Late last month a reader took me to task for being an alleged hypocrite on the rather complex issue of federal retirement. Although I don’t usually respond to personal attacks, I’m making an exception in this case in order to set the record straight.
“Regarding Guy Farmer’s recent editorial about trimming waste in government, I find his comments — ‘Congress should slash federal spending, including so-called entitlement programs’ — somewhat confusing,” my critic wrote. “I seem to recall a previous column where he states: ‘Don’t touch my retirement and don’t touch my health insurance.’” Where to start?
Of course I would never write such a thing, and never did. Nevertheless, I believe that my State Department annuity is fair compensation for a 28-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service, where I served at several hardship posts including Lima, Peru, when “Shining Path” terrorists were targeting both Peruvians and foreigners, and in Grenada during the multilateral invasion of that small Caribbean island in 1983.
So I don’t apologize for my service as a diplomat, nor do I apologize for spending three years in the back seat of the F-101B “Voodoo,” a supersonic fighter-interceptor. All of which means that I didn’t spend my federal government career in a cubicle in Washington, D.C.; rather, I logged most of it overseas or in the back seat of a fighter plane.
My federal annuity represents 60 percent of my “high three” salary as a Senior Foreign Service officer in the old U.S. Information Agency (USIA). It’s a comfortable retirement, but it certainly isn’t as extravagant as those received by some retired civil servants — including former city, county and state employees — who earn more in retirement than they did when they were on active duty.
As for my health insurance, I’m covered by both Medicare and the Federal Health Benefits Program, which allows me to choose from among several private health care plans for secondary coverage. I pay about $1,500 per year for my secondary coverage plus $2,400 for Medicare. I wouldn’t call that “free” coverage. And by the way, my letter-writing critic was wrong when he said that my primary health insurance isn’t Medicare, because it is, just like his.
Following my treatment for prostate cancer about three years ago, I wrote that Medicare should be means-tested, and that those of us who can afford to pay more for expensive medical services, should do exactly that. I would have been willing to pay extra for the advanced proton-beam therapy that cured my cancer at the Loma Linda University Medical Center and have contributed to the LLUMC Proton Center ever since. For the record, I also contribute to the Carson Tahoe Cancer Center and the “FISH” Medical Clinic.
In regard to Social Security and Medicare, I believe my critic should be treated just like I am. He earned those benefits and is entitled to them.
But when I write about entitlements, I’m addressing more than Social Security and Medicare. I’m also writing about programs that pay able-bodied people for not working, and programs that provide “free” stuff to millions of illegal immigrants, such as health care and public schooling for their children. Why do you think ESL (English as a second language) budgets are so high in the state of Nevada? Think about it.
Guy W. Farmer is a retired U.S. diplomat.