Havana Syndrome Questions @StateDept Refuses to Answer

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The questions below were sent to the State Department on March 16, 2021 for Ambassador Pamela Spratlen, the newly designated  Senior Advisor to the Havana Syndrome Task Force (officially called  the Health Incident Response Task Force (HIRTF) .  She was appointed with direct reporting responsibility to the Department’s senior leadership. The State Department’s media arm confirmed receipt of these questions on March 17.
To-date, the State Department has not responded to these questions despite our follow-up. It looks like the PA leadership has fed our questions to their email-chewing doggo. Poor bow wow!!! PA folks still sore about this, hey? Inside @StateDept: Leaked Cable Provides Guidance For ‘America First’ Cost Savings Initiatives. Oh, dear!
Anyways. If you’re the unofficial kind and have some answers to these questions, please send your howlers here or via Twitter and we’ll get back to you. We’ll write as many follow-up posts as needed.

 

Task Force: 

—1. The State Department spokesperson said that there is an individual on the Health Incident Response Task Force (HIRTF) who is responsible solely for engaging with those who may have been victims of these incidents. The individual was not publicly named. I understand that the 41 recognized victims apparently also have no idea who this individual is or who are the members of the task force. Shouldn’t the State Department be transparent and name all the people on the task force? How do potential victims, (including spouses and foreign nationals) contact the individual tasked with engaging with them?
—2. The ARB Cuba report clearly demonstrates the botched response to these incidents in Havana. It was also an interim report. In addition, we have received allegations that the Department’s response to the incidents in China was much worse. Are there plans to convene an ARB for China? Is there a plan to expand the time frame and places of possible incidents covered in this investigation? We are aware of at least one case that occurred much earlier than December 2016. How many reported cases of mystery illness were excluded by State? With so many varied symptoms, and many unknowns, is it fair to rule out anyone without the full constellation of symptoms? How did the State Department determine that Patient Zero, widely reported to have been injured in December 2016, is really Patient Zero and not Patient Two, or Patient 10 or Patient 20? 
—3. What is the status of the implementation of the ARB Cuba recommendations?
—4. Can you confirm that the mystery illness has been reported domestically (WH staffer in Arlington, a couple at UPENN)?
—5. There were employee/s who suffered grievous treatment in the aftermath of these incidents (e.g. alleged retaliation, uncovered medical expenses). Is Amb Spratlen willing to meet with employees suffering from  medical and bureaucratic chaos brought about by these incidents?

 

National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Report:

—6. I recognized that there is new leadership at State but the HIRTF has been there since 2018. Why did State sit on the NAS report of August 2020 and only released it in December 2020? It is an unclassified report, so national security concerns should not have been an issue.
—7. Has the State Department accepted that the illness is due to microwave exposure? If so, how are employees protected from the next attacks? Why hasn’t State fully implemented the recommendations in the NAS report?

Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) and Bureau of Medical Services (MED)

—8. Why is Diplomatic Security still acting (and conducting searches in apartments) as if the cause could be toxic chemicals when NAS ruled out chemical exposure as a cause and pointed to the reported signs, symptoms and observations as consistent with the effects of directed, pulsed radio frequency (RF) energy?
—9. Why is Diplomatic Security still conducting briefings that “only one person was found by State/MED to be affected in China” when USG has officially diagnosed 15?
—10. How many employees who complained of unexplained illness to MED or DS were told to undergo psych evaluations or told to “get their act together” by the bureaus tasked with protecting their welfare? How many mystery illness were reported globally by employees, family members and local employees before State took them seriously?

 

