State Dept’s Bureau of Neglected Disease – Dengue+Encephalitis, What Help Is There?

— By Domani Spero

She joined the Foreign Service over 20 years ago.  Among her overseas postings were New Delhi, Damascus, Alexandria, Northern Iraq, and Beirut.  In 2009, she opened the new Consulate’s PD shop in Hyderabad.  In 2010, she contracted dengue fever. And encephalitis. She was medevaced to Singapore and spent 10 days at a hospital there.  That was not her only hospital confinement.

In the November 2013 issue of Foreign Service Journal, FSO Juliet Wurr writes:

“Over the next year, first in Hyderabad and then in Washington, D.C., I discovered and then struggled to cope with the repercussions of my illness. My doctor concluded that my now-unreliable memory, constant drowsiness and cognitive impairment were all the result of my encephalitis. I knew that my Foreign Service career had come to an end.”

The CDS describes Dengue (pronounced den’ gee) as a disease caused by any one of four closely related dengue viruses (DENV 1, DENV 2, DENV 3, or DENV 4). The viruses are transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. The CDS says that with more than one-third of the world’s population living in areas at risk for transmission, dengue infection is a leading cause of illness and death in the tropics and subtropics. There are reportedly as many as 100 million people infected yearly.   In September this year, the NYT reported about India’s dengue problem.  In October, the Raw Story called it New Delhi’s “mysterious dengue fever epidemic.

Click on image to see an interactive Dengue map of the word.

Click on image to see an interactive Dengue map of the word.

Dengue is an endemic illness in India, the second-most populous country in the world.  Anecdotal reports suggest that the U.S. Embassy in Delhi has about half a dozen dengue cases among mission members this year alone. We’ve requested information on current mission-wide dengue cases and medevaced cases but have not heard anything back.

A separate report in the Indian Critical Care Medicine notes that “Encephalopathy is a very common neurological complication of dengue fever. Dengue encephalopathy is usually secondary to multisystem derangement like shock, hepatitis, coagulopathy, and concurrent bacterial infection.”  Encephalitis is the irritation and swelling of the brain that can be mild and short and results in full recovery. Or it can be severe with permanent impairment or death as a possibility.  For more on encephalitis, see the National Institute of Health.

In an email to this blog, Ms. Wurr writes:

“I think there is a huge gap in what State can do statutorily and what morally they should do.  If employees and the public realized this I think they would be outraged.  I want to do all I can to publicize because there are simple changes they can do that don’t depend on legislation.  I am retiring six years earlier than expected.  State refuses to advocate for me with Department of Labor Workers Comp.  I am receiving no compensation for my $500+ medical bills each month or for wages lost.”

Ms. Wurr said that she had been to the Office of Medical Services and the Bureau of Human Resources, who “were kind and welcoming, but eventually they admitted they had nothing to offer me.” She had also been to the Office of Casualty Assistance twice, and told this blog, “They said there was nothing they could do.”

She had filed a claim at the Labor Department’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs last year. It was denied. She had refiled that claim, it was denied for the second time. The reason for the denials, “I could not convince Labor that my illness was caused by being in India as an employee of the Department of State.”

She’s up for a third filing, and has now hired a lawyer.

If this story sounds familiar, it’s because it happened before.

Remember Frank Pressley who was wounded in the East Africa bombing and had filed for permanent disability? The  Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs and the State Department’s Office of Casualty Assistance (OCA) both made the news:

Compensation claims examiners questioned the precise percentage of Pressley’s handicap. Two non-government doctors administered tests and said the arm was 78 percent disabled, permanently. The Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs said it was only 40 percent disabled.

Hoping to minimize runarounds, he contacted Kendall B. Montgomery, director of the State Department’s Office of Casualty Assistance, which was established in 1999 in response to the embassy bombings.

“I get no assistance, no options, no real help,” he e-mailed last summer. “I’m afraid that nothing is going to happen unless I get a lawyer. That would be very sad for me. I trust the system, my country.”

“Frank, I understand — and share — your frustration,” Montgomery told him in a December e-mail. The federal workers’ compensation program “is just not meeting its obligations to you and many others. The system is broken, but there is no will to fix it.”

After The Washington Post inquired about the status of Pressley’s disability compensation, government officials including the State Department’s Office of Casualty Assistance suddenly got their Minute Maid:

The State Department’s Kendall Montgomery vowed she would push for “speedy approval” of medical treatments for injured employees mired in the federal compensation system.

