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FRCE Employees Give Leave Time to Help Coworker Facing Medical Emergency

12 December 2023

From Kimberly Koonce, Fleet Readiness Center East

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. — Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) employees have reached out to help a coworker whose daughter is facing a medical emergency, donating hundreds of hours of annual leave through the federal Voluntary Leave Transfer Program (VLTP) so the employee can be with his family over the holidays.

When Eric Skaggs, a pneudraulics mechanic at FRCE, learned his 3-year-old daughter Adalyn was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, he didn’t know how he would balance the financial needs of his family with the six weeks he would need to be away from work for his daughter’s extensive medical treatments. Skaggs is a relatively new employee at FRCE and a military veteran with medical needs of his own, and had not yet accrued enough sick or annual leave to cover the time he needed to be away from work. That’s when his FRCE coworkers stepped in and donated more than 400 hours of annual leave so Skaggs can join his wife and daughter in Philadelphia, where Adalyn began receiving radiation therapy in November.

Skaggs said he was overwhelmed by the generosity of his coworkers, who gave their own leave to help him through his family’s period of crisis.

“All that stress, all that fear, all that unknown of how we were going to get through this has been lifted because of the kindness of people that we don’t know, people that I have no connection with other than the fact that they are employees here at FRCE,” he said. “They have stepped up and showed support and love, and it’s based on the needs of someone who is just a coworker.”

In August, Adalyn’s parents noticed that her eye was itchy and red, and her pediatrician prescribed drops for pinkeye. Within two days, however, Adalyn had developed a mass in the corner of her eye, and her parents knew the situation was more serious. An eye specialist diagnosed the mass as embryonal rhabdosarcoma, a form of cancer that develops in the head and neck, most commonly in children under the age of 5. Since her diagnosis, she has been receiving weekly chemotherapy treatments in Durham, with an overnight session once a month.

Skaggs said as part of Adalyn’s treatment plan, the family will spend several weeks between November and January in Philadelphia, where Adalyn will receive proton therapy treatments. Proton therapy is concentrated radiation that typically produces fewer side effects and less damage to surrounding tissue than traditional radiation therapy, and Philadelphia is one of 43 cities around the country where this treatment is available. Adalyn’s twin 15-year-old brothers will not be able to join the family except during the holidays, and Skaggs said the logistics of the trip plus the financial demands had become overwhelming.

“When we found that we were going to Philadelphia, it became hugely stressful for me and my family because we had to figure out how we’re going to be separated for six weeks while she’s there and I would be trying to work,” Skaggs said. “It would have been very difficult for me to work knowing what the family’s going through, but we still need the paycheck.”

That’s when the power of social media provided a solution to the family’s dilemma. Ashley Skaggs, Adalyn’s mother, has a Facebook page to help distant family members keep up with news of the girl’s treatment, and she shared the news that her husband did not have enough leave to be away from work for six weeks.

“We have one friend in her original group who asked if she could share the post, and that’s when it started,” said Eric Skaggs. “The message went viral, and the next thing I know I had gone from zero to 417 hours of donated leave in a matter of two days.”

VLTP provides relief to federal employees who find themselves facing serious medical situations but do not have enough leave to cover the time they will need to be away from work. To qualify for VLTP, the employee must be facing a substantial loss of income and absence from duty without available paid leave for at least 24 hours. Under these conditions, their coworkers can donate annual leave in increments of at least one hour to assist them.

According to Pam Walker, Labor and Employee Relations Branch head, who oversees FRCE’s VLTP program, the holidays are the busiest times for VLTP donations, as employees try to manage their use or lose annual leave. Federal employees can retain up to 240 hours of annual leave each year, and any unused leave above that number is forfeited at the end of the leave year.

“Often employees have earned the leave, but they can’t take the time off for some reason,” Walker said. “At the end of the year, we often see groups of employees who donate leave to a particular employee. People would rather see a coworker benefit from that leave than to lose it.”

Kimberly Honaker, Staffing and Recruitment Branch head at FRCE, said she was motivated to donate four days of leave to the Skaggs family after she read their social media post.

“The thought of not being able to be there for one of my children during a medical emergency was absolutely heartbreaking,” Honaker said. “If I could give this family a small amount of peace where they don’t have to worry about taking leave without pay, it was a no-brainer for me. That’s what this season’s all about, just paying it forward.”

FRCE is North Carolina’s largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $1 billion. The depot provides service to the fleet while functioning as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander Fleet Readiness Centers.


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