March 24, 2004 - PCOL Exclusive: Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez's Statement on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers before the House International Relations Committee

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Special Reports: March 24, 2004: The House holds Hearings on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers: March 24, 2004 - PCOL Exclusive: Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez's Statement on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers before the House International Relations Committee

By Admin1 (admin) ( on Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - 10:43 pm: Edit Post

Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez's Statement on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers before the House International Relations Committee

Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez's Statement on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers before the House International Relations Committee

Congressman Henry Hyde, Chairman of the House International Relations Committee, presided over hearings on March 24 on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers. Read and comment on the written statement by the witnesses at the hearings at:

Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez's Statement on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers before the House International Relations Committee*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez's Statement on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers before the House International Relations Committee

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

I am pleased to appear before your Committee today. I appreciate the opportunity to present an overview of the current state of the Peace Corps and the many accomplishments, which we, as an agency, have achieved since my arrival in February 2002. Mr. Chairman, I also appreciate the on-going support that you and many Members of this Committee have shown for the Peace Corps, and I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to encourage Members of the Committee to visit Peace Corps Volunteers should you travel to any of the 71 countries in which we operate. Seeing the Volunteers firsthand can give you a heightened appreciation for the remarkable service our American men and women perform overseas. Whether teaching schoolchildren in Kazakhstan how to use the Internet, or assisting a community in Namibia to build a solar-powered oven, seeing the Volunteers in action makes you proud of these Americans who are serving their country in nations around the world. If you are traveling to a country in which the Peace Corps has a program, please let us know and we will make every effort to connect you with a Volunteer. After meeting them, I know you will share in our enthusiasm to ensure the Peace Corps continues as a world-class organization, promoting world peace and friendship abroad.

While I understand the purpose of today’s hearing is to discuss the safety and security framework that has been designed to protect Peace Corps Volunteers, let me begin with some general comments about the Peace Corps and our goals. Earlier this month, we celebrated the Peace Corps’ 43rd anniversary. We have learned valuable lessons over the last 43 years. Over 170,000 Americans have served as Peace Corps Volunteers. The Volunteers have helped dispel misconceptions about Americans, assisted in fostering positive relationships with host country nationals, promoted sustainable development, and returned back home with messages about life overseas, the people they have served, and the cultures they have experienced. The core values of the Peace Corps and the grassroots work that President John F. Kennedy envisioned when he signed the Executive Order establishing the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961, remain relevant, vital, and strong.

These are the Peace Corps goals that we continue to promote: This past year has brought many accomplishments. It has been an exciting time at the agency as we continue to carry out President Bush’s call to public service and his goal to increase the number of Peace Corps Volunteers serving in the field. Mr. Chairman, the Peace Corps is pleased to be on a pathway for growth. However, since the amounts provided in the appropriations process for the past two years have fallen significantly short of that needed to meet the goal of doubling the number of Volunteers, we are pursuing the strongest growth possible within the constraints of our resources. Yet, I am happy to report that in September 2003, the Peace Corps achieved a 28-year high with 7,533 Volunteers working in 71 countries in the areas of agriculture, business development, education, the environment, health and HIV/AIDS education and prevention, and youth development.

By knowing local cultures and communicating in local languages, the Peace Corps continues to be actively engaged in activities addressing HIV/AIDS, at the grassroots level, providing over two million service hours a year. Fighting the ravages of this disease is paramount to the survival of people across the globe, and important to this agency. All Volunteers who serve in our 26 African nations—regardless of their program sector—are trained to provide HIV/AIDS prevention and education. In fiscal year 2003, for example, we re-entered the countries of Botswana and Swaziland exclusively to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic. We are also collaborating with the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator to continue our work in this arena and seeking to assist in meeting the President’s challenge to provide treatment to 2 million HIV-infected people; prevent 7 million new infections; and, offer care to 10 million people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, including orphans and vulnerable children.

In addition, Peace Corps Volunteers remain committed to serving in countries with predominantly Muslim populations. This has been true since the Peace Corps’ inception in 1961. Currently, almost 20% percent of our Volunteers are serving in nations with predominately Muslim populations in West and North Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and Central Asia. Three out of four of our new country entries in 2003 were in predominately Muslim countries -- Albania, Azerbaijan, and Chad -- bringing our total program involvement from 14 nations in 2002 to 17 in 2004. The Peace Corps’ mission in these regions matches our efforts worldwide and continues to be important. Host communities are exposed to positive and personal images of Americans, and returning Volunteers share their new understanding of these different cultures with friends and family in the United States.

