About the author

Lilly Fowler is assistant editor at FairWarning.

9 comments to “Some Peace Corps Volunteers Face Injury Overseas, Indifference at Home”

  1. DYS

    PC just wants payments moved to DoL. Rest is just lobbying.

  2. Claudia Jayne

    I too am going through this medical nightmare…six months home and still no treatment. I was wanting to be a Peace Corps Recruiter when I returned…now I am so frustrated with the PC for not taking care of us stateside! I am giving many presentations to groups about my PC experience…and not sure what to say about PC lack of medical care upon completion…

  3. Nancy Tongue

    I founded Health Justice for Peace Corps Volunteers in March 2012 after struggling wtih my Peace Corps-related illnesses for decades. White it is tragic that it has taken multiple efforts on the part of hundreds of returned volunteers and the creation of a formal group to bring about improvements, I am pleased that since the creation of this group, Peace Corps’ Acting Director (Carrie Hessler-Radelet) has mobilized to create new positions for staff within the agency to offer support for those who have become sick or injured as a result of service. She promptly hired a consultant, Carol Chappell to intervene. And Carrie came to my home to learn about the magnitude of the health issues many of us have suffered, poring through and even photographing my many filing cabinets filled with documents pertaining to the Peace Corps Post Service Unit. the USDOL and my personal claim. Carol personally worked for months to obtain coverage for a necessary medical procedure for me that had been denied by the USDOL — and succeeded.

    My issues are not fully resolved and may never be but I hope that the battles to get procedures approved and covered lessen and consume less of my time allowing more time for my life’s goals. And I know that many out there are suffering gravely.

    While the recent GAO investigation and resulting report are a welcome beginning to examining long-standing problems within both the USDOL and Peace Corps’ handling of healthcare for volunteers, it fails to provide significant insight into the issues or make many recommendations beyond what was already known.”

    We feel changes in legislation are also needed in the following areas to:

    1. Place an expert with knowledge of Peace Corps job service and health issues within the USDOL to broker our claims, since the paperwork doesn’t reflect our unique types of health issues or job responsibilities
    2. Create a health insurance plan, as other Federal employees have when they become sick/injured on a job. When volunteers return home sick/injured some become uninsurable due to their “pre-existing illness” from their Peace Corps service.” Because we are deemed “volunteers” and not “employees,” we are not grated the same privileges that other federal employees get.
    · 3. Increase the “value” of Peace Corps Volunteers to a level greater than a GS-7, step 1 so that when they are unable to work, due to illness/injury, their disability is not fixed at a level that keeps them in poverty in America.

    Health Justice for Peace Corps Volunteers remains hopeful that the concerns of the Acting Director and newly hired staff at Peace Corps will continue to advocate for our needs and that legislation can be enacted to make positive changes permanent, especially within the USDOL. The general public knows little of the suffering many have endured because of service-related health issues since the founding of the Peace Corps fifty one years ago. Fortunately, we now have some advocates at Peace Corps who truly seem to understand the magnitude of the issues.

  4. Jennifer Jansen

    Once again, another sad example of how the US government takes care of its injured servicemen and women upon return. Since FECA and US Labor ignore its citizens who have returned home from serving abroad, there needs to be a safety net in place for PCVs injured overseas, whether through private insurance or something similar. In any case, this information needs to be included in Peace Corps recruiting presentations so prospective volunteers are aware of their potential circumstances when becoming ill or injured. Maybe this will help Peace Corps and its affiliated health organizations to clean up their act.

  5. Bridget DeCourcey

    Another issue worth noting is AfterCorps, Peace Corps’ version of insurance. AfterCorps mixed up two of my claims, and insisted that before they would cover the 90% portion of a $2,990 emergency room bill for a condition unrelated to a chronic stomach problem that forced me to leave my service, they told me I needed a FECA denial. FECA claims are needed only for injuries/illnesses sustained in your country of service. It took months and many phonecalls (during which I was talked down to like a child) to get the matter cleared up.

    AfterCorps also raised its monthly premiums without notice in September of this year, by over 30%. Federal law requires that insurance companies provide notice to clients of a rate increase, so that they have time to seek out insurance from other companies if the new rate is too high. When I called to complain, the representative I spoke to said, “In our agreements, we do reserve the right to change rates at any time.”

    It doesn’t make sense to me. We leave the comfort of our lives because we feel that we are called to serve. How Peace Corps and the Department of Labor can make the process of getting help with illnesses we experience on the job so difficult is something that bothers me tremendously. If this continues, Peace Corps will not be able to find amazing men and women to serve, which is a shame. It is a wonderful agency that puts America’s best foot forward. But as long as people hear about the horrors of FECA and AfterCorps, they’ll stay away.

