ Comp Claims: How Well Is This Working?

— Domani Spero


We received a note recently from a reader who is deeply concerned about his/her State Department friend diagnosed with PTSD from an assignment in a war-torncountry. The condition is allegedly aggravated by the lack of understanding on the part of the officer’s superiors who “pressured” the employee to return to another “very stressful/high pressure work duties.”

“My friend was not shot, raped, tortured or maimed by explosive devices. No single, well-defined, event happened. That said, s/he/it now lives a life far more constrained by physiological barriers due to time spent in dangerous climes.”

That got us looking at what resources are available to State Department employees suffering from PTSD.  We found the following information on state.gov.

Employees working in high threat environments such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya and Yemen may develop symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of their performance of duty.

PTSD may be basis for a workers’ compensation claim under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA). The FECA is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP). If an OWCP claim is accepted, benefits may include payment of medical expenses and disability compensation for wage loss.

When an employee develops any mental health symptoms, including symptoms of PTSD, he/she is encouraged to make a confidential appointment with a counselor in the Office of Medical Services (MED)’s Employee Consultation Services (ECS) office. If the initial evaluation indicates symptoms suggestive of PTSD, ECS will refer the employee to MED’s Deployment Stress Management Program (DSMP) for further evaluation. A psychiatrist designated by DSMP will document the initial symptoms for the OWCP claim form (CA-2) and CA-20 (Attending Physician’s Statement). If the employee requires assistance in completing the OWCP claims package, HR’s Office of Casualty Assistance (OCA) will help the employee gather the required documentation, complete the necessary paperwork, and submit the claims package.

OWCP has advised the Department that PTSD claims will be handled expeditiously. PTSD claims from Department employees have been successfully adjudicated by OWCP in the past. The Office of Employee Relations (HR/ER) will remain the point of contact with OWCP. HR/ER will provide consultation, advice and guidance on the OWCP process and on issues regarding the employee’s use of leave (annual, sick, and use of FMLA), disability accommodation options, and benefits. HR/ER will manage the employee’s claim after OWCP receives it and continue in its liaison role with OWCP to meet the employee’s needs.

Some PTSD patients may require treatment by a specialist outside of the Department of State. For such cases, MED/DSMP may refer the employee to an outside provider. MED will cover the initial cost of treatment until OWCP accepts the claim, submitted by the employee through HR, and OWCP will reimburse MED once the claim is accepted. If OWCP does not accept the case as work-related, the employee should submit the medical bills to his/her insurance carrier to reimburse MED for the initial treatment costs. Subsequent treatment costs will be the responsibility of the employee’s health insurance provider.

Throughout this process, the Office of Casualty Assistance (OCA) will assist the employee and his/her family as they adjust to the employee’s medical condition and explore various options affecting their career with the Department. OCA’s role is to assist the employee with paperwork and coordinate with other Department offices as appropriate.

Workers’ Comp Resources: (* = Intranet Website)

DoL Workers’ Compensation Program Website
OWCP Forms: CA-2 CA-2a CA-20 (pdf)
DoL’s Publication CA-801

DoS Office of Casualty Assistance (OCA)* Tel: 202-736-4302
DoS Office of Employee Relations (HR/ER)*

Email: HRWorkersCompensation@state.gov


Frankly, the Office of Casualty Assistance (OCA) has not been terribly impressive. So we’d like to know how responsive is OCA at State when it comes to offering assistance to employees with PTSD who had to deal with worker’s comp?

And how well is DOL’s Workers’ Comp program working if you have PTSD?

We must add that while PTSD is typically associated with assignments to high threat environments such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya and Yemen, Foreign Service employees and family members are assigned to over 280 posts around the world.  Some of these assignment are to war-torn countries in Africa that are not priority staffing posts like AIP or are in critical crime posts such as some cities in Mexico, the DRC, and several posts in the Western Hemisphere (looking at Honduras, Guate and El Salvador). Studies show that crime events are also associated with high rates of PTSD.   The focus on PTSD and employees in high threat environments in the state.gov information above excludes a long list of critical crime posts and appears to discount, by omission, crime-related PTSD and post-traumatic experience in posts not located in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya and Yemen.

