Health Justice for Peace Corps Volunteers

  • Jonathan Pearson posted an article
    Legislation heads back to Senate for further consideration. see more

    With praise for the mission of the Peace Corps and the work of its volunteers, and acknowledgement that more needs to be done to improve volunteer health care, safety and security, the House of Representatives unanimously passed Peace Corps health/safety legislation (H.R. 2259) late Tuesday afternoon.

    The revised House bill, renamed the "Sam Farr and Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act of 2018", now goes back to the United States Senate for further consideration. Earlier this year, Senators unanimously passed its version of the legislation (S. 2286) introduced by Bob Corker (R-TN) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). The Senate can either approve the House version of the legislation and send it on to the president, or negotiate with the House on a final compromise bill, in order to address several issues where differences remain.

    A CRUCIAL STEP

    Speaking on the House floor, the sponsor of H.R. 2259, Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) noted that he, like many members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), try to meet with volunteers when traveling overseas. "One thing is universally true," he said. "They love being a Peace Corps Volunteer." Congressman Poe added that over the years when he has met volunteers who share stories of when the agency or other parts of the federal bureaucracy let them down and bad things happen, those volunteers would make clear and still speak of their love for the Peace Corps. 

    But Poe also emphasized more needs to be done to assist volunteers - who he often refers to as "America's Angels Abroad." During his floor remarks, the congressman reflected on the experiences and ongoing challenges of RPCVs Jennifer Mamola and Sara Thompson, who along with founder Nancy Tongue are leaders of the affiliate group Health Justice for Peace Corps Volunteers, which has led efforts for years to bring attention to the needs of returning volunteers who come home injured or sick. He also reflected on the death of China volunteer Nick Castle, who fell ill and did not get adequate medical attention (Nick's parents Sue and Dave have also been leading advocates in advancing the legislation). In noting he has heard too many stories of volunteers struggling to get needed care, Poe emphasized that "Our government should work to help the Peace Corps Volunteers."

    Similar sentiments were expressed on the other side of the aisle. RPCV Congressman Joe Kennedy (D-MA), the lead co-sponsor of H.R. 2259, spoke of the friendship he received from people who did not know him nearly fifteen years ago as he began his Peace Corps service in the Dominican Republic, while also recognizing the "extraordinary generosity of spirit" volunteers bring to countries around the world. The Ranking member of the HFAC, Eliot Engle (D-NY) said volunteers "show our values, generosity and compassion" to the world, adding that "we must do what we can to keep our current volunteers safe."

    BILL BACKGROUND

    Both bills will strengthen the criteria in Peace Corps' selection of overseas medical staff, re-authorize important provisions of the 2011 Kate Puzey Act which established an Office of Victim Advocacy and Sexual Assault Advisory Council, advance additional reporting - and more transparency - on the experiences of serving and returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), and extend existing health care coverage for service related injuries to four months for RPCVs. Read this press release from Congressman Poe.

    NPCA supports final passage of the House version of the bill, which in several instances has stronger, more impactful language to protect and support those volunteers who are applying for and serving with the Peace Corps. 

    In securing unanimous passage in both chambers, key provisions to further address the health needs of RPCVs who come home with service related health issues were removed from the legislation, due to cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office and/or jurisdictional issues with other legislative committees.

    TAKE ACTION NOW:

    With only a few months of legislative business remaining in the current session of Congress, it is important that you let lawmakers know the time has come for final passage of these bills.

    Follow this link and write to your members of Congress, urging final passage of Peace Corps health/safety legislation and adoption of the House version of the bill, while also noting more work needs to be done in the future to address the needs of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who come home with service related illnesses or injuries.

     

  • Jonathan Pearson posted an article
    House Foreign Affairs Committee Approves Revised Version of H.R. 2259 see more

    As we prepare for a June 28th Peace Corps Health Justice Capitol Hill advocacy day (click here to register), pending health and safety legislation took another important step forward, but not without a setback.

    Thursday morning, the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) unanimously approved the latest version of the legislation (H.R. 2259). The bi-partisan legislation was introduced by Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) and RPCV Congressman Joe Kennedy (D-MA).