  6. Wendy

    I am an RPCV, served Samoa 1997-2000, and I am so sorry to hear of PCVs/RPCVs challenges in accessing, receiving, and getting reimbursed for appropriate health and mental health care. I had an overall very positive experience as a PCV. I needed surgery, was medivac’ed, and stayed there until I was healthy enough to return to my country of service (I was cleared for return on day 43; if I had not been cleared by day 45, I would have been medically separated). Upon COS and return home, I had exploratory surgery to make sure everything was healing properly; I also needed to see a gasteroenterologist for treatment, and did so. All my medical done both in country and upon return went really well, and I had no problems with reimbursement (yes, it was a lengthy process, but all was achieved in the end). I had an amazing PCMO team (PC Medical Officer), and my return was to the Washington DC area – which meant I had much greater access to medical professionals in the system; I am sure both these issues played a large part of how well my process went.

    Again, it is so sad to hear of PCVs/RPCVs who leave with such negative experiences, and I’m sorry their PC time was tarnished like it was. It baffles me that PC and FECA are not doing more to support these volunteers. It also amazes me that there are so few medical professionals who participate in the system. I thought the medical field was “do no harm”, and when doctors refuse to see patients because they are under FECA, it is doing harm. Every medical professional should be obligated to see a small % of patients receiving medical benefits (FECA, workers’ comp, Medicaid, Medicare, etc) so that the responsibility is spread thin but wide, and access to medical care is increased to all.

  7. Joan McKniff

    “Volunteers who serve in impoverished, dangerous countries all too often endure sexual and other assaults, psychological trauma and physical injuries…” Do you have statistics that show sexual and other assault rates are higher in poor and “dangerous” countries than in NYC or USA as a whole? What do you mean by dangerous? Do you have statistics on % of Peace Corps volunteers who have been assaulted? Of course even 1 person is one too many but I suspect the rate is less than 2%.

    I fear what could have been a very good story, especially if had suggested solutions, on problems of FECA was sensationalized by headline and emphasis on supposed great risk of being a Peace Corps volunteer and then being ignored once home.

  8. Ms. Toby Rubenstein

    Are you aware that monetary compensation may be payable?

    I am willing to take cases under the FECA from Peace Corps volunteers. My affiliate consultant, Richard Kulick, may be able to help with medical bill processing.

    We are not attorneys, but together we have 33 years of experience at the Division of Federal Employees Compensation. The firm has been in existence for seven years. Fees are lower than attorneys would charge.

    We specialize in claims for emotional conditions but take other cases as well.

    You may reach me at (302) 559-7501.

  9. Matt

    I was lucky to get away without permanent injury, and only a couple thousand in debt. I had some dental fillings done in country that were improperly cleaned; decay continued under the fillings until it reached the roots of my teeth. I have been trying to get root canals for over a year.

    The problem is not with the Peace Corps medical unit, but with the FECA system, and the fact that volunteers are required to use it at all. Peace Corps, to be fair, was excellent for their piece. They got my condition to be accepted on the first attempt, with within weeks. I believe that to be nothing short of a miracle. After that, however, they wash their hands of you.

    In order to contact your FECA case worker, you leave a voicemail and they call you back sometime within the next two to three weeks. If you cannot talk or do not pick up when they call, then you leave another voicemail. Your caseworker is legally prohibited from assisting you in finding a medical provider who will accept workers compensation.

    After calling every endodontist within 200 miles, I found one in New Jersey who thought they were already enrolled with the FECA payment processor. They were not. If your medical provider needs any guidance for submitting your claim, or for enrolling in the payment system, they need to leave a voicemail with the case worker. If when the caseworker calls they are put on hold, for example because someone is with a patient or because your file needs to be retrieved, the case worker simply does not have the time to wait.

    Unfortunately they also do not try again later. The receptionist has no clue who that was, and the doctor who eventually picks up the phone to dead air definitely has no clue who that was. The office continues to believe that they requested assistance that is not coming.

    Every procedure needs to be pre-approved, so this has to happen at every step. Diagnosis, approval, and payment. Hopefully your doctor does not insist on being paid for the first procedure before moving on to the second, because that is not going to happen.

    At first I lived with the pain because I thought I was in the system now. Then I lived with it because I realized if I paid out of pocket, I would never be reimbursed. I couldn’t risk of not being able to repay the debt. At one time a volunteer’s readjustment allowance could buy them a decent car. Now it barely covers a security deposit and the first and last months’ rent. To some I am sure that the thought of not immediately paying is ridiculous, but to a freshly returned volunteer who nothing but a suitcase of used clothes purchased in an african market, a couple thousand dollars is an impossible sum.

    Twelve months after my close of service date, I had absolutely no hope of receiving approval. I am back in school, so I could take out student loans, but I continued to live with it out of sheer stubbornness. I felt betrayed. They call volunteering service, after all. “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Right? Right.

    I am so angry, and every time I chew, drink, or swallow, I am reminded by agony of the injustice. I’ve finally realized that living with constant pain is twisting me into a person that I do not want to be. I will put it on a credit card. In the spring I will take extra student loans to pay for it, and put it behind me. I thank God that I can, and I am so, so sorry for those who cannot.

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