Committed to Support Sick or Injured Returned Peace Corps Volunteers
By Jonathan Pearson on Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012
In September, the National Peace Corps Association spot lighted Nancy Tongue (Chile) a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) who has dealt with post-service health issues, as our featured advocate of the month. In response, Acting Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet (Western Samoa 81-83) issued the following statement on matters pertaining to individuals who face serious injury or illness in the aftermath of their Peace Corps service:
“One of my favorite Peace Corps recruitment campaigns is anchored by the tagline ‘The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love.’ As an RPCV, I love it because it truly speaks to the entire Peace Corps experience. Being a Peace Corps volunteer can be rewarding, but it is no easy task. It’s this reason that motivates me to ensure that our volunteers are supported as much as possible throughout their entire lifecycle as a volunteer – all the way from invitee to RPCV. That’s why I am troubled by the frustrations some of our returned volunteers have encountered when dealing with post-service medical claims through the Federal Employee’s Compensation Act (FECA), which covers federal employees and volunteers who become sick or injured on the job.
“During their service, volunteers receive their medical care directly from Peace Corps. Once they leave Peace Corps service, however, RPCVs have to work through the FECA system. That system is administered by the Department of Labor (DOL), and the Peace Corps’ role in this process is limited by law. Only DOL has the authority to review and accept claims, and to authorize payments. However, the Peace Corps’s Post-Service Unit does help RPCVs to file their claims, collect the relevant Peace Corps health records and submit the necessary paperwork to DOL. We also make efforts to facilitate communication between RPCVs and DOL staff.
“Unfortunately, this system has failed some RPCVs, and that is truly disheartening. That’s why I’m committed to working with our Post-Service Unit and DOL to try to improve the FECA process for returned volunteers.
“Recognizing the difficulties that some RPCVs face when they apply to the Department of Labor for FECA benefits, the Peace Corps has been negotiating with DOL for several years about changes we believe would improve the system. We are also working with the Government Accountability Office to explore ways to improve the FECA process for returned volunteers.
“In addition, the Peace Corps is creating two positions in the Peace Corps Post-Service Unit to try to address problems from the Peace Corps end. We have also expanded the Case Manager position in the Post-Service Unit to include care coordination for some catastrophic illnesses or injuries.
“I am also working with the founding members of Health Justice for Peace Corps Volunteers, including Nancy Tongue and others, as we take steps to try to improve the process for returned volunteers seeking FECA benefits.
“The Peace Corps takes the health and well-being of those who serve very seriously. I am committed to ensuring that our sick or injured RPCVs receive the help and support they deserve.”
The group Health Justice for Peace Corps Volunteers is currently circulating a survey to collect information and experiences from all within the Peace Corps community about these issues.