3 FAM 3660 Implementation

—11. 3 FAM 3660 has been in the Foreign Affairs Manual since May 2020 but we’ve heard reports that State is blocking implementation of the prescribed benefits for employees from other agencies. Can you discuss where the responsibility for adjudicating cases under the provisions of 3 FAM 3660 falls? What is the processing time for requests made under these regulations for State and non-State employees? 
—12. There are numerous employees and family members as you know who still have symptoms but because they are not in the group of 41, they do not qualify for the 3 FAM 3660 provisions and therefore are on their own.  What are the treatment options for the hundreds of employees/family members who were medevaced but were not enrolled like the 41 cases in the UPenn study and designated by Department of Labor to get workers compensation benefits?
—13. How many foreign nationals connected with USG missions/residences where the attacks occurred reported similar symptoms as USG American employees and family members? What support and treatment options were available to them? 
—14. As you know, under 3 FAM 3660, a covered employee is an employee of the Department of State who, on or after January 1, 2016, becomes injured by reason of a qualifying injury and was assigned to a duty station in the Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, or another foreign country as designated by the Secretary of State. What other countries have been designated by the Secretary of State under 3 FAM 3666 to-date?  
—15. Members of the 41 officially diagnosed say State has caused irreparable harm with a “see no evil” response and just wants the problem to go away. Do you recognize the harm of State’s botched past response and lack of transparency?
—16. A” being the highest and “F” being failing, how would you grade the previous State Department leadership’s response to the health incidents?

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Related posts:

 

 

PSA: Do You Need Help?

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Via state.gov:

We strongly encourage you to get help and support from a trained mental health professional if you are:

  • Feeling sad or depressed most of the time for more than one week.
  • Feeling anxious or having distressing thoughts you can’t control most of the time for more than one week.
  • Having continuing difficulty working or meeting your daily responsibilities.
  • Having problems in your relationships, or trouble taking care of your family.
  • Increasing your use of alcohol or misuse prescription medications, street drugs, or using them to cope.
  • Having traumatic stress reactions that are not getting better as time passes.
  • Thinking about hurting or killing yourself.
  • Thinking about hurting or killing someone else.
  • Doing things to hurt yourself, like cutting or burning yourself.
  • You are extremely angry most of the time.
  • Other people are saying they’re concerned about you and think you should talk to someone.
  • You are having trouble sleeping most of the time.
  • You are experiencing changes in appetite (significant increase or decrease), most of the time or you’ve lost significant weight without meaning to.
If you are feeling suicidal or homicidal, it’s URGENT that you let someone know. You should seek help immediately by calling 911 or going to the closest emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you are overseas you should seek help immediately by calling or visit the health unit, your doctor or visit or call the Military Crisis Line  or a local Suicide Hotline .

It doesn’t have to be an emergency for you to benefit from talking with a professional. Professionals who have training and expertise in working with military personnel and those deployed to the combat environment can help you with several things:

  • Learn to manage your feelings and thoughts more effectively.
  • Learn to feel more comfortable talking to people in your daily life.
  • Learn to pursue goals that are important to you.
  • Learn to focus on the future.

Some reactions are very common in the first week or two following a traumatic event and, do not require in-person consultation with a counselor. Initially you may difficulties with normal activities and responsibilities, avoidance of situations, nervousness, or sleeping problems. If there is no improvement after the first weeks following a stressful or traumatic event, then face-to-face counseling should be strongly considered.

You may also want to consider counseling if:

  • The people close to you are not able to support you the way you need them to.
  • You are isolated or without close family or friends.
  • The traumatic experience feels so personal or sensitive (such as rape, assault, domestic violence, loss of a buddy, friendly-fire related incident) that you don’t feel comfortable or safe talking with anyone you may know.

Remember… 
Seeking counseling is not a sign of weakness; seeking support is a sign of strength. Talking to a counselor can improve your ability to help yourself.

If you’re not sure whether to seek counseling

Make an appointment for a consultation. This is not a contract for services. You can meet with a therapist and discuss if the services are right for you at this time. Remember that “shopping around” for a counselor is a perfectly acceptable thing to do; in fact many people recommend it.

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Inbox: Are there treatments that work? #HavanaSyndrome