“We’re putting a very high priority on it,” she told The Post while a public affairs official monitored her words. “We’re once again trying to start a new round of discussion between ourselves and the Department of Labor. . . . We do hope they’re fruitful discussions.” 

Soon after, the Department of Labor stopped disputing Mr. Pressley’s claim to a 78 percent disability in his left arm and paid up.

But whatever “fruitful discussions” the State Department conducted with the Department of Labor back in 2002, the result is clear.  We sent email inquiries to the Office of Casualty Assistance (OCA) and the Family Liaison Office (FLO) asking what type of assistance their offices provide to cases like Ms. Wurr’s in ensuring that sick/injured employees mired in the federal compensation system are not stuck there. We also wanted to know more information about the State Department and specifically OCA’s role in advocating for cases before DOL’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs.

Today, we received a one-sentence response to our email and a non-response to our questions from Kirk A. Leach, the director of the State Department’s Office of Casualty Assistance.

“The Department is fully supportive of Ms. Wurr’s case and is actively engaged in advocating her position with the Department of Labor’s Office of Worker’s Compensation.”

That’s the same office, who according to Ms. Wurr, gave this response: “They said there was nothing they could do.” After learning of  OCA’s response to our inquiry, Ms. Wurr was surprised.  If they are working on her behalf, she said, “they kept it secret from me.” LOL!

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State/OIG Is Hiring! One Senior Investigative Counsel Wanted for Complex/Sensitive Allegations

— By Domani Spero

In early October, State IG Steve Linick was joined at the Inspector General Office by two former officials from FHFA-OIG; the office also had a partial make over of its top ranks.   See New Faces, Old Faces — State Dept’s Office of Inspector General Gets a Make-Over.  Now State/OIG has announced job openings for three other positions.

Criminal Investigator
OIG-2014-0008
GS-1811-12/13
Closes: November 24, 2013

Attorney Adviser- General (Senior Investigative Counsel)
OIG-2014-0006
GS-0905-15
Closes: December 11, 2013

Director (Congressional and Public Affairs)
OIG-2014-0007
GS-0301-15
Closes: December 12, 2013

Well, what are you waiting for?  Active links added for those interested in applying for those jobs.

The Attorney Adviser position caught our eyes.  According to usajobs.gov, this position is specifically responsible for the following (not full list, see job announcement here):

  • Receiving and reviewing allegations of misconduct involving senior DOS/BBG employees that may involve violations of law, DOS/BBG regulations, or applicable standards of conduct;
  • Undertaking investigations to pursue such allegations either alone or as part of an OIG team. Drafts public and non-public reports of investigative findings or conclusions;
  • Identifying significant violations of policies or procedures that become evident in the course of investigations, evaluations, and other special projects, and submitting recommendations for corrective action;
  • Personally handling matters assigned by the IG/DIG that involve sensitive, highly visible issues;

The job is a full-time permanent  GS-15 position with a salary range of $123,758.00 to $155,500.00/per annum.

In any case, we got curious about this so we asked the IG office, and here is what we’re told:

“While the Director, Congressional & Public Affairs is an established position that has recently become vacant, the Investigative Counsel is a new position for the State OIG. The IG envisions hiring an individual with legal and/or prosecutorial experience to enhance OIG’s ability to pursue civil and criminal penalties and to investigate complex and sensitive allegations of employee misconduct.

In addition, this individual would be assigned to conduct special reviews and projects for the OIG.  This approach has been used successfully at the Department of Justice OIG, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), and the Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of Inspector General.”

They do have complex and sensitive allegations to tackle over there.

Remember this past summer when there was a big kaboom in Foggy Bottom ? (See CBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal.  The Cable’s John Hudson had an exclusive with Aurelia Fedenisn, a former State Department inspector general investigator Exclusive: Whistleblower Says State Department Trying to Bully Her Into Silence.  Some real serious allegations were made about cases that were reportedly ”influenced, manipulated, or simply called off” in the State Department.  State/OIG released a statement to CBS News here.

There were eight cases alleged in that memo.  None of those cases appeared on the OIG’s semi-annual report to Congress.  We’re still waiting for the results of the investigation.

State/OIG told us that “the eight cases to which you referred continue to be under review.”