    The next stop for the legislation is expected to be the floor of the House of Representatives for a final vote by the chamber. In March, the Senate gave unanimous approval to its version of this legislation.

    The HFAC vote was on an amended bill Congressmen Poe presented to the committee. Several differences remain between Senate and House bills and will require further negotiation.

    Similarities and Differences

    There is significant alignment in many provisions in the Senate and House bills dealing with continued or new reforms to address sexual assault and other forms of violence against serving Peace Corps volunteers. There is also similar language to address reforms to further improve medical care for serving volunteers.

    As the House legislation now stands, significant changes were made to proposed reforms to support Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) who are back in the U.S. confronting injuries or illness related to their service. Perhaps the most significant change is the removal of a provision originally proposed and fought for by the affiliate group Health Justice for Peace Corps Volunteers, to increase the low level of financial support for individuals whose short or long term injuries or illness render them eligible for workers’ compensation.

    With some opposition among other House members due to costs related to the workers' compensation provision, Congressman Poe expressed his disappointment in removing that portion of the bill. As he noted in his submitted remarks to the committee, "I fought long and hard to increase the disability payment provided to disabled returned volunteers so they can make ends meet. I hope that this provision will one day become law. However, until then, the (other) improvements in this bill are essential and valuable for our angels abroad."

    Read this press release with comments from Congressmen Poe and Kennedy following today's HFAC action.

    A bi-partisan group of HFAC members took time during the committee meeting to express support the the Peace Corps, its volunteers and various parts of the House legislation. They included HFAC Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY), Brad Sherman (D-CA, who noted his wife was a volunteer in Togo who needed medical care and faced an interruption in her service), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Joe Wilson (R-SC) and Tom Garrett (R-VA).

    A bi-partisan group of sixty House Representatives are co-sponsors of H.R. 2259.

     

  • Jonathan Pearson posted an article
    Registration is now open for Capitol Hill advocacy on Thursday, June 28th see more

    For the fourth consecutive year in June, NPCA will hold a Peace Corps Health Justice Awareness Day.

    And, for the second consecutive year, this day will include Peace Corps community advocacy on Capitol Hill.

    Our 2018 awareness day will be Thursday, June 28th. As we prepare for advocates to join us on Capitol Hill, health and safety legislation continues to advance in Congress. While the Senate passed its health/safety legislation earlier this year, legislation in the House of Representatives is expected to go before the Foreign Affairs Committee this week.

    Register Now for Capitol Hill Advocacy

    Our June 28th Capitol Hill advocacy will begin at 11 AM and run throughout the day. Registration is now open. Sign up here and make plans to join us.

     

  • Jonathan Pearson posted an article
    Both chambers of Congress now have Peace Corps health legislation see more

    On the day in which fallen Peace Corps volunteer Nick Castle would have celebrated his 28th birthday, legislation has been introduced in the United States Senate to address a series of issues related to the health and safety of Volunteers.

    The Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act of 2018 (S. 2286) was introduced Wednesday, January 10th by Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Other lead sponsors include Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chris Coons (D-DE).

    Nick Castle died while serving in China in 2013. A November 2014 report on the death by the Peace Corps Office of Inspector General cited poor judgement and misdiagnosis by the Peace Corps Medical Officer, as well as "cascading failures and delays in treatment."

     

    About the Legislation

    Provisions in the Corker legislation would ensure that "the Peace Corps maintains well-qualified and capable medical officers and support staff for overseas Peace Corps posts and that the Director reviews and evaluates the performance of such staff and implements outstanding recommendations by the Inspector General to improve associated systems and programs."

    Another key provision would allow Peace Corps to be fully involved in the diagnosis, treatment and support of returning Volunteers with service related illness or injuries for a four-month period following their completion of service. Currently, volunteers who come home with service-related health issues are swiftly referred to the U.S. Department of Labor (DoL) for benefits provided under the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA).

    Along with requiring public disclosure of volunteer satisfaction surveys and other reporting requirements, the legislation would also promote further reforms and extend key initiatives pertaining to sexual assault and other acts of violence against volunteers. This includes a re-authorization of the Peace Corps Office of Victim Advocacy and the agency's Sexual Assault Advisory Council. 