New Initiatives and Accomplishments

Last fall, we launched a new national recruiting campaign to attract new Volunteers and increase diversity. The campaign theme -- “Life is calling. How far will you go?” -- was designed to touch the hearts, enlighten the minds, and inspire the spirits of the next wave of Peace Corps Volunteers. It included new recruiting materials, a re-designed website, updated recruitment videos, and new public service announcements. The response has been tremendous. Over the past year, Volunteer applications have increased by nearly 12 percent and, since the launch of the re-designed website, online inquiries are up 44 percent. Applications now completed on-line have jumped to 81 percent of all applications submitted; this is an increase from 42 percent in 2001. Applications from Latinos, African-Americans, Native Americans, and Asian-Americans are also up by 10 percent. The bottom line is that Americans want to serve and there are developing countries that want and need not only the skills of our citizens, but also want to build relationships that help further world peace and friendship.

In February of this year, the Peace Corps and the American Association of Community Colleges unveiled a new, groundbreaking recruitment initiative that will increase awareness of opportunities for specially trained Americans to share their skills internationally. It will allow those with the experience and occupational and technical skills -- such as licensed nurses and trained information technology experts -- to respond to the critical needs of countries where Peace Corps Volunteers serve. The rollout was launched in four different regions of the United States -- Washington D.C., Colorado, California, and Minnesota -- and has been met with an overwhelming positive response. In fact, many community colleges nationwide are expanding their international programs and view Peace Corps service as a tremendous opportunity to enhance their graduates’ professional careers.

On November 12, 2003, I signed an historic agreement that will lead to Peace Corps Volunteers serving in Mexico for the first time. This innovative partnership will allow Volunteers to join along side the National Council on Science and Technology (CONACYT) of Mexico and work in the areas of information technology, small business development, and science and technology. The Peace Corps country director has been selected and the first group of 15 to 20 Volunteers will arrive in Mexico this fall.

Travel to Peace Corps Countries

Over the past year, I have also had the privilege to travel to 12 different Peace Corps countries from Central America, to Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Pacific. During each visit, I met with Volunteers, host government officials, and representatives of our U.S. missions abroad. The support and enthusiasm I have received from each of these groups remains very high. In Fiji, for example, I was approached by a man in his mid-thirties, asking if I was the Peace Corps Director. The man stated that he had recognized me from the news the night before and was very excited that Peace Corps had returned to Fiji. He went on to explain that as a young boy he was taught by Peace Corps Volunteers and has never forgotten them. This type of story is repeated to me over and over throughout my travels. The Peace Corps continues to leave a lasting legacy across the globe, which I experience each time I am abroad.

While the world today is very different from 1961 when Peace Corps began, and even more so since September 11th – the American spirit of sharing with others remains a fundamental part of our democratic society.

Just last week, I returned from Guatemala where, on behalf of the Peace Corps, I received the Orden del Quetzal from Guatemalan President Óscar Berger Perdomo. President Berger recognized the distinguished service that Peace Corps Volunteers have given to the nation of Guatemala over the past 40 years. The award acknowledged the work of our former and current Volunteers in strengthening the friendship, harmony, and good will between our two countries. The presentation reminded those in attendance of the remarkable contribution that close to 4,500 Volunteers have given to the people of Guatemala through their hard work and enthusiasm. I was truly honored to receive this award, on behalf of the Peace Corps, from the Guatemalan government.

Volunteer Safety and Security: Our Overarching Priority

I will now move to the important issue of Volunteer safety. I will start by reaffirming that the safety and security of each Volunteer is the agency’s top priority. All 16 Peace Corps directors, beginning with Sargent Shriver, the agency's first director, have placed a high priority on Volunteer safety and security. While the Peace Corps will never be able to issue an absolute guarantee, we remain committed to developing optimum conditions for a safe and fulfilling experience for every Peace Corps Volunteer.

 Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez's Statement on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers before the House International Relations Committee

Safety and security issues are fully integrated in all aspects of Volunteer recruitment, training, and service, with an emphasis on Volunteers taking personal responsibility at all times and assimilating into communities. Information provided throughout the recruitment and application process -- to recruiters, on the recruitment website, in printed application materials, informational booklets and educational videos, during the two days of staging, and the 10 to 12 weeks of in-country pre-service training -- all includes the key messages that being a Volunteer involves risk, that Volunteers can and are expected to adopt safe lifestyles, and that the Peace Corps has an effective safety support system in place.

Since taking office in February 2002, I have made the safety and security of Volunteers my number one priority, and I am always mindful of the new security environment that September 11th placed on overseas organizations like the Peace Corps.

Based on my personal experience as a former public safety official, and aided by suggestions of others in the agency, the recommendations and findings from the General Accounting Office’s July 2002 report on Volunteer safety, and Volunteers in the field, the Peace Corps has taken the initiative to create and implement a number of safety enhancements. In 2002, I approved a reorganization that created a new Office of Safety and Security and increased by 80 people the number of full-time safety and security staff, ninety-five percent of which are deployed overseas.