Note: We received the note below from a Foreign Service employee who asked not to be identified. The sender gave us permission to publish this note as long as we remove potential identifying information related to specific posts and dates. We are wondering how many more out there similarly had to deal with a non-responsive  Bureau of Medical Services whose mission is “to promote and safeguard the health and well-being of America’s diplomatic community.” How many are in limbo about their condition? How many never heard from anyone about what the next steps should be?
–DS
I brought up my symptoms to the Health Unit (HU) where I was posted, and asked to receive an assessment for those symptoms even though my “attack” did not happen within the time frame specified in the Management Notice that went out via all HUs around the world. I was given the assessment, and several of my symptoms were identified as being similar to the Havana syndrome symptoms that began after my 26 months in Post Z (2008 – 2010): sudden onset of chronic insomnia, loss of smell, difficulty concentrating, and tinnitus/loss of hearing. The results of my assessment were sent to State/MED over a year ago, and I requested the HU at Post to indicate I would like a follow up. Since then I have had no communications from MED on this, despite having sent emails to various different persons in MED asking what the next steps were.  
I continue to have these symptoms. I was medevac’d from one post whose HU thought it was PTSD from Baghdad; I tried to explain I had been taking OTC sleep aids since 2009 in Post Z and that slowly but surely their efficacy had diminished. I thought I had just spontaneously developed the condition because of stress or pollution in Country Z. Unfortunately, the various symptoms have had a significant quality of life impact, both professionally and personally, and at this point I am very frustrated with State and MED for the lack of follow up. At the very least I would like to have additional assessments to see if my brain shows the patterns that our colleagues in Moscow, Havana, and Guangzhou also exhibit. I would also like to have available to me whatever resources are available from State to help work through some of these symptoms. Are there treatments that work? It would be great to get some relief.

 

 


 

 

@StateDept’s Mystery Illness: The “It Depends” Treatment of Injured Personnel

Via NYT:

According to a whistle-blower complaint filed by Mr. Lenzi, the State Department took action only after Ms. Werner’s visiting mother, an Air Force veteran, used a device to record high levels of microwave radiation in her daughter’s apartment. The mother also fell ill. That May, American officials held a meeting to reassure U.S. officers in Guangzhou that Ms. Werner’s sickness appeared to be an isolated case.
[…]
But Mr. Lenzi, a diplomatic security officer, wrote in a memo to the White House that his supervisor insisted on using inferior equipment to measure microwaves in Ms. Werner’s apartment, calling it a “check-the-box exercise.”

“They didn’t find anything, because they didn’t want to find anything,” Mr. Lenzi said.

He sent an email warning American diplomats in China that they might be in danger. His superiors sent a psychiatrist to evaluate him and gave him an official “letter of admonishment,” Mr. Lenzi said.

Months after he began reporting symptoms of brain injury, he and his family were medically evacuated to the University of Pennsylvania.
[…]

The State Department labeled only one China officer as having the “full constellation” of symptoms consistent with the Cuba cases: Ms. Werner, the first evacuee. In an internal letter, the department said 15 others in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing had some symptoms and clinical findings “similar to those” in Cuba, but it had not determined they were suffering from “Havana syndrome.”

Doctors at the University of Pennsylvania said they did not share individual brain scans with the State Department, so the government lacked necessary information to rule out brain injuries in China.

“It seems to me and my doctors that State does not want any additional cases from China,” Mr. Garfield wrote, “regardless of the medical findings.”

New @StateDept Bureau to Take $26 Million, Plus 98 Staffers From the Medical Services  Bureau