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Former FSO Candace Faber on Coming Home With the Maladies of War

— Domani Spero

Candace Faber joined the Foreign Service when she was twenty-four. She learned Dari, Polish, and Russian. At twenty-eight, she was off to Afghanistan where she spent a year at a “a tiny, crowded, dysfunctional world—one we could not leave.”  She wrote that she “often fantasized about walking off compound, just like Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl did in Paktika. In my imagination, even the Taliban seemed kinder than my colleagues.”

She was thirty years old when she resigned from the the FS.

Via Candace Faber on Medium – The Other Veterans:

[S]eeing them take this woman’s very real suffering so lightly, dismissing both her service and her fears as a woman, did more than hurt. It invalidated my own experience.

If a military veteran on a PRT had no right to struggle with readjustment, then by comparison, my year at the U.S. embassy compound in Kabul was a joke. My closest brush with terrorism was a distribution of children’s books I attended in Logar Province, pulling schoolchildren, government officials, and journalists together in a single building. The next day, that building was attacked by a vehicle-borne IED, and two of my colleagues were injured. I was shaken, but I wasn’t there. I also wasn’t there during the September 10 attacks, a fact that only seemed to invalidate my experience further.

In my mind and that of my colleagues, neither that woman nor I had the right to struggle with our transition. There was no excuse save PTSD, and I didn’t have that. I couldn’t have it. I wasn’t a veteran.
It has been a hard journey, as everyone close to me can attest. Resignation has also had financial consequences. But money matters very little compared to having my mental health back. As of today, I have not had an anxiety attack in months. I credit psychotherapy for my recovery. The only question in my mind is why it took so long for me to get help—and why no one in the Department of State, not even when I announced my intention to resign, suggested the option. Instead, I suffered alone for a year and a half, convinced that I was simply a broken person who could never be put back together again. All of that could have been avoided.


Ms. Faber notes that “the paper-based screening” given to her in Kabul was very limited.   “This seems like more of a way to shield the Foreign Service from liability than a good faith effort to support its corps.” She suggested that this should be replaced with in-person screening at appropriate intervals.

Once more, we’re hearing about the security clearance process; she writes, “the federal security clearance process must get rid of its prejudice against mental health treatment, which deters people from seeking the care they need. There is a double standard here: If you are physically wounded in action, you are a hero. But if you come back from a theater of war psychologically broken, wired to treat everyone as a threat, and angry at the world, you cannot seek help without risking your security clearance—and with it, your job.”

Read in full here.

Below are some of our previous blog posts on mental health, PTSD, security clearance and the State Department’s programs:


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Former Foreign Service Kid Writes About Dad With Severe PTSD

— Domani Spero

In 2012, we blogged about a retired FS employee, William “Tony” Gooch who was sentenced to 12 years in prison – the maximum he faced under a plea agreement in a Nov. 7, 2010 episode, in which he reportedly rammed a Jeep into his estranged wife’s home before setting it ablaze. (See Former FSO William Anthony Gooch: No Mercy for Broken Men?).  Colorado Spring’s The Gazette covered the hearing in 2012.

We recently received a note from his son, Andy Gooch (he was referencing our blogpost below):

I came across this article the other day while searching to see if there was anything out there on my father, William Gooch (Tony). He is currently incarcerated and subjected to the brutality of prison life. He was in fact diagnosed with severe PTSD, depression, and substance dependence after serving State Department which the court system neglected to take into consideration. This whole situation frustrates me everyday. In fact, I clearly remember like it was yesterday after I told the judge my little amount of overseas experience. “This sounds like something out of a Jason Bourne movie,” stated the judge. It was as though he was calling not only my statement, but my fathers career a fabricated story.

