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Feature Story:

Caring for the Elderly

By Mette Beecroft
The author chaired the AAFSW elder care forum.

Caring for elderly family members can be challenging for anyone, but it's often even more so for Foreign Service members posted thousands of miles away. A recent Department forum focused on the elder care responsibilities shouldered by many Department employees.

Twelve panelists representing State and six other U.S. government agencies agreed that caring for elderly family members is a major concern and will become even more so in the future.

The problem, they said, is that some agencies are doing little to address the issue, and that interagency cooperation is necessary to provide the support many employees will need.

Those attending the forum, sponsored by the Association of American Foreign Service Women, agreed that the U.S. government can't be expected to establish and fund elder care programs. But they said the government can and should facilitate elder care provided by employees of federal agencies.

Edward W. "Skip" Gnehm, director general of the Foreign Service and director of Personnel, told participants at the forum that he has added elder care to his list of priority issues. He also has established an Elder Care Working Group to explore options to address elder care concerns.

Ambassador Gnehm told the forum that State should work to reduce the extra expenses employees overseas often incur for elder care responsibilities, to make them more in line with elder care expenses of employees who live and work in the United States.

Elder care has an institutional aspect as well, the director general pointed out, affecting employee retention. He said that if the Department doesn't take steps now to address elder care concerns, State could lose employees with valuable skills during the next 10 to 15 years.

The basic purpose of the elder care roundtable was to suggest ways the U.S. government might better support employees with elder care responsibilities. Elder care involves many complicated issues, some of which require time-consuming interagency discussion.

Among the issues discussed at the forum were financial dependency, separate maintenance allowances, salary advances, rest and recuperation travel, emergency visitation travel and access to e-mail and tie-lines for employees with elder care responsibilities, medical concerns, and a uniform policy regarding access to housing, commissaries, clubs and shuttles.

Help Offered for Seniors

The Senior Living Foundation of the American Foreign Service was established by the American Foreign Service Protective Association to help former Foreign Service members in need--financial or otherwise.

The foundation's resource center is dedicated to helping people get information about and help from community, state and federal resources. Jill Funk Chobanian, a licensed clinical social worker with extensive Foreign Service experience, reviews each case to determine the most appropriate resources for the individual. Assistance offered has ranged from volunteer visits to long-term care planning to advice on the legal maze of Medicaid.

In addition, the foundation is able to make small grants to help cover the cost of medical transportation, home health care, hearing aids and even durable medical equipment such as wheelchairs.

For more information, contact the American Foreign Service Protective Association at (202)833-4910 or by writing: AFSPA, 1716 N. Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036-2902.

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