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Flu Shots Fall Victim to the Sequester

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Early October marks the beginning of flu season.

For thousands of civilians in the Air Force, this could be a stuffy, fever-y couple of months. Due to budget constraints, the Air Force will no longer offer free influenza shots to non-military employees. In 2012, about 12,000 civilians received the free flu vaccines.

For the past two years, Air Force Materiel Command has provided flu shots for all employees free of charge. Approximately 20 percent of the civilian workforce took advantage of the program. Now, only TRICARE beneficiaries will receive the free shots. The Air Force will instead invest in programs like the Civilian Health Promotion Services, which provide health education classes and screening programs.

"In the past, [Air Force Materiel Command] has offered both the flu vaccine and wellness programs because civilian health and wellness is an important factor that supports our command mission," Col. James King, the AFMC command surgeon, told the AFMC public affairs office. "Unfortunately, limited resources required us to prioritize and ultimately fund broader health programs that provide more resources for the total health of our civilian workforce."

The Air Force is encouraging civilians not covered by TRICARE to “contact their private health care providers to get a flu shot.”

Job Security

In 1994, President Clinton signed The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act, a law designed to ensure individuals who leave their civilian jobs for military deployments can retain those jobs upon their return.

In July of 2012, President Obama issued an executive order to strengthen the protections for individuals who have performed uniformed service.

On Tuesday, the Office of Personnel Management issued guidance for implementing these new protections for employees about to deploy or returning to federal civilian service. OPM advised federal agencies to identify the employees who have an obligation to the military that may result in active duty activation, develop continuity plans to ensure a smooth transition of responsibilities, keep deployed employees abreast of major agency activities and provide training for deployed employees to maintain skills.

Upon their return, agencies should reduce the stress of reintegrated employees by hosting “welcome back” celebrations and allowing returning workers to boast about their deployment to co-workers, OPM said. Managers should communicate performance expectations and use new skill sets the employees pick up while deployed, the guidance stated.

OPM called on agencies to train human resources professionals and hiring managers on USERRA requirements, and to educate employees eligible for active duty activation of the rights to which they are entitled. It also advised agencies to improve  data to track deployed and deployable employees, as well as the number of claims filed against each agency for noncompliance with the law. 

Eric Katz joined Government Executive in the summer of 2012 after graduating from The George Washington University, where he studied journalism and political science. He has written for his college newspaper and an online political news website and worked in a public affairs office for the Navy’s Military Sealift Command. Most recently, he worked for Financial Times, where he reported on national politics.

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