Starting next year, the State Department will no longer provide postal service to military retirees and Defense Department contractors who pick up their mail at an embassy or consulate.

The policy change is expected to affect roughly 4,800 military retirees living overseas, said Thomas Saunders, an Army spokesman for Installation Management Command-Europe. He did not know how many contractors would be affected.

Saunders said the new policy would not affect retirees and contractors currently authorized to pick up their mail at a Defense Department installation. It also doesn’t apply to military retirees or contractors working in an official capacity for the State Department or an agency affiliated with it.

The change, effective Dec. 31, is occurring because responsibility for postal facilities at embassies and consulates has shifted from the military to the State Department. A briefing document stated that the Defense Department no longer funds the operation and has no legal authority to transfer funds to the State Department to cover the cost of the service.

The change will affect chiefly retirees and contractors who live far from a U.S. military installation or in a country that has no U.S. military base, such as mainland Portugal or France.

Retired Air Force Col. Mario Brunetti once served as commander of Aviano Air Base in northern Italy. The 29-year veteran now lives with his Italian wife in Rome, which is several hours from the nearest U.S. military facility.

“We’re not too happy about this situation,” said Brunetti, a Vietnam veteran. “We feel like we’re out in the wind here.”

Brunetti relies on the post office box at the U.S. Embassy in Rome to receive and pay bills he can’t do via the Internet. He also uses it to send his tax returns and to receive prescription medication for his high blood pressure.

Saunders said the Tricare Mail-Order Pharmacy program will continue to process prescriptions through Dec. 1, which should be enough time for it to be forwarded. Afterward, affected retirees and contractors will be on their own.

Brunetti said the Italian postal system isn’t always reliable, and, in addition to potential delays, incoming mail can be subject to Italian customs fees.

“It could be very expensive,” he said.

Stars and Stripes reporter Sandra Jontz contributed to this story.

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