First Person: I did everything right. I filed a report the next business day … #FSassault

Posted: 12:55 am  ET
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I did everything right. I filed a report the next business day with RSO. The accused was removed from post shortly thereafter. 

My victimization didn’t really begin until I sought assistance 6 months later from MED when I arrived at my next post. MED sent me on a MEDEVAC to DC from my post to a facility that didn’t treat trauma and required I take a $60 taxi each way daily from Oakwood Falls Church where most of my colleagues from my unaccompanied post were staying due to long term training. 

MED refused to discharge me for weeks despite requests for relocation and a new treatment plan. I finally found my own providers online when the State Department didn’t provide a list of referrals prior to my discharge. 

Then, the MEDEVAC team advised me of their recommendation for a Class 5 medical clearance (domestic only) without ever speaking to my psychiatrist and without providing a reason. 

I filed appeals of my medical clearance without success all the way to the Director General. 

MED refused to assist with my PTSD claim for worker’s compensation despite the reported incident occurring at the U.S. Embassy in a warzone where we can’t leave the compound. 

My out of pocket medical expenses (therapist/ psychiatrist/medicine) would not be covered once my MEDEVAC ended. My housing was paid for at my post and my children were enrolled in the international school. We didn’t receive our HHE for 6 months after having someone else pack out our goods. 

Without access to the State Department system, it was nearly impossible to secure an onward assignment. I didn’t have contact information for my 360s and no access to my employee profile. I went house shopping in DC with a realtor and was advised there was no suitable housing for a family of my size at an amount I could afford. Washington, DC has bedroom occupancy regulations which made it difficult to accommodate. 

The State Department sent me to the brink of financial ruin. I took a huge pay cut, lost my paid housing, my kids lost their prestigious school, and my spouse lost job opportunities available at post all because I was a victim and sought assistance from MED.

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The account above is an unsolicited email from a Foreign Service employee who did not want us to use her name but wanted to share her story. She said she previously served in Israel, Iraq, Colombia, Venezuela, Georgia, and Afghanistan, all with a Class 1 medical clearance, meaning “worldwide available” for Foreign Service assignments. She told us she was also last promoted in 2015. 

According to her, Diplomatic Security asked if she wanted to go to the medical unit but she declined. Regarding the perpetrator, she said, “I have no verification that he is overseas with his family, but he is listed on the GAL [global address list] and so is his wife.”  She added, “He had also destroyed government property ✂️ and was highly intoxicated in the middle of the night when he was subdued by security. It apparently had no effect on his security clearance or medical clearance as he had the ability to serve overseas at his next post with his family.” 

She said that she chose to stay at her post in the warzone until the end of her tour so she would not lose her onward assignment. She arrived at her onward post in Europe and was  subsequently medically evacuated (MEDEVAC) after she contacted MED.

She told this blog, “I was never hospitalized. I was never a threat to myself or others. It is hard to believe that this is my life. The biggest issue I have is that I was never provided a reason as to why my clearance was denied other than a generic “best care is available in the U.S.” 

The post she was evacuated from is a European post with high level of medical care including English speaking therapists and psychiatrists. Post has a resident regional medical officer (RMO) and a resident regional medical officer/psychiatrist (RMO/P).

The FS employee told us she is on leave without pay and believed that her OWCP claim (Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs) for PTSD was one of the factors in the downgrading of her medical clearance.

She shared with us an OCWP letter in which “Under Accepted Event(s) That Are Factors of Employment” is this:

“– That while assigned to the US embassy in ✂️ from 2014-2015. you were sexually harassed and assaulted by a colleague who was under the influence of alcohol after checking on him at his room.” 

We hope to have a follow-up post on the MED – OCA – OCWP mess.

 

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Foreign Service Members Offer Candid Views of @StateDept Mental Health Services (via FSJ)

Posted: 3:04 am EDT
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The January issue of the Foreign Service Journal is out. The issue is focused on mental health care for the Foreign Service.  Dr. Samuel Thielman,  a recently retired regional medical officer/psychiatrist for the Department of State writes about how MED’s mental health program has grown and evolved over the years to address the unusual needs of FS employees and their families serving overseas in The Evolution of State’s Mental Health Services. Chantay White, the chief of the Employee Assistance Program with the State Department Employee Consultation Services and Paulette Baldwin, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker write about Mental Health and ECS—What You Should Know. Dr. Stephen A. Young, the director of Mental Health Services for the State department since September 2015, writes about The Face of Mental Health Services Overseas.

One part of the bureaucracy that is glaringly missing here is, of course, Diplomatic Security.  A majority of these comments express concern about DS and security clearance. The most instructive part is probably the section on MED/MHS Checkup: Foreign Service Members Weigh In that offers very candid views from people in the field.

The FSJ writes that the compilation includes 45 responses from FS members in Washington, D.C., and overseas, some entry-level and a few retired, from the foreign affairs agencies, primarily State and USAID. The gender split was about even. “Due to the sensitive nature of the topic, and known concerns about privacy, we took the unprecedented step of offering to print comments without attribution,” the editors write.

