Braeden Waddell posted an articleParents of Nick Castle, who died while serving as a Volunteer, advocate for a better Peace Corps. see more
The parents of Nick Castle, who died while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in China, trace how they began their ongoing work to ensure that Peace Corps lives up to the ideals that their son believed in.
By Sue and Dave Castle
Photo: Dave and Sue Castle flanking Senator Bob Corker (R-TN)
Sue and I never thought of becoming involved in politics or advocacy until our son Nick died while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in China on February 7, 2013.
Nothing could have been further from our minds.
For all of you who have suffered a significant loss of a loved one, you can understand grief and pain. There is no preparation for the loss of your child.
After considerable effort to get the facts and determine how Nick could have died while being cared for by a Peace Corps Medical Officer, we became committed to making sure no other family would have to lose their child, parent or sibling due to medical incompetence and negligence.
It was apparent the Peace Corps that Nick joined failed to follow the guidelines and procedures established by their own policies and practices. We were surprised to learn there had been no update in legislation pertaining to health care since the Peace Corps was established by Congress in 1961.
Our reform efforts began almost four years ago to change the culture of the Peace Corps and re-define the medical services provided to volunteers.
So where do you begin?
We began by reaching out to our Senators in California: Senator Boxer and Senator Feinstein. And we didn’t begin with a direct phone or in-person conversation with our Senators.
We had no experience in lobbying. One of the early lessons learned is if you are willing to give up and go away no one is going to stop you. But if you are persistent, continue to write and call Congressional offices, people begin to recognize you are serious and committed to addressing a problem.
You also must have some suggestions for your Congressional representative as to what is needed to improve the current condition.
Putting a face and a voice to the cause is so important to advancing your efforts. That is something that cannot be duplicated in an e-mail or phone call.
It is not always about a political party either. We are not constituents of the two most significant Congressional people who offered their help and committed to our efforts. It happens to be two Republicans: Representative Ted Poe and Senator Bob Corker. Their involvement comes from realizing a need for the Sam Farr and Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act of 2018.
We also worked with the previous Director of the Peace Corps, the interim Acting Director of the Peace Corps, and now the current Director, Dr. Jody Olsen. Director Olsen sees the necessity for the legislation. During our recent meeting with her, she expressed her full support and commitment to see the needed changes included in the legislation are implemented.
This, along with the partnership with the National Peace Corps Association, has made our goal a reality. There are countless individuals who have worked towards seeing this bill pass through Congress. We are almost there. We realize this bill does not include all the issues currently affecting Peace Corps Volunteers, mainly raising the disability rate from GS7 to GS 11; however, we remain committed to working for reform. This bill is just the first step.
The Peace Corps’ Mission
To promote world peace and friendship by fulfilling three goals:
To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women
To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served
To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
The Fourth Goal:
To be supportive, show compassion and advocate for Volunteers who may have had a different experience.
The Fourth Goal was started by us to create awareness of healthcare issues and act as a resource for volunteers and their families. We are in the infancy stage of developing this organization. There is a need to advocate and support Peace Corps Volunteers who return from service with issues not easily remedied by traditional Peace Corps resources. We hope to be able to work with Peace Corps on policy and with Congress to develop legislative measures. We hope to work with current and RPCVs to identify not only areas of concern but also positive experiences to learn from and share.
We have learned that two voices are more powerful than one. Imagine what can be done with a thousand voices.
Connecting with another human being face to face with honesty and sincerity makes a difference.
Doing something because it is the right thing to do. Isn’t that what the Peace Corps is all about?
SUPPORT YOUR COMMUNITY:
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.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the National Peace Corps Association or its members.
Story updated with copy edits June 3, 2021.
A 2018 legislative priority for NPCA and the Peace Corps community is now law. see more
Earlier today, the White House announced President Trump signed into law the Sam Farr and Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act of 2018.
Passed unanimously by the Senate and House of Representatives, this law is designed to provide a number of improvements to Peace Corps operations, including mandating strengthened criteria in the hiring of overseas medical personnel, reauthorization and new provisions to further address agency actions to support volunteers victimized by sexual assault or other forms of violence, and further transparency to assist individuals in making informed decisions about their preferences for Peace Corps service.
"I want to thank the president for signing this important legislation that will improve the safety and well-being for current and future Peace Corps Volunteers," said NPCA President and CEO Glenn Blumhorst. "While there is more work that remains to bring about further reforms, this bi-partisan law is a strong step forward."
Follow this link for more details about this new law, contained in a post following Senate passage of the legislation on September 24th.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passes Nick Castle Reform Act see more
On the five-year anniversary of the death of Nick Castle, a Peace Corps Volunteer who served in China, legislation named in his memory took a step closer to passage in the United States Senate.
Yesterday, the Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act of 2017 (S. 2286) was approved unanimously by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The legislation outlines key parameters to ensure the agency hires well-qualified personnel capable of administering effective health care services for volunteers, and calls upon the agency to complete all open recommendations from a 2016 Inspector General Assessment on medical care. The legislation also includes provisions that extend key elements of volunteer safety legislation (passed in 2011) to address sexual assault and other acts of violence against volunteers, and proposes further reforms to address matters related to sexual assault. Additionally, the legislation extends existing health care coverage for service-related injuries four months after volunteers complete their service, and requires public disclosure of volunteer satisfaction surveys and early termination rates.
"I am always inspired by young people, like Nick Castle, who dedicate themselves to making a difference early in life," said Bob Corker (R-TN), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in a press release following the vote. "Nick exemplified the extraordinary commitment of Peace Corps volunteers who devote 2 - 3 years in service to our country. They deserve the very best support we can provide...As this bill advances to the full Senate, I am encouraged by the strong bipartisan support for our efforts to strengthen the Peace Corps and honor Nick Castle's memory."
Similar Peace Corps health and safety legislation is also in the House of Representatives. Introduced by Congressmen Ted Poe (R-TX) and Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA), the Sam Farr Peace Corps Enhancement Act (H.R. 2259), contains many provisions similar to the Senate legislation, as well as additional provisions related to volunteers returning home with service related illness or injuries. Earlier this week, Congressmen John Yarmuth (D-KY), Joe Courtney (D-CT) and Sean Maloney (D-NY) became the latest co-sponsors of H.R. 2259, bringing the total number of co-sponsors to 52.
NPCA is supporting both versions of this legislation, urging the Senate and House to pass their bills and come together to approve the strongest final bill possible.
Join us. Take action now! Urge your lawmakers to co-sponsor this important Peace Corps legislation.
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.
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.
"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."
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.