Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Clause. The signed National Defense Authorization Act permits FERS employees to apply their accrued sick leave towards retirement. However, the credit is phased in with a 50 percent credit for those who retire now and full conversion after January 1, 2014. OPM is developing final regulations on this subject that should be published soon.
FERS employees can use the new sick leave conversion calculator available at www.fedbens.us  to calculate their annuity increase. Just type in your estimated average high three salary and number of sick leave hours accrued and the result will be your monthly annuity increase.
Up until now FRES employees had little incentive to save their sick leave. FERS retirees will receive an additional 1% of their high three average salary for every 2087 hours of sick leave they have on the books when they retire.
Hearing is Believing TOO!
I mentioned in my September article that my hearing was failing and that I needed hearing aids. This didn’t surprise me since I worked on jet aircraft in the military and on and around airports my entire career in one capacity or another. My wife didn’t need convincing either after battled for years over the TV volume control.
With my new hearing aids I can hear rain on the roof, leaves rustling in the wind, my hands rubbing together, and the keys on the key board click like a runaway train. At first it’s startling and when I initially put them on I was mesmerized by the sounds around me. I now hear conversations and the TV at normal volume and when I take my hearing aids off it feels like I just turned off the radio or at least turned it down significantly. If you are frequently asking others to repeat themselves and are battling your significant other over the TV volume you may want to go in for a hearing test.
Fortunately there are many helpful organizations like the American Speech Language Hearing Association  and the Mayo Clinic . The average cost for a pair of hearing aids is around $3,000 to $5,000 depending on the severity of your hearing loss and you can buy less expensive ones if you are inactive and don’t need all of the bells and whistles that the high end units offer today. Most units today are digital and can be programmed for your specific hearing loss and they have compensation circuits that eliminate the annoying feedback that was a problem with older aids.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s Basic plan covered a good portion of the cost. They pay up to $1,000 an ear once every three years. I paid the difference of about $1,000 for two Starkey Series S-9 units. Starkey is one of the largest hearing aid manufactures and their new S Series Sweep models are easy to use, comfortable, and are performing well for me. One doctor advised me that if you are on Medicare the amount covered is reduced and there are other restrictions.
Most reputable providers offer a trail period of between 30 to 60 days. Sewickley Hearing Aids, in Sewickley, PA offers a 60 day trial period and I’ve been working with Doctor of Audiology, Sharon Hall Russo. They offered the best prices and exceptional service. I also like the fact that the hearing aid office is part of a larger nose, throat, and ear doctor’s office that can treat other ear problems and remove wax buildup if necessary. They offer a 15% discount on all hearing aids from Thanksgiving through Christmas each year. I couldn’t find better prices anywhere and I looked online, visited with two other hearing aid companies and called several more and Sewickley Hearing Aids beat them all hands down. If you are in the Pittsburgh or surrounding area you can call them at 412-741-5670, ask for Dr. Sharon Russo. Look around in your area for the best prices, ask for discounts, and compare vendor services.
The first unit I tried was a Starkey S-9 behind the ear open ear model that has a small plastic transmitter tube that goes in the ear canal. The volume adjusts with cell phone commands and the first day I had them I was walking in the mail and a security alarm went off. I couldn’t adjust the volume and had to take them off. This model’s transmitter unit was difficult to clean and I turned them in for the new Sweep series one week later.
The Starkey S Sweep series uses touch control for volume and changing modes. They are somewhat larger but the advantages are huge. The transmitter in this model is in the unit behind the ear, not in the end of the plastic tube that goes into your ear and they are easier to clean and adjust. The volume adjusts by gently touching the unit and then sliding your finger up or down to raise or lower the volume. To change between one of four modes just touch it once to wake it up and then touch it again to change to the next mode. You hear a voice prompt confirmation for each adjustment. This unit has a battery life of two weeks compared to one week for other models. Another advantage with the Sweep series is that you can get replacement ear tubes at no cost. Extra tubes with the transmitter in the ear cost $75.
Veterans with hearing loss should check with the VA first . They offer coverage if you earn under a certain amount and Vietnam Veterans regardless of income may be eligible for full coverage. Call or visit your local Veterans office to find out if you qualify.
The information provided may not cover all aspect of unique or special circumstances and federal regulations are subject to change. To ensure the accuracy of this information, contact your benefits coordinator and ask them to review your official personnel file and circumstances concerning this issue. Retirees can contact the OPM retirement center. Our reply is not intended nor should it be considered investment advice. Our reply is time sensitive. Over time, various dynamic economic factors relied upon as a basis for our response may change.”
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