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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Health Care Scam, Scholarships, Flu Shots and More

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It's time for your flu shot. It's time for your flu shot. Image Point Fr/Shutterstock.com

It’s that time of year. Americans lose 17 million workdays to the flu annually; the Office of Personnel Management doesn’t want you to be one of them. OPM Director Katherine Archuleta sent a memo to agency heads earlier this month urging all feds to get a flu shot. Many agencies offer them onsite at no or low cost. Even if your office doesn’t offer flu shots, that’s no excuse. “Most FEHB plans cover flu shots at pharmacies and retail stores in addition to doctor’s offices and clinics.  As a plus, the whole family can be immunized at these locations,” Archuleta notes.

In addition to urging flu shots, managers should review telework programs, employee contact information and contingency operation plans, just in case. And by all means, encourage frequent hand washing and remind sick employees to stay home, Archuleta said.

Beware Medicare ‘Vendor’ Calls

Don’t fall for a caller claiming to represent a Medicare vendor who wants to send you a back brace, Defense officials are warning TRICARE beneficiaries.

“The caller may have specific information that makes the call seem official, typically your address, phone numbers and doctor’s name. The caller is hoping this will convince you they are a legitimate vendor and that you will give them your Social Security number and additional personal information,” officials said.

If you get one of these calls, don’t give any of your personal identifiable information, such as birth date, Social Security number or banking information -- “TRICARE never asks beneficiaries for this information when calling for an official Department of Defense survey,” officials said.

The Defense Health Agency’s Program Integrity Office is closely monitoring the situation. To report fraud, visit, www.TRICARE.mil/fraud.

‘Feds Helping Feds’

The Veterans Affairs Department has expanded eligibility criteria for Fry Scholarships to surviving spouses of service members who died in the line of duty (previously the scholarship was open only to the children of those military personnel).  

The scholarship was created to honor Sgt. John David Fry, 28, of Lorena, Texas, who was killed in Iraq with just one week remaining in his tour when he volunteered to continue disarming bombs in Anbar Province, despite his own injuries. He left behind a widow and three young children.

Awardees of the scholarship will receive to up to 36 months of the full Post-9/11 GI Bill, which includes a tuition-and-fee payment, a monthly housing allowance and stipend for books and supplies. Some spouses currently eligible for or already receiving benefits under the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance program may now be eligible for the Fry Scholarship.

VA will identify surviving spouses eligible for both programs and send them a letter with comparative information on the benefits available and instructions on how make an election. More information is available at www.benefits.va.gov/gibill or through the VA call center (888-GIBILL-1).

VA will begin accepting applications by mail on Monday, Nov. 3.  

In other scholarship news, the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund awarded $451,525 to 371 students (47 employees and 324 family members). Awards ranged from $500 to $5,000, with an average award of $1,000.  

“For 27 of FEEA’s 28 years, we have been providing merit-based scholarships to federal employees and their family members, now totaling over $12.5 million dollars to more than 9,500 students,” said FEEA Executive Director Steve Bauer. “FEEA’s scholarship program is an excellent example of ‘feds helping feds’ all across the country and around the world.”

The Pay Gap

We know you’re probably not in federal service for the money, but in case you need to be reminded, federal employees on average now earn 35.2 percent less than their private-sector peers, according to the latest data analyzed by the Federal Salary Council. The council released its report on Friday, showing the pay gap -- which has widened over the last several years -- is about the same as last year’s 35.4 percent gulf.

That’s almost as much as the bump most feds heading to West Africa to fight Ebola will receive in bonus pay. But that’s only after they’ve served 42 days in the region.

At least temporary and seasonal federal workers will soon have access to health insurance. The new policy means employees who are scheduled to work at least 130 hours in a calendar month and work at least 90 days will be eligible for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program by January 2015. Some temporary employees -- those with more than one year of service -- are currently able to participate in the health care program, but do not qualify for a government contribution.

(Image via Image Point Fr/Shutterstock.com)

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