Health Justice for Peace Corps Volunteers
To ensure that Peace Corps Volunteers, sick or injured by their service overseas, obtain the support and benefits to which they are entitled by law. We do this through advocacy and proposed policy change.
With a spirit of compassion and commitment, we support current and returned volunteers and work for health reform through:
- Constructive conversations with Congressional leaders and their staff
- Representing the interests of volunteers to the Peace Corps and the US Department of Labor
- Publicizing the challenges facing Peace Corps Volunteers by creating relationships within the National Peace Corps Association, members of the media, and other service agencies
History / Background
Peace Corps Volunteers answer their country’s call to service, often facing harsh or difficult conditions in foreign countries. Many return with unusual, hard to treat, life-altering diseases, injuries and traumas that the Peace Corps did not anticipate handling when it was founded in 1962. Far too many have fallen through the cracks. Some have struggled for years to obtain healthcare or disability benefits. Others have lost careers, and been left destitute and uninsurable. Many have given up.
Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports (1991, 2012) indicate that approximately 10-30% of all volunteers develop some sort of health issue, and our recent survey of nearly 8,000 volunteers supports that evidence. Given that approximately 215,000 have served so far, these numbers are significant. Health Justice and its predecessor organizations have personally served hundreds of volunteers. We need congressional support and/or policy change to ensure that sick and injured volunteers get prompt and enduring medical care, both in the field and upon their return, for as long as needed and to be ensured adequate disability income when necessary.
What was it about the Peace Corps? About Ethiopia,
That has meant so much in our lives?
The answer is, I believe, that once a long time ago,
when we were young and believed we could make a difference,
we flew to the Horn of Africa and touched this world firsthand,
touched it where it burns,
and we have never healed.
John Coyne (RPCV Ethiopia 1962-64)
Proposed Legislative / Policy Reform
- Require that Peace Corps provide improved physical health care, mental health care, and dental care to volunteers during their service that is comparable to care in the US
- Ensure that anti-malarial prophylaxis is given according to FDA guidelines with black box warnings of mefloquine clearly outlined and that there is field oversight of this. Volunteers should know the potential negative effects of this medication and other anti-malarials
- Ensure that every volunteer at their Close of Service be immediately provided OWCP Form CA-16 and instructed about its use to guarantee payment for medical coverage for all diagnostics and treatment, regardless of whether a USDOL claim is approved
- Require that Peace Corps provide sufficient health care coverage for diagnosis and treatment of any and all injuries and illnesses after Close of Service until a USDOL claim is active; and require that Peace Corps advocate on behalf of sick and injured returned volunteers for as long as their health issues continue while covered by the USDOL
- Expand the dedicated unit of staff at Peace Corps to serve as liaisons between Peace Corps Volunteers, the Department of Labor, and ACS. In kind, create a dedicated unit at the USDOL that handles only Peace Corps medical and disability claims
- Extend the three-year time frame for filing health claims; increase Federal pay scale of volunteers to allot a livable wage to disabled volunteers; allow federal non-competitive eligibility for federal jobs, including Peace Corps, to returning disabled volunteers
- Work with the US Department of Labor to create a provision for disabled volunteers to return to work part-time on a trial basis without their claim being dropped and them having to reapply
- Shift the burden of proof for secondary health effects that result from primary health issues, as well as systemic illnesses, from the volunteer to the Peace Corps
- Ensure that sufficient funding is available to cover all health care costs for injured and sick volunteers and returnees. No volunteer should be made to feel ashamed that their health issues require funds that the Peace Corps has not allotted for that purpose
- Request a GAO investigation of the USDOL
- Establish a permanent advisory board with input by Peace Corps Volunteers and independent reviewers to institutionalize ongoing input and evaluation of healthcare of all Peace Corps Volunteers
- Ensure that the Affordable Care Act is sufficient to cover insurance needs of RPCVs