- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A hunk, a chunk or a drunk! Those are pretty much the makeover options facing feds posted to Iraq or other dangerous hot spots.

The public image of Americans posted overseas is that of diplomats in black tie attending endless cocktail parties and dinners. While there is some of that in plush posts, the majority of Americans assigned to jobs in Asia, Latin America and Africa face varying degrees of real danger, including death.

The hunk-chunk-drunk mantra refers to U.S. civilians — both federal and contract — assigned to Iraq and Afghanistan where even the so-called Green Zone in Baghdad isn’t very safe.

Many of the overseas feds routinely work 12-hour plus days. In their spare time, there isn’t much sightseeing available. Their choices are working out, eating or drinking before going to bed.

“Fortunately for me, and for him, my husband went over sort of a hunk and came back a definite hunk,” says the military wife of a Justice Department employee detailed to Baghdad. He shared a small air-conditioned trailer with another civilian employee, she said. They ate sparingly and then “hit the gym, a lot,” she said.

Although most Americans think State Department when they think about working abroad, the majority of federal civilians are with Defense and other agencies. That includes Treasury, Commerce, Agriculture, Homeland Security and people from the Justice Department.

Many of those returning from constant combat zone conditions, such as in Iraq, have exhibited signs of serious emotional or mental problems. USA Today reported last week that 40 percent of 252 diplomatic employees who filled out an online survey had social or personality problems they didn’t have before they went to Iraq. Even after being stateside for some time, 90 still had trouble sleeping, focusing on tasks or dealing with their families.

Congress is getting into the act. The House Foreign Relations Committee has a hearing scheduled for today on the post-traumatic stress being suffered by so many civilians.

Retiree raise

Retired federal workers, military retirees and people who get Social Security benefits are due a minimum 2.3 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) next year. The COLA — which will automatically show up in January checks — could go higher.

COLAs for retirees are driven by inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index. For the month of May, it posted the biggest gain in months. Most of the increase was driven by higher gasoline prices. Four more months (June, July, August and September) remain in the cost of living countdown. If the COLA goes up during that period, retirees will get an even bigger inflation catch-up raise.

Meanwhile, Congress is working on a 3.5 percent pay increase for white collar, nonpostal federal workers.

{bullet} Mike Causey, senior editor at Federal News Radio AM 1050, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or mcausey@federalnewsradio.com.