Anyway, since then, my father and I have published a book on Amazon about his life. It’s called “My Mind, A Different Place.” If you are interested in his story, please look into it. Below is the hyperlink.


It’s unfortunate how the path of one’s career is often times vulnerable to acquiring PTSD, yet others don’t see/understand the reality.

William Gooch (Andy)

News report said that Tony Gooch’s career with the State Department ended with a medical discharge after he suffered a breakdown during an assignment in Kingston, Jamaica. On the prologue of the book, Andy Gooch writes that he moved to Centennial, Colorado in 2004 to live with his father  who was then retired from the State Department.  “It took me all these years to understand him, and to see what he was going through. At that time, my ignorance was bliss. Had I known then what I know now, I would have done a lot more to help my dad, ” he writes.

According to Andy , his father is not getting the mental health treatment he should be getting and his physical condition is deteriorating.  Due to this, he said his family is “currently filing action against the state.”  Andy also said that his father is allowed to accept some items like books and magazine through the mail writing,  “He is so isolated from the outside world I’m sure anything from anybody would be great.”

If you want to help, you may send cards, books or magazines to William “Tony” Gooch’s address below:

William Gooch #157833
AVCF Unit 4-B
12750 HWY 96
Ordway, CO 81034

Andy Gooch graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2012 and is a second lieutenant in a Field Artillery Battery with the Army National Guard.

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Ambassador Crocker Arrested for Hit and Run and DUI in Spokane

We were not always happy with Ambassador Crocker’s often glass is full assessment of what was going on in Afghanistan when he was the Ambassador there, but the following news is not one we were hoping to read on his second post-retirement.

KXLY.com of Spokane, Washington (h/t to The Cable’s Josh Rogin) reported that Ambassador Ryan Crocker was arrested at 2:05 in the afternoon on August 14 by the Washington State Patrol for hit-and-run and driving under the influence in Spokane Valley. The report cited the State Patrol saying that Ambassador Crocker crossed two lanes of traffic, clipped a semi and damaged the passenger side of the Ford Mustang he was driving. He was pulled over, taken into custody and transported to the Spokane Valley Precinct where he received a sobriety test. He reportedly had a .16 BAC (blood alcohol concentration) on one test, twice the legal limit in Washington State. Another test reportedly indicated a .152 BAC.

“It was fairly obvious that Mr. Crocker was highly intoxicated ,” Briggs [Washington State Patrol Trooper] said, adding that the arresting trooper said that Crocker was very cooperative throughout the incident.

The State Patrol believes he was intoxicated by alcohol, not prescription drugs, due to odor and the high blood alcohol count. The WSP added Thursday there is no way Crocker could have crossed two lanes of traffic, hit the semi and continued to drive without knowing it.
On Aug. 15, the day following his arrest, Crocker pled not guilty to the hit and run and DUI charges. Both charges carried a $1,000 bail.
His next court appearance is scheduled for September 12.

Read in full here.

Just a day before this incident, Yale News reported that Ambassador Crocker has been named Yale’s first Kissinger Senior Fellow at the Johnson Center for the Study of American Diplomacy and was scheduled to teach both undergraduate and graduate students during the 2012-2013 academic year.

In his long career with the State Department, Ambassador Crocker served as ambassador six times.  He was the United States Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2011 to July 2012. He was also previously  United States Ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009, to Pakistan from 2004 to 2007, to Syria from 1998 to 2001, to Kuwait from 1994 to 1997, and to Lebanon from 1990 to 1993.

Of course, prior to becoming ambassador he served in a host of other places like Qatar and Iraq.  In 2003, he was also a political officer at the US Embassy in Lebanon when it was hit by a suicide car bomb. A total of 63 people were killed in the bombing: 32 Lebanese employees, 17 Americans, and 14 visitors and passersby.