Some excerpts below, each paragraph selected from a separate FS member response.  The last one It’s No Joke is in full; the contributor appears to be part of US Mission Libya following the 2012 attacks. The full comments are available to read here.

“Dealing with the bureaucracy after having sought mental health treatment is itself enough to cause PTSD.”

“Senior officers, in particular, need to set the example by ensuring that their employees understand that a mental health issue, like any ailment, is best addressed early. Until they do, we will all still sign notes like this as… Anonymous.”

“During a rough patch in a relationship, my partner and I sought couples counseling. When my security clearance was up for renewal, I was grilled by the investigator regarding this counseling. I had to defend myself for wanting counseling, and the harsh and critical tone she took for me wanting to do what I needed for my relationship was upsetting. I got the clearance, but it was a stressful process.”

“After service in Iraq, there is no doubt in my mind that I suffered from PTSD. Now (several years later), I see my symptoms as both classic and obvious. At the time I was suffering, however, I hid my symptoms out of fear that knowledge that I suffered from PTSD would harm my career. That concern was heightened by the intense questioning I endured by a Diplomatic Security agent conducting a security clearance update when I was serving in Iraq. When it became known that I had sought mental health care, I was hassled and forced to repeat the content of a private discussion with a mental health professional to a DS agent with zero mental health training. I found the entire episode both distasteful and inappropriate.”

“My mistake—I was told by MED that I’d be given a Class 2 because of seeking continued therapy. I thought that showing that I’d made arrangements for my mental health would ensure a Class 1, but instead that’s what gave me the Class 2. Geez, why be honest with MED—it could have cost me my assignment.”

“I met with a therapist who told me he never wrote anything down because all of his FS clients were terrified of getting caught seeking assistance for their stress-related problems. It’s sad. Concerns about security clearances have a big effect on whether or not I seek mental health care.”

“I feel that if I had declared myself an alcoholic I would have gotten more attention from MED than when I was traumatized and sat in my office working, feeling like an isolated zombie.”

“Once I joined the Foreign Service, I could easily understand why there is an impression that the Service has an alcohol abuse problem—it’s self-medication that is easy to hide from a clearance process. I find that distressing and disturbing and extremely unsupportive.”

“Despite former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s message a few years ago telling employees that their clearance will not be affected by seeking mental health treatment, that is not what happens in practice. DS investigators zero in on this, considering it a red flag, as if mental health were any different than physical health.”

“No matter what management says about the importance of mental health, if there are no real changes, then the Foreign Service will continue to be an ineffective and unsupportive mental health environment.”

“You also do not know who the regional psychiatrist’s client really is: you or the State Department? Does a psychiatrist see you as a patient who needs help or just a problem for the Foreign Service best remedied by removing you from post?”

“The mandatory out brief improved between the time I returned from Afghanistan in 2007 and 2012, when I returned from Iraq. However, both times I was told that the symptoms in the PTSD questionnaire are normal for six months and not to worry unless they persist. (And I was offended when taken aside after the briefing and asked how pervasive I thought infidelity was in Baghdad.)”

“During the onward assignments process, MED refused to consider my needs as identified by my therapist, instead assigning me to a post where there was no one in-country who could serve as an appropriate psychiatrist. There, I raised an issue of concern with the health unit nurse, who in turn shared it with the management officer, who then told my supervisor that I was “nuts.” This was not only a violation of my privacy; it reflected total ignorance on the management officer’s part of what PTSD and its symptoms are.”

“I would rate the mental health support at 3 out of 10, with 10 being the best. Working in a high-stress post that was not a “high-threat” post, my colleagues and I were given limited support in a time of crisis.”

“I am grateful for the mental health assistance available to me. If it weren’t for grief counseling, I would have qualms about seeing the RMO/P, because I’d need to disclose this in the five-yearly security update. And while that disclosure might not affect my security clearance, I still think there’s a stigma attached to the fact that I needed mental health assistance.”

“As a veteran of two priority staffing post (PSP) tours—one in Iraq (2007–2008) and the other in Afghanistan (2013–2014)—my experience with transition support has been abysmal. Just getting authorization to attend out briefings and to access mental health services was impossible.”

“I am not concerned about medical and security clearances as they relate to mental health care. Most people have seen a therapist at one time or another, and I don’t think it would affect a security clearance. But corridor reputation is a concern. Even when people need to talk to a mental health professional, they’re more worried about their corridor reputation and often won’t seek help due to the stigma of being “weak.”

“In my final post, when I had finally had enough bullying from my fourth bully boss (three of whom were DCMs and one a GS-15), I worked with the regional psychiatrist who prescribed two anti-anxiety/anti-depressants and a sleeping pill to help me cope. I sought assistance from the ombudsman, but received no help, so I resigned.”

“I had discussed my mental health with the regional psychiatrist during his visits, but he just gave me Xanax and told me panic attacks were normal. He asked me about work-related stress, but reported the results of our meetings with post leadership, contributing to my stress.”

