Contra Juan Cole

A reader writes:

I certainly don’t blame any foreign service officer for not wanting to go to Baghdad, but Juan Cole’s assertion that State Department employees “cannot easily get good life insurance that covers death from war,” and that their families “are in danger of being reduced to dire poverty if they are killed,” are without any factual basis.

I’m a federal employee (and non-practicing attorney) who has 16 years experience working with workers compensation and other employee benefits and entitlements. After 9/11, I provided benefits counseling to the survivors of the attack on the Pentagon. So I know what I’m talking about, and plainly, Juan Cole doesn’t on these matters.

The Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA) is the federal workers’ compensation statute administered by the Department of Labor that covers all federal civilian employees, including those at State.  It provides very generous benefits to survivors of employees’ killed in the line of duty, which of course would include a terrorist attack in Iraq.  Under the FECA a surviving spouse with minor children receives 75% of the employee’s salary tax free, so actually the spouse’s “take home” pay is often greater than when the employee was alive.   These benefits are reduced when the surviving children reach adulthood, but the spouse is eligible for 66% of the employee’s tax free wages, plus annual inflation adjustments, until he/she remarries or dies.  The FECA also provides for compensation for funeral expenses.

The Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) Program provides basic life insurance protection to all federal civilian employees automatically, unless the employee waives coverage.  The cost is minimal to the employee, and the basic benefit is slightly more than one years’ salary.  Many federal employees also elect more generous life insurance plans (which pay up to five times the employee’s annual salary).  These are available to State Department employees, and there are no exclusions based death in a war zone.

Under the Foreign Service Act, the State Department may also authorize payment of a “death gratuity” equal to one year’s salary to survivors of employees’ killed in the performance of duty.   A surviving spouse would also receive any unpaid wages and leave due to the employee, as well as the balance of the employee’s federal Thrift Savings Plan (i.e., the federal government’s equivalent to a 401(k) account).

What other facts doesn’t he bother to check?