Almost all mention of Ambassador Crocker’s name also mentions some of the most dangerous hotspots where he served since joining the Foreign Service in the early 1970’s.  We don’t stop and pause often enough to ask if we can send our diplomats to all these dangerous places in the world over and over and over again without any personal consequences on their part. What part of themselves did they lost in Beirut or Peshawar? We never really ask and they did not tell, except sometimes, decades later.

Kristin K. Loken was a Foreign Service officer with USAID who worked at the US Embassy in San Salvador for two years in the late 1970s during El Salvador’s brutal civil war was later diagnosed with “post-traumatic shock syndrome,” (the term used for PTSD in the early 1980s):

“I went to my boss and told her I thought I was going through some postwar emotional problems and asked if the State Department or USAID had some counseling services available. She said she was sympathetic but thought senior people would probably frown on my having emotional problems, and advised that disclosing my condition might negatively affect my eventual tenuring with USAID. So it would be best to keep a “stiff upper lip.” Her advice was to see a private therapist, for which she would give me as much administrative leave as I needed.”

In her 2008 FSJ article on PTSD (Not Only for Combat Veterans (p.42)), she writes about subsequently working on the Lebanon program and the 1983 US Embassy Beirut bombing:

In April 1983, I had just left the city and arrived back in the U.S. when the embassy was blown up. In the bombing, I lost my mission director, Bill Mc-Intyre, our Lebanese secretary and many other colleagues and good friends with whom I had worked for the last year.
I noticed that many of the symptoms of the previous PTSD episode returned at this time, but I felt that if I were patient, they would pass as they had the first time.
More than two decades after I first experienced PTSD, the symptoms have for the most part passed — except when I am overcome by exhaustion, physical pain, illness or stress. Then I can feel myself slipping back into a bad place.

We cannot presume to know what is ailing Ambassador Crocker or if he has been screened for PTSD.   We can only hope that he gets better.  An unnamed official told CNN that “the serious health problem he had in Iraq came back, so he is forced to leave a year early for genuinely serious health reasons.” The State Department Spokesman also confirmed this to the press last May without additional details when news first broke that Ambassador Crocker is stepping down from his post at the US Embassy in Kabul.

We note that Ambassador Crocker was reportedly arrested at 2:05 p.m. with a .16 BAC, twice the legal limit in Washington State.  USVA’s PTSD page notes that PTSD and alcohol use problems are often found together.  Below is a a description of what happens when an individual has a BAC of between .12 to .15:

.12-.15 BAC = Vomiting usually occurs, unless this level is reached slowly or a person has developed a tolerance to alcohol. Drinkers are drowsy.

Drinkers display emotional instability, loss of critical judgment, impairment of perception, memory, and comprehension.

Lack of sensor-motor coordination and impaired balance are typical. Decreased sensory responses and increased reaction times develop. The vision is significantly impaired, including limited ability to see detail, peripheral vision, and slower glare recovery.

Here are other important details on PTSD and alcohol use from USVA:

  • Having PTSD also increases the risk that an individual will develop a drinking problem.
  • Up to three quarters of those who have survived abusive or violent trauma report drinking problems.
  • Up to a third of those who survive traumatic accidents, illness, or disasters report drinking problems.
  • Alcohol problems are more common for survivors who have ongoing health problems or pain.
  • Sixty to eighty percent of Vietnam Veterans seeking PTSD treatment have alcohol use problems.

We don’t know that we’ll hear from Ambassador Crocker, himself. But we hope he speaks out.

In any case, when my best friend in the Foreign Service retired, he got a signed certificate from the Secretary and once or twice a year, he gets a statement of pay from some office at State and that’s about it. He gets more correspondence on military news, pay, benefits, etc. from the U.S. Armed Forces from where he retired prior to joining the State Department.

What support can Ambassador Crocker expect from the State Department?

We’ll shortly find out.