    Click here for a copy of the legislation.

    Click here for Senator Corker's press release.

     

    House Legislation

    Meanwhile, Peace Corps health legislation in the House of Representatives (H.R. 2259) introduced last May by Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) and returned Peace Corps Volunteer Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA) has a bi-partisan list of nearly 50 co-sponsors.

    Along with the most provisions outlined above, the House legislation also includes an important proposal for volunteers who served their country but came home with service-related injuries or illness that rendered them temporarily or permanently disabled. The legislation proposes raising the worker's compensation payments for these individuals. This has been a priority issue of the affiliate group Health Justice for Peace Corps Volunteers, which has led efforts and worked tirelessly for years on efforts to provide relief for those in our community who struggle most in the aftermath of their service. However, questions have arisen about the ability to sustain this provision in accordance with House rules on entitlement spending.

     

    Forward Motion

    "While the content and presentation of the Senate and House Peace Corps health bills have significant differences, we are grateful that Senator Corker, Congressman Poe and other lead sponsors have introduced legislation to keep us moving forward," said NPCA President and CEO Glenn Blumhorst. "Taken together, both bills contain improvements, reforms and re-authorizations that are important to various members of our community. We look forward to continued progress with Senate and House sponsors, and urge them to work collaboratively so we can come away with the best possible legislation to support our Volunteers and respect their sacrifices in serving our country."

     

    Take Action

    Call your Senators and ask them to support and advance S. 2286, Peace Corps health legislation introduced by Senator Corker.

    If your Congressman/woman has not yet co-sponsored H.R. 2259, take action here.

     

  • JM Ascienzo posted an article
    On Capitol Hill, new legislation is introduced to address key RPCV service related health issues see more

    Representatives Ted Poe (R-TX) and Sam Farr (D-CA) introduced Peace Corps healthcare legislation earlier today that would provide Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) with service-related conditions greater healthcare, including an increase in worker's compensation benefits and extending the length of time they remain under Peace Corps' care. The bipartisan Sam Farr Peace Corps Enhancement Act (H.R. 6037) also reauthorizes key provisions of the Kate Puzey Act, including the extension of the Office of Victim Advocacy to care for survivors of sexual assault, and the extension of Peace Corps' Sexual Assault Advisory Council to 2023.

    Through a press release on his website Rep. Poe said, “Congress took a historic step in passing the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act in 2011, but there is more work to be done to protect our angels abroad...This bill will go even further to both keep volunteers healthy and ensure that those who have experienced sexual assault have the assistance and protection they need. These safeguards are necessary not only to protect current volunteers, but also to ensure more young Americans join the Peace Corps in the future.”

    “Since its establishment in 1961, Peace Corps has served as a vehicle for peace, hope and compassion,” said Rep. Farr. “I’m deeply humbled to have Judge Poe, a strong advocate for Peace Corps Volunteers in his own right, name this bill after me and I’m honored to cosponsor it. Expanding, promoting and improving Peace Corps has been a passion of mine since serving in Colombia from 1964-1966 and I look forward to using my remaining few months in Congress to continue this important mission.”

    Other provisions in the legislation attempt to strengthen anti-malarial protections for currently serving volunteers, strengthen the number and training requirements for Peace Corps Medical Officers, removes the Peace Corps five-year rule from certain management support positions, and requires further publication requirements for the annual volunteer satisfaction survey.

    Several of the key RPCV health provisions in the legislation have been advocated by Health Justice for Peace Corps Volunteers, an NPCA affiliate group established several years ago to raise more awareness and support for RPCVs facing health challenges stemming from their Peace Corps service.

    Health legislation, as well as strong funding for the Peace Corps, will be key issues raised during NPCA's Capitol Hill Advocacy Day on Thursday, September 22. 

    Follow this link to read a summary of H.R. 6037. 

    Follow this link to read the legislation.

    Follow this link to add your support for Peace Corps funding and health legislation in advance of NPCA's Capitol Hill advocacy day.