Updated 1:24 pm PDT 
We just learned that the Under Secretary for Management Brian Bulatao is pushing for the formation of a new bureau called Crisis and Contingency Response (CCR) under the Management umbrella. This would expand the “M” family to 14 bureaus and offices (including a more recent creation called Office of Management Strategy and Solutions (M/SS). 
We understand that Mr. Pompeo has formally signed off on this new office.  CCR will reportedly take $26 million funding from the Bureau of Medical Services (MED). It will also  pull 98 positions from MED and it will share EX and IT services with the Medical Services bureau.   
We also learned that the “7th floor loves Dr. Will Walters” because he and his Directorate of Operational Medicine are reportedly not only “providing OpMed flights during COVID, repatriation flights, logistics flights, but have also provided the Secretary with medical support during his travels.”
“Very sexy stuff, whereas what MED providers do is the more mundane day-to-day care of diplomats and their families overseas.”
Many medical providers are said to be up in arms about the rapid formation of this new Bureau — which happened in a span of just four months — with apparently no input from the field.
“Medical services to diplomats and their families abroad may suffer.”
We asked what are the potential consequences to MED and its patients, and we’re given a quick rundown by Sender A:
    • Since MED and the CCR Bureau share EX and IT, there is widespread concern that MED staffing and funding will be given short shrift in this new configuration.
    • What might happen is fewer FS medical providers whom MED is allowed to hire, leaving positions overseas unfilled.
    • Other critical “back office” functions in MED, if not supported by the new shared EX, might become understaffed.
    • If sections such as MED Foreign Programs (authorization and funding of Medevacs and hospitalizations, referrals to WDC medical providers) do not have sufficient staffing and funding, service to FSOs and EFMs abroad will certainly be noticed in terms of delayed or denied authorization and funding cables.
    • If the MED/GSO section does not receive sufficient funding/staffing, delivery of essential medications and vaccines will be delayed or nonexistent.
Our source said that a town hall was held last week concerning this new bureau.  Many medical providers reportedly submitted questions ahead of time, but “the vast majority of the one-hour time slot was taken up my monologues from Bill Todd and Will Walters.” 
Source added that “both were very good at smoothly blowing by the concerns raised by MED.”
We understand that Todd did not explain why a separate Bureau was being created, but almost everyone in MED apparently viewed this as “the ultimate bureaucratic power play.”
Bill Todd is the Deputy Under Secretary for Management (formerly Acting M, Acting DGHR going back to Tillerson’s fun times in Foggy Bottom).  He is awaiting committee and Senate vote to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan. Time’s running out. 
Dr. William Walters’ February 2020 bio posted in congress.gov says that he is a member of the Senior Executive Service (and former US Army medical officer). His bio says he is the Acting Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Operations and the Acting Executive Director for the Bureau of Medical Services. Further, it says that “As the Managing Director of Operational Medicine, Dr. Walters is responsible for the Office of Protective Medicine and the Office of Strategic Medical Preparedness and manages the care of the Secretary of State and traveling delegation while traveling abroad.”
The MED Bureau was last inspected by State/OIG in mid 2000 and the OIG issued a report in June 2006. So it is due for a new review. According to OIG, in 2006 (lordy, that’s 14 years ago!), MED had the following:

“192 health units in embassies and consulates abroad. MED’s direct-hire overseas staffing includes 45 regional medical officers (RMO), who are physicians, 16 regional psychiatrists, 72 health practitioners, 10 laboratory technicians, and three regional medical managers, supplemented by 250 locally employed staff. […] Overseas, MED serves patients from 51 U.S. government agencies. This patient population includes approximately 50,000 direct-hire employees and family members who are full beneficiaries of the program and about 70,000 locally employed staff, for whom MED provides treatment for on-the-job injury and illness. In 2004, there were 230,000 health unit visits and MED facilitated 635 medical evacuations to the United States and 350 medical evacuations to overseas centers.”

We understand that current staffing includes 250 Foreign Service Medical Specialists ( RMO, MP, RMLS, RMO/P) plus LNA nurses and Social Workers in some posts. MED’s workforce reportedly also includes around 1000 LES staff who work in health units abroad. This staffing number does not include the Civil Service employees working for MED in Washington, D.C.
Under current staffing, how many employees will be left at MED after 98 employees are pulled to staff the new CCR bureau?
What will be the direct consequences of gutting MED’s fund by $26million in order to fund the new CCR bureau?
What is the rational justification for creating a new bureau like CCR separate from MED? Why now? Is this a case of strike now why the iron is hot, there may not be another mass evacuation due to a pandemic soon?
What is the issue with keeping the Directorate of Operational Medicine as the arm for crisis and contingency response under MED? 
Why are they calling this the Crisis and Contingency Response (CCR) Bureau and not the Medical Crisis and Contingency Response (MCCR) Bureau, hmmmn? Will this new bureau be headed by an assistant secretary level appointee subject to Senate confirmation?
Hey, wait, wait a minute –is some hombre considering this new bureau as the crisis and contingency response lead in medical and non-medical crisis? The name is kind of a tell.  We’d like to hear the big picture, tell us more.
You know, we’ve heard of the Crisis Management and Strategy arm that’s operating out of Ops Center for decades. They do great work. We’ve never heard those folks start a new bureau.
Update 1:24 pm PDT: 
It looks like the State Department needs to send Congressional notification to create a new bureau. In May 2019, the State Department merged the Bureaus of Public Affairs (PA) and International Information Programs (IIP) to create the new Bureau of Global Affairs. That merger did not happen overnight:
“In the summer of 2018, a task force of PA and IIP colleagues collaborated with bureaus and offices Department-wide to design a proposal for the new merged bureau. Extensive consultation with Congress as well as key leaders and organizations both inside and outside of the Department continued throughout 2018 and early 2019. Following State Department approval and congressional notification, the new Bureau of Global Public Affairs became a reality in May 2019.”
So how fast do you think State can do all that and its congressional notification obligation for this new entity? 
It’s 13 days, 8 hours, 31 minutes to Election Day. Go VOTE!