Domani Spero

Update:  Seattle’s kirotv.com covers this here.   CNN is reporting that he was charged, car impounded then released on his own recognizance.  According to CNN conditions of his bail, as outlined August 15, include “refraining from committing any crimes and consuming alcohol or drugs except as prescribed by a doctor, the court docket states. Crocker was also ordered to go to a drug testing office within 24 hours and undergo alcohol testing twice a month.”




Ron Capps | Back From The Brink: War, Suicide, And PTSD

Ron Capps retired from the Foreign Service and the Army reserve in 2008. During a twenty-five-year career, he served  in Kosovo, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Sudan, just about all the hell holes on earth.  He is founder and director at Veterans Writing Project.  He blogs for the Battleland blog at TIME Magazine and in his personal blog, The Next Lost Generation.

In a 2010 issue of Health Affairs, Mr. Capps wrote, Back From The Brink: War, Suicide, And PTSD. The piece is one of the most poignant agonies of post-traumatic stress disorder I have read.  He imagined the dead coming to talk to him every night asking, “Why didn’t you do more to save us?”  He had memories of “the dead, the mutilated, the burned.”  He wrote a story where the protagonist shoots himself in the head with a pistol.  He borrowed a gun, and put a gun to his head.  A timely phone call from his wife saved him.

“When the phone rang I jumped—startled—and nearly shot myself. This was almost comic, because I was already planning to kill myself and was holding the pistol in my hand. So I would have pulled the trigger while the pistol was pointed at my foot rather than my head. The ringing phone broke the spell.”

He was afraid to ask for help, writing, “I thought I would be ridiculed, considered weak and cowardly.”  This from a man who had two Bronze Star medals and tours in Airborne and Special Ops units.

He also writes about Question 21, the one that keeps many soldiers from asking for help. This was changed under Secretary Gates but apparently some things remain the same.

The magazine won’t allow republication on the web (we asked), so go read it in full at the HA website.
Domani Spero

Quickie | Running Amok: Mental Health in the U.S. Foreign Service

Via Diplo Denizen by James Bruno (author and ex-diplomat comments on foreign affairs & writing). Mr. Bruno is the author of political thrillers Permanent Interest and Chasm and an Afghanistan thriller, Tribe; all available via Amazon Kindle:

In the second year of my Foreign Service career, I was assigned to Vientiane, Laos.  My deployment was accelerated by my predecessor’s seeking and being granted a one-year curtailment of his tour of duty because he was going bonkers.  Moreover, an admin officer had to be removed in a straitjacket after holing himself up in his house and smearing the walls with his own feces, another victim of mental and emotional stress.  I, on the other hand, thrived at this isolated outpost, our only one in Indochina five years following the fall of Saigon.  The setting was a cross between “Heart of Darkness” and “Casablanca.”  My seizure at gunpoint and brief incarceration by the authorities, which prompted a diplomatic row, was just one of the pressures at this surreal place.  Years later, in civil war-torn Cambodia, the State Dept. regularly sent a psychiatrist to post to measure our stress levels amid coup attempts, assassinations, 12-14-hour work days seven days a week and an unhinged ambassador.  At another embassy, one of our largest, the Secretary of State discreetly sent out two senior officials to gently pry our prominent career ambassador out of his job in the wake of his increasingly bizarre behavior, including public denunciations of an American ally.
In recent years, the number of Foreign Service personnel medevacced for mental health reasons has doubled.  One study revealed 15 percent of FS members suffered from PTSD.  A similar study done by the Defense Dept. found that 17 percent of soldiers returned from Iraq and Afghanistan suffered from the same condition.  As the U.S. has gotten involved in more overseas conflicts, the pressures on our diplomats have compounded.

