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

Posted: 11:13 pm  EDT
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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.

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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?

 

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Burn Bag: Ding! Ding! Ding! This Is Your ‘More Than Just Stupid’ Warning!

Via Burn Bag:

“A director of a regional diplomatic courier office has openly expressed he does not want to hire “women of childbearing age”. He achieves this by carefully examining candidates’ resumes when hiring to fill an EFM position. BBag, can you stop this stupidity, considering it’s from an FS-1?”

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EFM – eligible family member
FS01 – the highest rank in the regular Foreign Service, last step before the Senior Foreign Service; equivalent to a full Colonel in the military

Why this is more than just stupid? SCOTUS:

The Supreme Court decides International Union, UAW v. Johnson Controls and addresses the issue of fetal hazards. In this case, the employer barred women of childbearing age from certain jobs due to potential harm that could occur to a fetus. The Court rules that the employer’s restriction against fertile women performing “dangerous jobs” constitutes sex discrimination under Title VII. The Court further rules that the employer’s fetal protection policy could be justified only if being able to bear children was a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) for the job. The fact that the job posed risk to fertile women does not justify barring all fertile women from the position.

The Supreme Court in Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corp. holds that Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination means that employers cannot discriminate on the basis of sex plus other factors such as having school age children. In practical terms, EEOC’s policy forbids employers from using one hiring policy for women with small children and a different policy for males with children of a similar age.

In Gibson v. West, the Supreme Court endorses EEOC’s position that it has the legal authority to require that federal agencies pay compensatory damages when EEOC has ruled during the administrative process that the federal agency has unlawfully discriminated in violation of Title VII.

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“M” Writes Update to State Department Employees Regarding OPM Breach

Posted: 1:36 pm EDT
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It took 18 days before I got my OPM notification on the PII breach. Nothing still on the reported background investigation breach. OPM says it will notify those individuals whose BI information may have been compromised “as soon as practicable.”  That might not happen until the end of July! The hub who previously worked for State and another agency has yet to get a single notification from OPM. We have gone ahead and put a fraud alert for everyone in the family. What’s next? At the rate this is going, will we soon need fraud alerts for the pets in our household? They have names and passports, and could be targeted for kidnapping, you guys!!

And yes, I’ve watched the multiple OPM hearings now, and no, I could not generate confidence for the OPM people handling this, no matter how hard I try. Click here for the timeline of the various breaches via nextgov.com, some never disclosed to the public.

Still waiting for the White House to do a Tina Fey:

you're all fired

via giphy.com

On June 25, the Under Secretary for Management, Patrick Kennedy sent a message to State Department employees regarding the OPM breach. There’s nothing new on this latest State update that we have not seen or heard previously except the detail from the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) at http://www.ncsc.gov (pdf) on how to protect personal information from exploitation (a tad late for that, but anyways …) because Foreign Intelligence Services and/or cybercriminals could exploit the information and target you.

Wait, what did OPM say about families? “[W]e have no evidence to suggest that family members of employees were affected by the breach of personnel data.” 

Via the NCSC:

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no kidding!

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you don’t say!

Here is M’s message from June 25, 2015 to State employees. As far as we know, this is the first notification posted publicly online on this subject, which is  good as these incidents potentially affect not just current employees but prospective employees, former employees, retirees and family members.

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to provide you an update on the recent cyber incidents at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) which has just been received.

As we have recently shared, on June 4th, OPM announced an intrusion impacting personnel information of approximately four million current and former Federal employees. OPM is offering affected individuals credit monitoring services and identity theft insurance with CSID, a company that specializes in identity theft protection and fraud resolution. Additional information is available on the company’s website, https://www.csid.com/opm/ and by calling toll-free 844-777-2743 (international callers: call collect 512-327-0705). More information can also be found on OPM’s website: www.opm.gov.

Notifications to individuals affected by this incident began on June 8th on a rolling basis through June 19th. However, it may take several days beyond June 19 for a notification to arrive by email or mail. If you have any questions about whether you were among those affected by the incident announced on June 4, you may call the toll free number above.

On June 12th, OPM announced a separate cyber intrusion affecting systems that contain information related to background investigations of current, former, and prospective Federal Government employees from across all branches of government, as well as other individuals for whom a Federal background investigation was conducted, including contractors. This incident remains under investigation by OPM, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The investigators are working to determine the exact number and list of potentially affected individuals. We understand that many of you are concerned about this intrusion. As this is an ongoing investigation, please know that OPM is working to notify potentially affected individuals as soon as possible. The Department is working extensively with our interagency colleagues to determine the specific impact on State Department employees.

It is an important reminder that OPM discovered this incident as a result of the agency’s concerted and aggressive efforts to strengthen its cybersecurity capabilities and protect the security and integrity of the information entrusted to the agency. In addition, OPM continues to work with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and other elements of the Federal Government to enhance the security of its systems and to detect and thwart evolving and persistent cyber threats. As a result of the work by the interagency incident response team, we have confidence in the integrity of the OPM systems and continue to use them in the performance of OPM’s mission. OPM continues to process background investigations and carry out other functions on its networks.

Additionally, OMB has instructed Federal agencies to immediately take a number of steps to further protect Federal information and assets and improve the resilience of Federal networks. We are working with OMB to ensure we are enforcing the latest standards and tools to protect the security and interests of the State Department workforce.

We will continue to update you as we learn more about the cyber incidents at OPM. OPM is the definitive source for information on the recent cyber incidents. Please visit OPM’s website for regular updates on both incidents and for answers to frequently asked questions: www.opm.gov/cybersecurity. We are also interested in your feedback and questions on the incident and our communications. You can reach out to us at DG DIRECT (DGDirect@state.gov) with these comments.

State Department employees who want to learn additional information about the measures they can take to ensure the safety of their personal information can find resources at the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) at http://www.ncsc.gov. The following are also some key reminders of the seriousness of cyber threats and of the importance of vigilance in protecting our systems and data.

Steps for Monitoring Your Identity and Financial Information

  • Monitor financial account statements and immediately report any suspicious or unusual activity to financial institutions.
  • Request a free credit report at www.AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. Consumers are entitled by law to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus – Equifax®, Experian®, and TransUnion® – for a total of three reports every year. Contact information for the credit bureaus can be found on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website, www.ftc.gov.
  • Review resources provided on the FTC identity theft website, www.Identitytheft.gov. The FTC maintains a variety of consumer publications providing comprehensive information on computer intrusions and identity theft.
  • You may place a fraud alert on your credit file to let creditors know to contact you before opening a new account in your name. Simply call TransUnion® at 1-800-680-7289 to place this alert. TransUnion® will then notify the other two credit bureaus on your behalf.

Read in full here.

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