Inbox: Munich Security Conference – Coronavirus Policy #Covid19

We got this recently in our inbox. The Munich Security Conference was Feb 14, 2020 – Feb 16, 2020. Sender A notes that this was written anonymously for fear of retribution:

Although CDC website states, “For the general American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus, the immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV is considered low at this time,” there is nothing “general” about the Munich Security Conference [MSC] and its Corornavirus policy. 

Multiple congressional delegations and US senior officials will spend 2-4 days in a small, tightly-packed hotel with over 1,000 people (imagine a small cruise ship) at the Bayerischer Hof – the MSC venue.  All the while, this venue is open to participants coming directly from China and participants who may have recently traveled to China.  Given the prestige around attending MSC, it would be naive to assume that none of the MSC participants downplayed their travels to and around China simply to secure entry into Germany.

If anyone from the USG contracts the coronavirus as a result of attending MSC, will they be eligible for workers compensation? High level USG officials had a choice to attend or not attend MSC (and thereby risk contracting coronavirus); the staff they dragged along not so much.  Will US citizens who attend this conference, including all senators, be tested for coronavirus upon arrival into the US? Or do the rest of us have to hope they don’t inadvertently bring this virus back with them? 

Perhaps it is time for State Department’s Office of Medical Service to publish its so-called assessment of MSC/coronavirus risk.  The one that was passed around to everyone.  To say it utterly failed to take into account the impact of working in close quarters over multiple days in an enclosed space that welcomes participants who have just come from or recently traveled to China is an understatement.  Considering this virus spreads even when a carrier has no symptoms, if a similar event is to take place on US soil, does the State Department plan to hand out travel waivers to all foreign government officials who have just come from or recently traveled to China?

Spending Bill Includes Benefits For USG Employees & Dependents Injured While Serving in China and Cuba

 

On December 16, 2019, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) announced that she has secured long-term, emergency care for U.S. Government employees & dependents who were injured while serving in China & Cuba: 

Long-term Emergency Care for U.S. Government Employees & Dependents Injured while Serving in China and Cuba

Shaheen successfully secured language to provide long-term, emergency care benefits for injured U.S. Government employees—and their dependents—who served overseas. Currently, a group of over 40 employees have been designated by the U.S. Government as suffering injuries as a result of a hostile action or health incident while serving in China and Cuba. This provision would provide for their prescribed care, as well as the care of their injured dependents, if their insurance or worker’s compensation benefits fall short.

In March, CBS 60 Minutes reported on the first-hand accounts of the diplomats serving in China who have experienced these alarming health conditions and the disturbing lack of care and support from the U.S. government, despite the fact that their symptoms appear to match those of U.S. diplomats who were working in Havana, Cuba. The 60 Minutes report featured a letter from Senator Shaheen to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requesting that the State Department “re-examine the cases from China … and provide all injured personnel with equal access to treatment, leave and benefits.”

Senator Shaheen’s provision would authorize the State Department to provide the following:

    • Long-term, emergency care benefits to federal employees that were injured as a part of their duties in China and Cuba;
    • Allow dependents of these employees to receive benefits if their primary insurance denies their claims; and
    • Would also allow USG employees to receive compensation if their injuries preclude them from working a full work schedule.
Per Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020
Under TITLE IX—OTHER MATTERS | SEC. 901. SPECIAL RULES FOR CERTAIN MONTHLY WORKERS’ COMPENSATION PAYMENTS AND OTHER PAYMENTS FOR DEPARTMENT OF STATE PERSONNEL UNDER CHIEF OF MISSION AUTHORITY:
Under ADJUSTMENT OF COMPENSATION FOR CERTAIN 21 INJURIES.— 

The Secretary of State may pay an additional monthly monetary benefit, provided that the covered employee is receiving benefits under section 8105 or 8106 of title 5, United States Code, and may determine the amount of each monthly monetary benefit amount by taking into account— (A) the severity of the qualifying injury; (B) the circumstances by which the covered employee became injured; and (C) the seniority of the covered employee, particularly for purposes of compensating for lost career growth.

Under COSTS FOR TREATING QUALIFYING INJURIES.—

The Secretary of State may pay the costs of or reimburse for diagnosing and treating— (1) a qualifying injury of a covered employee for such costs, that are not otherwise covered by chapter 81 of title 5, United States Code, or other provision of Federal law; or (2) a covered individual, or a covered dependent, for such costs that are not otherwise covered by Federal law.

Under QUALIFYING INJURY.—

The term ‘‘qualifying injury’’ means the following: (A) With respect to a covered dependent, an injury incurred—  (i) during a period in which the covered dependent is accompanying an employee to an assigned duty station in the Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, or another foreign country designated by the Secretary of State pursuant to subsection (f); (ii) in connection with war, insurgency, hostile act, terrorist activity, or other incident designated by the Secretary of State …

(B) With respect to a covered employee or a covered individual, an injury incurred—  (i) during a period of assignment to a duty station in the Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, or another country designated by the Secretary of State pursuant to subsection (f);  (ii) in connection with war, insurgency, hostile act, terrorist activity, or other incident designated by the Secretary of State; and…

Under APPLICATION.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—This section shall apply with respect to— (A) payments made to covered employees (as defined in such section) under section 8105 or 8106 of title 5, United States Code, beginning on or after January 1, 2016; and (B) diagnosis or treatment described in subsection (b) occurring on or after January 1, 23 2016.

Under REGULATIONS.—

Not later than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall— (1) prescribe regulations ensuring the fair and equitable implementation of this section; and (2) submit to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives such regulations.

Under this bill, the Secretary of State may also designate another foreign country for the purposes of this section, provided that the Secretary reports such designation to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives, and includes in such report a rationale for each such designation.

 

 

Wait, they want an employee to “prove causation” for a mystery illness?

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U.S. Embassy Havana: Doctors Identify Brain Abnormalities in Cuba Attack Patients

Posted: 1:10 am ET

 

AND NOW THIS —

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

— By Domani Spero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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