A particularly sad case was documented in the September 2010 issue of the Foreign Service Journal.  A former military officer and tsunami survivor, this FSO was assigned to one of the most dangerous war zones six years into his State Dept. career.  He worked 12-14-hour days amid gun and mortar fire.  After being injured in a roadside bomb attack, a State Dept. psychiatrist prescribed an antidepressant for his PTSD.  But the medication caused lack of sleep, loss of appetite and high blood pressure.  When he complained about the side effects, he was prescribed a different antidepressant.  But the side effects continued and he was evacuated from post and placed in psychiatric hospitalization in Washington.  State Dept’s MED office failed to provide him with a doctor proficient in treating PTSD, so he found one on his own.  He was told he could not return to post.  Further treatment did not resolve his problem and he was medevacced again from another post.  He lives in Washington, separated from his wife, and essentially grounded for medical reasons.  His career prospects don’t look good.  This officer is convinced that, had he received better treatment, his current situation could have been avoided.

Continue reading, Running Amok: Mental Health in the U.S. Foreign Service.

Domani Spero

Former FSO William Anthony Gooch: No Mercy for Broken Men?

On May 12, 2012, William Anthony Gooch, 52, was sentenced to 12 years in prison – the maximum he faced under a plea agreement in the Nov. 7, 2010 episode, in which Gooch rammed a Jeep into his estranged wife’s home before setting it ablaze.

What was not widely reported is that he’s a former Foreign Service officer.

In the July/August 1998 issue of State Magazine, he was listed as an “FS Specialist Intake.”  In the February 2003 issue of the same magazine, he was listed under “Foreign Service Retirements”

There is no public catalog of what happened to him after he left the Foreign Service. But apparently in 2005, while visiting Roswell, Ga., Mr. Gooch broke into his brother’s gun safe and ended up in a standoff with police where he begged to be shot.

In 2008, he reportedly shot himself in the chest, narrowly missing his heart. The suicide attempt led to a period of sobriety, and a seeming improvement, according to unnamed relatives cited in local reports.

In August 2009, Mr. Gooch was arrested after a six-hour standoff. This time, he also had a gun and was threatening suicide.

In 2010, El Paso County sheriff’s deputies told local news that Mr. Gooch crashed his car into the Black Forest home of his estranged wife, set the house on fire and then barricaded himself inside.  He was reported to be in critical condition in the burn unit at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Denver, according to hospital officials cited in local reports.

On May 12, 2012, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison – the maximum he faced under a plea agreement in the Nov. 7, 2010 episode.

Colorado Springs’ The Gazette had a write up on the hearing that details the unraveled life of former foreign service officer.  Excerpt below:

According to the family’s account, Gooch served in the Navy and the U.S. Agency for International Development before his 1998 transfer to the State Department, where he worked in the security office.

Within months of accepting the new post, Gooch and his family were assigned to Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where tensions were mounting between warring factions, according to his son, Andy Gooch, a private first-class in the Army National Guard and senior at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The six families in their compound were eventually moved out of Kinshasa as violence ramped up, Andy Gooch told the court, describing how they were driven past the dead and wounded on their way to the airport.

His father remained behind to help evacuate other Americans and nongovernmental aid workers, he said.
Gooch told his family that he was detained and beaten by Congolese police during the ensuing choas. He said a fellow Foreign Service officer secured his release.

Later that year the family was sent to Nairobi, Kenya, where according to Andy Gooch’s account, his father helped identify victims in the wake of a 1998 bombing that killed hundreds at a U.S. Embassy.

In Nairobi, the family survived an attempted car jacking when William Gooch shouted for his wife and children to get down while he drove around a road blockade past men armed with AK-47s, Andy Gooch said.

“When I was 10 or 12 years old, I saw things most people don’t see in their whole life,” Andy Gooch said. “If I got that little piece, I can’t imagine what my father saw.”

Said Sotela: “His mental health was deteriorating through the years that he was exposed to that situation.”

Gooch’s career with the State Department ended with a medical discharge in the early 2000s after he suffered a breakdown during an assignment in Kingston, Jamaica, family members said.

