Monday, May 19, 2008

Hardship Posts

Diplopundit had a good piece yesterday on a piece I saw in FS Voice (see page 9) in the Foreign Service Journal the other day called "Thanks for Your Service...Now, Here's Your Pay Cut," about a family who got their hardship pay reduced in Beijing, because, among other things, their air quality had improved (!). This of course was after the FS spouse had lost the hearing in one ear because of a "mystery virus" that the medical care system there couldn't diagnose and treat properly and after her husband had developed respiratory problems.

[...] before FS critics jump up and down on this, and accuse FS folks of “whining,” again, I’d like to highlight a couple of significant health consequences of this specific hardship assignment for the Gormans:

“In October, my previously healthy husband developed severe breathing troubles. A lifelong runner, he began wheezing as he climbed the stairs; at night, it sounded like he was drowning in his sleep. He was initially diagnosed with reactive airway disease and then a severe sinus infection. After an inhaler, steroid and some four to five courses of antibiotics, his condition improved. But only after a trip to Hong Kong, where the air is cleaner, did his symptoms subside.

“[…] I caught a mysterious virus that caused me to go deaf in one ear. The doctors in Beijing weren’t equipped to handle the emergency, so I was medevaced to Hong Kong. There, doctors tried to restore my hearing, though warned that the odds were against me, given how much time had elapsed. Back home in the States, or at a post that was more medically advanced, I would have been able to get treatment at the ER within hours, improving my odds. Here, not so. I’m now permanently deaf in one ear. Then again, as a colleague pointed out, “I suppose that’s one of the reasons you get hardship pay over there.”

We pick hardship assignments (at least, I think most of us do) not to toughen our kids or to test if our spouses and partners love us enough to put up with the highs and lows of life overseas. We pick hardship assignments fully expecting, well, hardships, and the additional compensation of 5-35 percent over basic compensation to make up for those hardships. Why? Because like you and your neighbors, we are regular people with mortgage and bills to pay, kids to send to college, and retirements to plan for life after the Service. Perhaps the independently wealthy would not be too concerned with things like these, but there are not a whole lot of them in this Foreign Service.

We knock on wood, and we keep fingers crossed because we realized that picking a hardship assignment is always a roll of a dice. Dr. John Kellogg says that “health is wealth is a trite maxim, the truth of which everyone (only) appreciates best after having suffered a disease.” After contracting various illnesses and collecting worldwide available parasites, I think we all certainly learn to appreciate the "health is wealth" maxim but we also often bet that we’d come out at least even, with all our loved ones’ appendages and parts still working, as we survive another hardship assignment. Would anyone of us willingly go to a place if we know that we’re going to get permanent deafness in exchange for it? How much does an ear cost, that is, if you still have it but it's no longer functional? I don't think there is a "numerical weight" for this, most especially for the unemployed trailing partner.

You can read Diplopundit's entire piece here

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