@StateDept Spent Millions on AutoInjectors to Counteract Nerve Agent Exposure, Guess What Happened?

WaPo’s Jon Swaine has an investigative piece on a $120 million State Department contract on a treatment for nerve agent poisoning. According to the report, WaPo has “obtained internal company records, reviewed emails from Emergent staffers and government officials, and interviewed nine people involved in making, selling or buying the Trobigard injectors.”
WARNING! This will get you mad.

“In June 2017, a director of regulatory affairs at the government contractor Emergent BioSolutions told colleagues that she objected to claims the company was making in a brochure for one of its newer products: a drug injector for victims of exposure to nerve agents.

“Functionality testing has not been successful in this device,” Brenda Wolling wrote in comments obtained by The Washington Post. Regarding a claim that the injector was designed to withstand “challenging operational and logistical conditions,” she wrote, “No testing ever conducted.” Even to describe the product as a “treatment of nerve agent poisoning,” Wolling wrote, “implies that we have efficacy data showing it works.”

Three months later, the Trump administration awarded Emergent a $20 million no-bid contract to supply those very injectors to the State Department. The firm later received a second contract, worth up to $100 million, to supply the agency with more of the injectors — sold under the name Trobigard — and related treatments.”

Apparently, the State Department told Emergent that it had obtained a legal opinion from the FDA’s general counsel saying the department could buy Trobigard for use by U.S. diplomats overseas, citing a company record. The report says, the company “has not sought approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — a circumstance that bars the product’s sale in the United States.”

“By September 2017, State Department officials were increasingly alarmed at chemical weapons use by the Syrian regime and the Islamic State and were anxious to boost protections for U.S. diplomats. The agency gave Emergent a one-year contract worth $20.5 million to supply auto-injectors. Under the deal, Emergent delivered 456,845 auto-injectors — enough to provide several for each of 58,000 Foreign Service officers and local employees overseas.

No bid competition was held, on the grounds that there was “unusual and compelling urgency” after Pfizer’s production halt, according to contract records. The injectors were needed to protect officials who “operate in countries with active and/or assumed chemical [redacted] programs,” the records show.
[…]
Emergent’s 2017 deal with the State Department entailed a sharp increase in spending by the department above earlier plans. In August 2015, the department had been preparing to pay Meridian $750,000 per year for five years to replace expiring devices, according to records of an abandoned deal.”

The company-funded study in the Netherlands tested the drugs on guinea pigs exposed to sarin gas. That’s right guinea pigs.

“Six weeks after the State Department signed the deal, Emergent’s first study of Trobigard’s drugs was completed. The company-funded study in the Netherlands tested the drugs on guinea pigs exposed to sarin gas and recorded positive findings. As they published their work in a scientific journal, the study’s authors warned that the results “cannot be directly extrapolated to the human situation.”

Can the embattled OIG still take this on as a special project? Can House Foreign Affairs (HFAC) or House Oversight Committee (HORC) take a look?

“In July, Emergent leaders ordered that Trobigard sales materials be scrapped and that the device be moved to a portion of the company’s website that lists products in development, the company confirmed. They also told staffer to make sure all future sales materials for Trobigard were approved by the company’s medical, legal and regulatory departments.

Emergent put together evidence that all injectors bought by the State Department were safe, former employees said. Government officials ultimately agreed. In September 2019, the State Department authorized the payment of a $10 million contract installment to Emergent.”

You need to read this in full. A State Department “no comment” is not acceptable.

Extracted data below from SAM.gov, the new fedbiz, with links to the contracts. Are there more that we’ve missed?