According to The Gazette, Mr. Gooch addressed the court in a soft voice, apologized and said he never meant to hurt anyone except himself – by swallowing pills, shooting himself and trying to get “someone else” to shoot him.  “Jumping off a bridge is about my last resort,” he told Judge Greg Werner, before ending his comments with a pledge to take treatment seriously.

I had this story the same week that George Gaines died in Barbados.  I just could not get myself to write about two tragic episodes that same week. The prosecutor in this case, suggested in court that Mr. Gooch exaggerated his experiences in a bid for leniency.  Nothing in the press reports suggested that Mr. Gooch was diagnosed or treated for PTSD. But it says he was medically discharged after he suffered a breakdown in Jamaica.

Domani Spero

Rachel Schneller | PTSD: The Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. Government.  Read more about Rachel here ~ DS

PTSD: The Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me

by Rachel Schneller

PTSD felt like the worst thing that had ever happened to me. I came back from Iraq in 2006 feeling damaged, like the FedEx package in the movie Cast Away that arrived at its final destination beaten up beyond almost all recognition. I didn’t know I had PTSD, I just knew that something was wrong. Everything and everyone felt like a threat. Everything made me angry and want to fight. I oscillated between sheer rage and numbness, because feeling angry all the time left me exhausted. But I couldn’t sleep much, which also made me angry.

Photo from Private Collection (used with permission)

If I had not sought out treatment for PTSD, I believe I would have wound up dead, in prison, or homeless and unemployed, carrying a sign on a street corner somewhere raging against the world. Best case scenario, I would have managed to continue to somehow drag my bitter mess of a self to work each day, where I would have made the lives of everyone around me absolutely miserable.

Don’t get me wrong, there were parts about being completely lost in my traumatized self I enjoyed. The rage and anger resulting from my experience in Iraq made me feel more alive than I had ever felt before. I was completely focused and driven and could work insane hours at high intensity like a superhero. Everyone around me seemed slow and crippled by worry, whereas I felt no pain and absolutely no fear (I also felt no joy).

After six years of rigorous treatment for PTSD, I feel now like I am both healed enough to engage with the rest of the world in a healthy way, and still aware that I went through a life-altering experience that left a permanent mark on me. I am bilingual and bicultural in PTSD. And honestly, I would not have it any other way. My service in Iraq was important and one of the most meaningful periods of my entire life. My experience with PTSD has made me more sensitive and compassionate toward other people. My treatment for PTSD helped me grow into a better person than I ever could have become without Iraq and without PTSD.

My bottom-line message on PTSD is to get treatment.  To get treatment, you need a diagnosis.  To get both the diagnosis and the treatment, you need to see a professional.  You should do all these things because they will make you a better person.  Be brave and undeterred in your mission.  Since speaking out on PTSD several years ago, I have been approached by numerous people who are suffering symptoms of PTSD and ask for advice on what to do.  I tell them all the same thing: get treatment.  Some worry that seeking treatment might impact their careers or families.  What I always say is that untreated PTSD is much more likely to ruin your career or family than seeking treatment.  Some worry about stigma attached to a diagnosis, or that they will be limited in overseas assignments.  My response is: don’t worry about things outside of your control, such as what other people think and where you might be in a year or two.  Shift your attention to the here-and-now and do what needs to be done today.

I would love to design a compassionate, comprehensive program for people with PTSD.  I daydream about doing this, where several years ago my thoughts reverted back to helicopters, rocket attacks, and endless expanses of concrete barriers.  My ability to focus has been honed through years of yoga and meditation, practices I found particularly helpful in my treatment of PTSD.  I still feel no fear, and still have limitless energy to fight for the things that are important to me.  But now I also feel joy.  And finding joy and beauty in life after surviving a horrific event is to experience joy and beauty in a deeper, more meaningful way than ever would have been possible before.  Although I could not see it at the time, PTSD was the best thing that ever happened to me.