A separate case involving allegations about the U.S. Consulate General in Naples did make it to the OIG semi-annual report ending March 31, 2013:

“On November 2, 2012, OIG received a request from Senator Rand Paul to investigate allegations of staff misconduct at the U.S. Consulate General in Naples, Italy. In its response, OIG noted that the complaints were referred to the appropriate offices in the Department and that the complainants were provided contact information for the offices to which the complaints were referred.”

State/OIG explained that the way its Office of Investigations (INV) works is that all incoming complaints and/or allegations are processed through the Hotline.  OIG INV then “assesses each incoming complaint and/or allegation individually to determine the most appropriate course of action based on the facts of the matter.”  This Naples case was referred out of the IG and is reportedly ongoing in the State Department’s Office of Civil Rights.   We have to say that this is a case that already got ugly but can get a whole lot uglier.

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Round-up: American Ambassadors Presenting Their Credentials (Photos)

— By Domani Spero

The newly confirmed American ambassadors presented their credentials to each of their receiving states in the last couple of months. Below are just a few of the photographs that are available online.

U.S. Embassy Japan
Cred_kennedy2013

TOKYO, Japan (November 19, 2013) U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy arrived at the the Imperial Palace, where she presented her credentials to His Imperial Majesty Emperor Akihito.
[State Department photo by William Ng/Public Domain]
(click on photo to view Flickr slideshow)

U.S. Embassy United Kingdom
@MatthewBarzun Diplomacy is a balancing act, like wearing a top hat. Preparing for my #CredentialsCeremony

@MatthewBarzun
Diplomacy is a balancing act, like wearing a top hat. Preparing for my #CredentialsCeremony

U.S. Embassy Brazil
A embaixadora dos EUA no Brasil, Liliana Ayalde, apresentou hoje suas credenciais à presidente do Brasil Dilma Rousseff. via US Embassy/FB

October 2013: A embaixadora dos EUA no Brasil, Liliana Ayalde, apresentou hoje suas credenciais à presidente do Brasil Dilma Rousseff.
via US Embassy/FB

U.S. Embassy Germany
CRED_Emerson Germany 2013

S. E. den Botschafter der Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika, Herrn John B. Emerson | 26. August 2013, Schloss Bellevue – © Bundespresseamt via US Embassy Berlin/Flickr (click on photo to view slideshow)

U.S. Embassy Italy
CRED_Italy Philips

October 2, 2013. L’Ambasciatore John R. Phillips ha presentato ieri le Lettere Credenziali al Presidente Giorgio Napolitano.
Con l’accettazione formale delle Credenziali, si conclude il processo di insediamento del nuovo Ambasciatore, iniziato con la nomina da parte del Presidente Obama lo scorso luglio. (via US Embassy Rome/FB)

U.S. Embassy Denmark
Ambassador Rufus Gifford received his credentials from H.M. Queen Margrethe II today at a ceremony at Amalienborg.

Ambassador Rufus Gifford received his credentials from H.M. Queen Margrethe II  (not in the photo) at a ceremony at Amalienborg. U.S. Embassy/FB Photo

U.S. Embassy South Africa
CRED_Ambassador-Gaspard-and-his-spouse

On October 16, 2013 Patrick H. Gaspard presented his credentials to President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria as the new U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of South Africa. Photo of Ambassador Gaspard and his spouse Ms. Raina Washington at the credentialing ceremony. (US Embassy Photo)

U.S. Embassy to the Holy See
Via US Embassy/The Vatican

Via US Embassy/The Vatican

Ambassador Ken Hackett presented his credentials to Pope Francis at the Vatican in October 2013. More photos via US Embassy Vatican/FB.

Ambassador Ken Hackett presented his credentials to Pope Francis at the Vatican in October 2013. More photos via US Embassy Vatican/FB.

U.S. Embassy Spain
El Embajador James Costos presentó ayer sus cartas credenciales ante el Rey Don Juan Carlos. Este es el paso definitivo en su acreditación como Embajador de EEUU en España.

El Embajador James Costos presentó ayer sus cartas credenciales ante el Rey Don Juan Carlos. Este es el paso definitivo en su acreditación como Embajador de EEUU en España. US Embassy Madrid/FB

U.S. Embassy Australia
Ambassador Berry formally presented his credentials to the Governor-General, Her Excellency the Honourable Quentin Bryce AC CVO, who received them on behalf of the Queen.

Ambassador John Berry formally presented his credentials to the Governor-General, Her Excellency the Honourable Quentin Bryce AC CVO, who received them on behalf of the Queen – September 2013 Photo via US Embassy Canberra/FB

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