EMERGENT COUNTERMEASURES INTERNATIONAL LTD

  • Unique Entity ID (DUNS)220984617
  • CAGE CodeU1C03
  • AddressBUILDING 3, LONDON, W4 5YA

Registration

  • Expiration Date Jun 23, 2021
  • Purpose of Registration All Awards
  • Debt Subject to Offset  No

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FSGB Case: When “there were no mitigating circumstances” considered despite conditions identified by MED

 

Via FSGB: FSGB Case No. 2019-034, July 2, 2020
Held – The Board found that the Department of State (the “Department” or “agency”) did not establish cause to separate the charged employee from the Foreign Service because the Deciding Official (“DO”) did not consider evidence of his personality problems as a mitigating circumstance. The Board was persuaded by evidence in the record that the agency should exercise its authority to initiate, as an alternative to separation, the option of a disability retirement, pursuant to 3 FAM 6164.3(a).
Case Summary – The Department charged the employee with Improper Personal Conduct based upon a pattern of unprofessional and inappropriate conduct toward colleagues, primarily hundreds of unwanted emails and text messages with sexual content. The Department’s Bureau of Medical Services (“MED”) had conducted a mental health evaluation of the charged employee and concluded that “to a reasonable degree of certainty,” the charged employee exhibited “behavior or symptoms (which may not rise to the level of formal diagnosis) of an emotional, mental or personality condition that may impair his reliability, judgment or trustworthiness.” The DO determined that the charged employee committed the charged offenses and that there were no mitigating circumstances. In finding no mitigating circumstances, the DO attested in the separation hearing that she did not take into consideration either the charged employee’s emotional, mental or personality condition that MED identified or the charged employee’s emails to coworkers that included references to his communications with divine beings as well as references to his own possible mental illness. The DO notified the charged employee of her proposal to separate him from the Foreign Service and provided him the opportunity to reply in person or in writing. The DO recommended separating the charged employee to promote the efficiency of the Service. The charged employee did not respond in person or in writing to the DO’s notification of her proposal to separate him from the Service recommendation or participate in the separation hearing. The Board found the Department did not establish cause to separate the charged employee because the DO did not consider the so-called Douglas Factor #11 on the agency’s checklist that relates to mitigating circumstances surrounding personality problems, and did not exercise the agency’s authority under 3 FAM 6164.3(a) to initiate a disability retirement on behalf of the charged employee as an alternative to disciplinary action.

[…]

We do not claim medical or psychological expertise, but, in our perusal of the record, we found indicators that the charged employee was described as exhibiting personality problems, and possibly more serious mental impairment or illness, from the emails and text messages he sent to former colleagues. For example, in specification 84, the charged employee is charged with offering to help Ms. B draft a complaint and get himself fired and committed to a mental hospital for the rest of his life. Also, in specifications 86 and 87, respectively, the charged employee is alleged to have first made reference to someone wanting him to commit suicide, then later noted asking God if his wife would commit suicide and informing Ms. D that the Virgin Mary told him to inform Ms. D that he knew she was worried that he might kill himself. Further, the charged employee displayed unusual behavior when he emailed Ms. B on June 6, 2017 at 8:31 p.m. that he had declined to see a psychiatrist before consulting attorneys about his options to file a lawsuit.11 That suggests the possibility that someone raised with the charged employee the matter of seeking a psychological consultation or examination.
In addition, DS ROI #1 included a statement by the charged employee’s wife that she believed her husband suffered from mental impairment, requiring medical treatment. The record further contains evidence, according to the spouse, that MED had conducted a thorough mental health evaluation of the charged employee on four separate dates. Similarly, DS ROI #2 concluded that the charged employee had expressed that he heard voices and instructions from God, the Devil, and the Virgin Mary. (See Specifications 6-8, 25, 29, 38, 76 and 87).
[…]
In the instant case, while the agency has provided credible evidence that the charged employee’s conduct does not promote the efficiency of the Service, we find the decision falls short on consideration of so-called Douglas Factor #11 on the agency’s checklist that relates to personality problems as a mitigating factor. We also credit the charged employee’s 19 years of distinguished service before his display of conduct that gave rise to the LOR and the proposal to separate him from the Service.12
Moreover, the Board is unaware of a requirement that a DO must be privy to private medical information or be a medical professional to initiate an application for disability retirement. To the contrary, under 3 FAM 6164.2-3, HR/ER, in consultation with MED, can initiate an application for disability retirement on behalf of an employee if, inter alia, 1) the agency has issued a proposal to remove the employee, 2) the agency has a reasonable basis to conclude that illness may be the cause of the employee’s conduct which renders him unable to work satisfactorily, or 3) the employee is incompetent and there is no guardian willing to file an application on the employee’s behalf. The existence of any one of these three conditions is sufficient for the agency to initiate an action for disability retirement, and the Board finds that the conditions in 1) and 2), supra, are apparent in this case.
Accordingly, the Board is of the view that the agency has not considered all mitigating factors before recommending separation for cause and has not exercised its authority to initiate, as an alternative to separation, the option of a disability retirement for the charged employee where grounds for such a retirement are apparent on the record. Pursuant to 3 FAM 6164.3(a), MED then would determine whether the charged employee is incapacitated for useful and efficient service, which is the standard for disability retirement.

