The following is a first person account shared by a Diplomatic Security agent who was assaulted twice by his spouse in
USG quarters temporary housing located in the Washington DC area. He wrote that he wanted to call attention to a situation he faced in the hope that “others who find themselves in similar circumstances know what to expect.” He added that “with the ongoing pandemic and quarantine other employees may find themselves in similar situations as they are trapped with their spouses under stressful circumstances.” He told us he was a DS Agent with a few years on the job. “Despite being relatively junior, I was a good agent that made tenure, had no disciplinary issues, and I received several awards.”
The individual who wrote this told us that he resigned from the State Department and is now employed by another agency in his home state.
This is his story, as sent to us. We’ve added links in [brackets] for the relevant offices:
I was assigned to an HTP [High Threat Post] post in Africa and I was there for several months. While there, a medical issue surfaced that couldn’t be treated at Post. I went on leave to my home state (which was also the location of my previous assignment and where my spouse and child lived while I was at post) and saw a specialist. While on leave, I was “caught out”-the medical condition I was diagnosed with while on leave prevented my return to post. I was told by MED [Bureau of Medical Services] that I could not return to Post, my medical clearance was downgraded, and (after what seemed like an eternity), I was eventually assigned to a position in the DC/NOVA area. Never mind that I burned through all my leave so that I could keep getting paid and the medical per diem that I was authorized didn’t pay out until the very end. I rented out my house in my home state and prepared to move my family to the NOVA area.
While in temporary housing at one of the Oakwood properties, my spouse assaulted me. Our relationship had been badly strained by the long durations apart for training and an unaccompanied tour (while at post, things got so bad that I retained a lawyer and initiated divorce proceedings). After the assault, my spouse was arrested by the local police-and after the mandatory separation period we decided to try to patch things up and try again. Thankfully our child was not present when this happened; several weeks later we brought our child to Virginia. I also started looking for a position with another agency knowing that the foreign service lifestyle was taking its toll. We wound up buying a condo in one of the suburbs and moved in.
I went on a brief TDY and this separation caused issues to resurface to in our relationship. I committed to restarting the divorce proceedings. However, court proceedings, custody issues, and property would be decided in my home state-not in Virginia. I could not afford another residence in Virginia, and I could not stay with my spouse due to the violent outbursts. I was essentially homeless. I reached out to Employee Consultation Services and my CDO [Career Development Officer] and asked about being transferred back to my home state. At least in my home state I would be able to stay with family and see the divorce through. Remaining in Virginia would mean continuing to “crash” at AirBnBs until my tour was up…another 18 months. After several weeks, my spouse assured me that it was safe to return to the condo and I wanted to see my child.
Approximately 3 weeks after returning from this TDY things again took a turn for the worse and my spouse assaulted me-this time with a weapon. I only sustained minor injuries, but my spouse was arrested and this left me responsible for taking care of our child alone. My chain-of-command was incredibly understanding and supportive and I was able to meet family and work obligations without issue. Unfortunately, or HR system was much less understanding and supportive. There were open positions in my home state that I wanted to return to. However, it seems like it takes an act of God to get an employee to one of them. I was told that my request to “the panel”…which was supported by police and court reports, and an affidavit from my attorney which explained the need to be in my home state for the divorce, may not be sufficient justification for reassignment. According to one of the CDOs I was dealing with (more on that later), the panel is concerned that people may “take advantage of (domestic violence) situations” and try to get reassigned. I guess that it is more career enhancing to just continue to get abused and windup losing custody than to transfer an employee. Thankfully, I was able to secure a position with another agency in my home state. I won’t be homeless and I can see the divorce through to the end. Although the pay cut hurts, at least I am safe and will see my child again.
Overall, DS [Diplomatic Security] was a great experience. The work and the people were great. The same goes for all of the Foreign Service and Civil Service colleagues that I had the pleasure of working with. We hire some very talented people, but we don’t do a good job retaining them. Our HR process is garbage. [HR office is now officially the Bureau of Global Talent Management].
I understand that everyone has unique circumstances but just be aware that the programs that you think can help you cannot be relied upon. By all means, try to stay with the foreign service if you like the job…had they been able to accommodate me until my issue was resolved I’d have done 20 and retired. Your DS experience, training, and security clearance make you marketable to other agencies….keep trying and one will come through. If DS (and the Dept. as a whole) were serious about retaining employees, they would fix the HR system. I am now looking to see if I have any legal recourse; others shouldn’t have to go through this. As a wise person said, “at the end of the day it is just a job”. It was an interesting and rewarding job-but still just a job. There is other good work out there. If you think things may go bad, get your applications in. Constantly have applications going with other agencies so you always have a parachute…that is what saved me.
Below are his “lessons learned,” shared for those who may be in similar circumstances: