The combined efforts of sick and/or injured RPCVs, Health Justice for Peace Corps Volunteers, and the NPCA continue to collaborate and to advocate for improving access to appropriate medical services, care, and treatment for RPCVs who return from service sick and/or injured. Nancy Tongue (Chile 1980-82) is the Director of Health Justice for Peace Corps Volunteers after having formed the organization due to her continued challenges accessing medical services, care, and treatment. She has recently been joined by Sara Thompson (Burkina Faso 2010-12), to further advocate for improving access to resources for the health, safety, and security of Volunteers in the field and upon returning sick and/or injured. Casey Frazee (South Africa 2009) has also been working to improve Peace Corps and response to victims of sexual assault after having been the survivor of sexual assault while serving in Southern Africa. She organized First Response Action to raise awareness about access to rights and resources for Volunteers who are survivors of physical and sexual assault.
Health and other issues of PCVs have been occurring since day one of the Peace Corps. Now, some progress is being made on these issues, thanks to the work of these individual RPCVs and the NPCA.
Here are Sara’s updates. On behalf of all RPCVs, thank you, Sara.
I wanted to provide an update regarding the coordination of Health Justice for Peace Corps Volunteers (HJPCV) efforts to improve access to healthcare benefits that Peace Corps Volunteers are entitled to upon returning from service sick and/or injured. We were able to draft and push for legislation to be introduced at the Congressional House, BI-PARTISAN level – YAY!! Exciting news – thanks to Representative Ted Poe (TX) and Representative Joe Kennedy (MA)! We are still waiting on the Senate to finalize drafting and introduce a bill (which shouldn’t differ too much from the House bill).
Therefore, the proposed Peace Corps legislation by the Congressional House is titled, “H.R.2259 – To amend the Peace Corps Act to expand services and benefits for volunteers, and for other purposes.” NOTE: When discussing the bill, do NOT address it as reform. No one wants to talk about “reforming” PC as it puts PC in a bad light. Talk about the bill as “improving PC for its Volunteers” and “ensuring PC has the legislation to further protect and provide for the health, safety, and security for its Volunteers,” or some diplomatic blurb like that. The actual legislation that was introduced is available at this link in the event that you would like to read it: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2259?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22sam+farr+peace+corps+enhancement+act%22%5D%7D&r=1
Main takeaways from the legislation:
1) Allows Volunteers to receive higher disability pay. The current rate puts sick and/or injured Volunteers below poverty level. The increase allows Volunteers to actually make a living of sorts.
2) Mandates that Peace Corps begin distribution of mefloquine in accordance with CDC recommendations (two weeks before heading overseas).** (see note below for more information).
3) Mandates that Peace Corps Medical Officers (PCMOs – Peace Corps doctors) have basic medical qualifications (rather than just being a gynecologist or other specialist without basic practitioner experience).
4) Extends the Sexual Assault Advisory Committee and expands their ability to look into specific cases.
SO – to garner Congressional Support:
Please contact your Congressional Rep and ask for the following:
1) Support for this legislation – HR 2259 “To amend the Peace Corps Act to expand services and benefits for volunteers and other purposes.”
2) Ask Congressional representative if they would like to co-sponsor the bill. The more co-sponsors there are, the greater the likelihood that the bill will be voted on.
3) Support for any additional bill related to improving the Peace Corps and supporting Volunteers and Volunteer health. (We are hoping to work on legislation for changing Department of Labor (DOL) as actually accessing healthcare and treatment through DOL – FECA remain a challenging issue).
1) Ask your Senator to inquire with Senator Corker’s office regarding the status of the draft legislation.
2) Support for the legislation after it is introduced.
Peace Corps Volunteers should be supported throughout their service and when they return home sick and/or injured. This legislation allows for further support for the health, safety, and security of Volunteers!
Hope this helps and let me know if you have any questions or would like additional information. You can reach Sara at email@example.com.
**Regarding mefloquine reform: In the original draft legislation, I had written/proposed banning mefloquine altogether, following the move away from using mefloquine by Department of Defense in 2009. Peace Corps, however, has pushed back and aren’t supportive of beginning mefloquine distribution in the States, in accordance with CDC recommendations. Therefore, Poe’s office compromised and have indicated that PC has to at least be acting in accordance with CDC guidelines. If you would like, you can tell your Congressional rep that you think that mefloquine should be banned. If there is enough outside support and pressure, Peace Corps won’t have any choice but to follow what the public and Congressional reps want them to. Feel free to let your Congressional representative know that mefloquine is the most dangerous, least effective anti-malarial prophylaxis.