Forward Movement on Health Justice
By Jonathan Pearson on Thursday, December 19th, 2013
For the past thirty years, Nancy Tongue (Chile 1980-82) and others like her have been engaged in a mostly lonely struggle to strengthen health services for Peace Corps Volunteers, especially for those Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) who come back from service with serious illness or injury.
While the issues to be addressed are multiple, challenging and significant, Nancy says she is more optimistic than ever before that progress can be made.
As the founder of Health Justice for Peace Corps Volunteers, Nancy and fellow RPCV Patrick McClanahan (Mozambique 2010-11) came to Washington for two full days of meetings with officials at the Peace Corps, staff at the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) and offices of congressional leaders who focus on issues pertaining to the Peace Corps and the U.S. Department of Labor.
Nancy says the trip exceeded her expectations. “We have a ways to go. It’s hard to know definitely what progress will be made. But I have already seen progress in the past year. ”
In July, Peace Corps provided this update on actions recently taken or planned to better ensure Volunteer health during and after service. Similarly, the Health Justice group provided a two page document outlining a number of concerns to improve the support and caring for ill and injured RPCVs.
Meetings at the NPCA
Following meetings on December 17th at the Peace Corps, Nancy and Patrick came to the offices of the NPCA to meet with Board Chair Tony Barclay, President Glenn Blumhorst and other NPCA staff.
Over the past two years, NPCA has provided support and guidance to the Health Justice group. Board Chair Barclay met early on with Nancy and was instrumental in facilitating early meetings with Peace Corps leadership. Various staff assisted with a variety of matters, ranging from guidance in branding, blog posts and a WorldView magazine article, circulating a group survey on health issues, and facilitating connections with group leaders who could also provide further insight and support.
But there is much more that can be done by the NPCA and the entire Peace Corps community. For far too many RPCVs whose service may not have been idyllic or may have been cut short because of illness or injury, there remains a significant need to let them know they are part of the Peace Corps family. For Volunteers who still suffer and struggle with illness and disease years after service, there are potentially many supportive roles the Peace Corps community can play.
Among the items discussed during the face-to-face meeting was exploring a role that NPCA’s mentoring program might play in offering support mechanisms. And, there were some initial discussions of incorporating a Health Justice component into the upcoming national gathering, Peace Corps Connect – Nashville, in June.
Meetings on Capitol Hill
December 18th was an equally busy day for the Health Justice representatives, as they went to Capitol Hill with NPCA Advocacy Director Jonathan Pearson, who arranged for seven hours of meetings with key Senate and House offices.
In many instances, staff thanked Nancy and Patrick for sharing their experiences and providing information, noting that educating and providing information is an important first step in securing change.
One of the key topics highlighted at these meetings deals with longstanding struggles many RPCVs face when applying for workers’ compensation benefits and medical reimbursements through the U.S. Department of Labor. The Labor Department’s relationship with the Peace Corps was the subject of a recent Government Accountability Office report. Efforts to strengthen communication and procedures between the two agencies to better service and support RPCVs is one of the top concerns for the Health Justice group.
For Patrick, this was his first time as an advocate on Capitol Hill. He noted that there was some good, tough questioning in some of the meetings. “That further helped provide us with a good idea on what to do and come up with a plan that will lead to solutions.”
The End of Two Days – A Beginning
As Nancy (New York City) and Patrick (Philadelphia) return home, they note there is a lot of information to process, work through and report on to other members of Health Justice for Peace Corps Volunteers. And they both view the end of the two-day visit as a start towards further progress.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” said Patrick. “We can’t make any final judgement. But we hope sick (RPCVs) and PCVs get quality of care they deserve for serving their country.”
For Nancy, many of the past thirty years she has felt in the shadows of the Peace Corps community. But not during the two days in Washington. “I felt acknowledged and heard by everyone…It’s important to my healing.”
Share Your Thoughts
As noted above, part of Nancy and Patrick’s visit included meetings with the NPCA to discuss ways in which the broad Peace Corps community can play a more significant role in assisting RPCVs who come home with serious (and often chronic) injuries or illness. Use the comment section below to add your thoughts. What type of support is needed? What can we as individuals, member groups and a nationwide network of people who are connected by the Peace Corps, do to support such individuals in need?