“When State does not actively intervene in cases of abusive behavior, managers are given the impression that they have carte blanche to do whatever they want. Even if victims get mental health care afterwards, the damage has been done. From what I hear, the problem is getting worse and more widespread. It doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of sending out feel-good cables on workplace atmosphere and bullying, put policies in place that have real teeth. A zero-tolerance policy for workplace bullies, administered neutrally and enforced by D.C., would lead to an instant decrease in unacceptable behaviors and the resulting damage they cause.”

It’s No Joke

The first MED-directed mental health intervention that was provided in Tripoli after the Benghazi attacks on Sept. 11, 2012, was a video conference in April 2013, conveniently less than a week before the Director General arrived for a visit to Libya. Prior to that, the only service provided was a discussion with the nurse about “fostering resiliency” several months after the attack…hardly a useful assist.

The half-day course for those returning from hardship posts is a joke. I took it after my first (!) unaccompanied tour (UT), and both the instructor and some of the other students made fun of me for enrolling, since at the time my tour was seen as one of the “cupcake UTs,” without an active war going on outside the embassy walls. I refused to take the course after my second UT. No one from HR or my bureau asked if I’d taken it or even how I was doing after the second UT.

An RMO/P made fun of some of my coworkers in a high-stress, high-threat post that happened to be a popular destination for American tourists. He told them that they had no idea what serving in an actually difficult post was like, comparing it to the regional city where he was based. Never mind the fact that almost every person at that highly desirable but still challenging post got there via a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan.

I have neither respect for nor faith in MED’s mental health efforts. As long as MED is staffed with people who see mental health as an inconvenience, supported by State leadership (from the very top down) who barely pay lip service to mental health and a work-life balance, there’s no hope for anyone who suffers in the aftermath of an emotionally catastrophic tour abroad. At least there is solidarity among those who survived terrible times abroad.

Read in full the candid views from the filed via the Foreign Service Journal.

 

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Foreign Service Grievance Board Annual Report 2014 — Noteworthy Cases

Posted: 1:30  am EDT
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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.

Discipline

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.

EER/OPF/IER

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

Assignment

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?

Financial

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.

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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.

http://www.amazon.com/My-Mind-Different-Place-familys-ebook/dp/B00IHOCAC2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1392741948&sr=8-1&keywords=my+mind%2C+a+different+place

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.

Thanks,
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.

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

Here’s how VA explains PTSD:  Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur after you have been through a traumatic event. A traumatic event is something terrible and scary that you see, hear about, or that happens to you, like:

  • Combat exposure
  • Child sexual or physical abuse
  • Terrorist attack
  • Sexual or physical assault
  • Serious accidents, like a car wreck
  • Natural disasters, like a fire, tornado, hurricane, flood, or earthquake

During a traumatic event, you think that your life or others’ lives are in danger. You may feel afraid or feel that you have no control over what is happening around you. Most people have some stress-related reactions after a traumatic event; but, not everyone gets PTSD. If your reactions don’t go away over time and they disrupt your life, you may have PTSD.  Read more here.

The Department of Veterans Affairs also put together a PTSD screening online which has 17 questions on problems and complaints that veterans sometimes have in response to stressful military experiences. All references are to stressful military experience.  Click here to read each question carefully, then select the answer that indicates how much you have been bothered by that problem in the past month.

I don’t think I’m going bonkers but I took the screening anyway.  The portal says that no information is collected, stored or sent over the Internet. To ensure complete privacy, exit your web browser after completing the screening.

See the text-only version.

Results between 0 and 20 indicate few or no symptoms of PTSD. Results between 21 and 29 indicate minimal symptoms of PTSD. Results between 30 and 85 indicate many of the symptoms of PTSD.   The PTSD Screening is, however, careful to explain that it is not designed to provide a comprehensive assessment or diagnosis of PTSD:

“Only a qualified physician or mental health provider can provide a complete assessment and diagnosis of PTSD. Only a qualified physician or mental health professional can differentiate symptoms of PTSD from other medical conditions. Only a qualified physician or mental health provider can prescribe appropriate treatment for PTSD or other medical conditions.”

The State Department has its own  Four Question PTSD Screener and says, “If you have answered “yes” to three (3) items or more it is considered “positive” and your screening results are consistent with symptoms of PTSD.  Also that if the screening results suggested the need for further assessment/evaluation, to check out the following resources:

  • Visit a primary or mental health care provider.
  • If you are not sure about benefits or don’t have a primary care manager:
    Contact the Employee Consultation Service at MEDECS@state.gov or Call 202-663-1815.
  • Contact the Deployment Stress Management Program at MEDDSMP@state.gov or Call 202-663-1903.
  • Contact MHN Support Services are available through web, phone, and in-person.
    Internet: https://members.mhn.com/ company code: ‘unaccompanied tour’.
    Phone: Call toll free, 24/7 at 1-800-213-5811

As you can see, we tried that company code and it’s a dud.

Domani Spero