Special benefits procedures for terrorist victims and their families

President Bush on Thursday told federal agencies to excuse from duty employees who are unable to come to work or who are dealing with personal emergencies as a result of Tuesday's terrorist attacks in Washington and New York. He said this special leave should be granted provided the employees "can be spared from [their] usual responsibilities." Bush made the same request on behalf of employees needed for emergency law enforcement and relief and recovery efforts authorized by federal, state or local authorities. Federal employees who are members of the National Guard or military reserves are not included in Bush's order, as they already are eligible for military leave. Bush also directed the Office of Personnel Management and Labor Department to establish teams of specialists to assist with benefits and workers compensation claims for employees injured or killed in the attacks. The Labor Department has established special workers compensation procedures to provide direct assistance to employees affected by the attacks and their families. Labor will ensure the prompt payment of injury and death claims filed under the Federal Employees Compensation Act. Those with questions about filing workers compensation claims can call 1-866-999-3322. OPM has set up expedited claims processing for payments under the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance Program. Employees and surviving family members can call 724-794-2005 for assistance with those claims. Full information about benefits related to disasters is available in the 19-page booklet, "Work-Related Injuries and Fatalities: What You and Your Family Need to Know About Your Benefits," on the Web at: http://www.opm.gov/asd/pdf/ri84-002.pdf. The Defense Department has set up a Pentagon Family Assistance Center for surviving family members of those killed in the Pentagon attack: 1-800-769-3988. Callers will be briefed, receive counseling and told what benefits they are entitled to receive and how to apply for them, according to Maj. Cynthia Colin, a Pentagon spokeswoman. "The best first place for federal employees and their families to go for benefits information is the agency that employed them," said Ed Flynn, OPM associate director for retirement and insurance. "In New York, on the basis of the information I have, it seems fairly clear people should be able to be in touch with their agencies," he added. "There were federal employees killed and injured; we don't have the exact numbers yet. Everything I've heard indicates it was not a substantial number." "We've been getting a few calls [from injured employees and employees' families], but the agencies have been getting most of them," Flynn said. He added that OPM has suspended the requirement that survivors provide a death certificate in order to claim an employee's life insurance benefits under the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance Program. "We're all geared up and will handle [claims] very, very quickly," he said, adding that survivors should receive FEGLI benefits within a week to 10 days after applying. The President directed OPM to set up an emergency leave transfer program to aid employees affected by the attacks. The new program will allow employees to donate unused annual leave to employees of any agency who have been affected by the attacks and need additional time off. In a separate memorandum, OPM Director Kay Coles James explained that, under the emergency program, leave recipients need not have exhausted their own accrued annual and sick leave and that the use of donated leave is not restricted to medical emergencies. Forms for donating and receiving leave under the emergency program are available at: http://www.opm.gov/oca/leave/. James directed agency heads to determine how much donated leave is needed by their employees, approve leave donors and recipients, and facilitate distribution of donated leave from approved donors to approved recipients within their agencies. OPM will coordinate the governmentwide transfer of donations among agencies should the amount of leave donated by their own employees not be sufficient. James also urged agencies to pay higher rates of premium pay to employees performing emergency work related to the attacks. Employees whose work is related to emergencies posing a threat to life or property must be paid under the annual limitation of GS-15, Step 10, rather than the GS-15, Step 10 biweekly limitation. Agency heads are required to determine as soon as practical whether an emergency exists that would entitle employees to the higher rates and to make the entitlement effective as of the first day of the pay period during which the emergency began. Flynn said OPM sent a letter Sept. 12 to all insurers in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program advising them that some attack victims may be federal employees, retirees and family members covered under FEHBP. The letter asked insurers to be "particularly sensitive to claims filed as a result of this tragedy." OPM also asked the companies to be flexible, for example, in relaxing pre-certification provisions requiring notification and setting limits on benefit payments when victims were taken to non-plan or non-PPO hospitals or treatment centers. OPM also provides advice for managers in handling events such as Tuesday's in "Handling Traumatic Events: A manager's Guide," available at http://www.opm.gov/ehs/traugdpg.htm.
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