US Mission Saudi Arabia Now on Voluntary Evacuation After COVID-19 Cases Leaked #HoldOn

On Monday,  June 29, 2020, the State Department issued an updated Travel Advisory for Saudi Arabia announcing that on Wednesday, June 24, it authorized the voluntary evacuation of nonemergency personnel and family members from the US Mission in Saudi Arabia. This includes Embassy Riyadh, and the consulates general in Jeddah and Dhahran. The order was issued “due to current conditions in Saudi Arabia associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

On June 24, 2020, the Department of State authorized the departure of non-emergency U.S. personnel and family members from the U.S. Mission to Saudi Arabia, which is comprised of the Embassy in Riyadh and the Consulates General in Jeddah and Dhahran, due to current conditions in Saudi Arabia associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Apparently, dozens of mission employees got sick last month, and many more were quarantined. A third country national working as a driver for the mission’s top diplomats had reportedly died. The Embassy’s Emergency Action Committee “approved the departure for high risk individuals” but the State Department “denied” the request advising post  “to do whatever it can to hold on until the Covid problem improves.”
Whatthewhat? Hold on is the plan?
Also that “more recently, officials on the embassy’s emergency action committee recommended to Mr. Abizaid that most American employees should be ordered to evacuate, with only emergency personnel staying. Mr. Abizaid has not acted on that.”
Reminds us of what happened at some posts back in March (Is @StateDept Actively Discouraging US Embassies From Requesting Mandatory Evacuations For Staff? #CentralAsia? #Worldwide?). COVID-19 Pandemic Howler: “No one in DC, to include S, gives AF about AF”.  More recently, reports of COVID-19 cases at US Embassy Kabul (US Embassy Kabul: As Many as 20 People Infected With COVID-19 (Via AP).  Where else?

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@StateDept Suspends All PCS Travel Through May 31

A couple weeks ago, the State Department issued a guidance cable to all Department personnel concerning permanent change of station (PCS) travel and home leave through May 31, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Citing the “myriad uncertainties” and “travel and logistics restrictions”, the State Department  suspended all overseas and domestic PCS travel with very limited exceptions, effective through May 31. Transition from one Washington, D.C. assignment to another does not appear to be affected by this suspension.
This PCS suspension will reportedly be reviewed on May 20 and that this “period may be extended if the situation does not improve.”
The guidance says that exceptions to the suspension of PCS travel may be considered for certain employees like those on curtailments related to health, or mission critical employees (approved by bureau assistant secretary for certain countries, or by the Under Secretary for Management for CDC Level 3 countries or State Department Travel Advisory for Health Level 4 countries), or employees on direct to post transfers.
Diplomatic Security and medical personnel are considered mission critical and those employees are reportedly expected to PCS to their next overseas assignment, unless the Chief of Mission (COM) at the receiving post determines that “health and safety issues outweigh security concerns and prevents their arrival to post.” DS personnel are also told that they should be ready to remain at Post beyond their tour end-date if deemed necessary by their Chiefs of Mission.
The guidance encouraged employees to take their home leave between domestic and overseas assignments. At the conclusion of the home leave, employees are told to “be prepared to telework for their onward assignment at their home leave location.” The guidance further says that all employees are expected to work with their onward post and/or bureau to be assigned suitable duties for telework/remote work following Department protocols. Reiterating a prior cable, the guidance explains what supervisor can grant “weather and safety leave” to U.S. Direct Hires for those regular duty hours for which there is insufficient remote work to assign.
Additional guidance is reportedly expected to be published in the near future.