This staff, which includes a new associate director of safety and security, a chief compliance officer, a research psychologist, nine regionally-based safety and security officers, and a safety and security desk officer for each Peace Corps region, was restructured to better communicate, supervise, monitor and help set safety and security policy. In addition, all 71 Peace Corps posts have established a safety and security coordinator in country to oversee Volunteer safety issues in the field.

Other new initiatives in safety and security include: The new staff, the new compliance tools, the additional documentation, and the restructured Office of Safety and Security have all been designed to bring greater standardization and accountability to the safety and security function.

It is important to note that the Peace Corps’ core safety and security philosophy is one of Volunteer acceptance and integration into the local community. This necessitates the thoughtful design of viable projects, the adaptation of Volunteers into their new sites and cultures, and the development of the Volunteers network of support. A safe and secure Volunteer is one who is working in the community on a well-designed project. In all programming, the Peace Corps works to ensure Volunteers have clearly defined job assignments. The technical training component of pre-service training prepares Volunteers with the essential competencies to successfully perform their work in their program sector. Eighty percent of pre-service training involves some community based training in order to simulate real-life experiences in the workplace, home, and community. Solid training and jobs enable Volunteers to become more quickly involved in their work, build a support network that includes their new colleagues, and produce measurable project outcomes. These factors lead to higher rates of Volunteer job satisfaction, which is important to Volunteer safety.

While the pre-service training contains many important technical components, language, cultural nuances, and safety and security training are key factors in preparing a Volunteer for integration into the host community and laying the groundwork for a safe and fulfilling Volunteer experience. High quality, practical cross-cultural training is also a cornerstone of Volunteer training. At the conclusion of pre-service training, “trainees” must pass a series of core competencies before being sworn in as full-fledged Peace Corps Volunteers. These core competencies require trainees to demonstrate an understanding of issues such as personal safety strategies, dealing with unwanted attention, identifying risk factors and strategies for avoiding risk, and the importance of incident reporting. They must also be able to communicate basic messages in the local language, exhibit an understanding of Peace Corps policies, as well as know their roles and responsibilities in the Emergency Action Plan.

 Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez's Statement on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers before the House International Relations Committee

It is vital that Volunteers know how to handle emergency situations, whether it is one Volunteer in an accident or all Volunteers in one country who need to be evacuated. As you may know, we recently suspended our program in Haiti, due to the civil unrest, and brought our 76 Volunteers home. This has been the sixth successful evacuation during my tenure as Director -- the 10th since the fall of 2001 -- impacting 908 Volunteers. Whether it is civil unrest, war, or the outbreak of SARS, the Peace Corps is diligent in monitoring the safety and security at each post and will not hesitate to take action should the need arise to move our Volunteers out of harm’s way.

In the activation of an Emergency Action Plan, as well as in more isolated emergencies -- such as notification of a serious illness of a family member at home -- the Peace Corps needs to be able to reach Volunteers at their sites. The Peace Corps makes use of all available and appropriate technology to communicate with Volunteers. As technology evolves, so does the Volunteers’ use of technology. In some countries, where cell phones are readily available, reliable, and widely used, almost all Peace Corps Volunteers will have one. For example, almost 100 percent of the Volunteers in South Africa have cell phones. In others, where cell phone coverage is non-existent or sporadic at best, Volunteers make use of the best parts of the communications infrastructure of that country. For instance, in the South Pacific Islands, cell phone systems are not available. Instead, solar-powered landlines are available to be used by Volunteers with Iridium phones as back up with the Volunteer Leaders. Overall, posts use a combination of cell phones, landlines, solar-powered landlines, email, beepers, radios, and message relay systems to reach Volunteers on a regular basis and in emergency situations. Furthermore, when Peace Corps Volunteers are placed in communities around the world, they have a circle of support around them that includes local host country nationals as well as Peace Corps staff. As would be the case here in the United States, if a person were in distress, friends, neighbors, colleagues, host country counterparts, and local police are available to assist with the situation and to send and receive emergency messages.

The Peace Corps uses four key elements in establishing and maintaining its safety and security framework for Volunteers and staff: research, planning, training, and compliance. Safety and security information is tracked and analyzed on an on-going basis. The data analysis, conducted now by our new safety and security research psychologist, is used to enhance existing policies or develop new policies and procedures, as needed. Our research psychologist also periodically corroborates statistical data on crimes against Volunteers with the Department of State’s Crime Division, the only division solely dedicated as an official repository of crime statistics.

After careful analysis and planning, changes are being integrated throughout the agency. The training of Volunteers includes the most up-to-date safety and security information available. Lastly, compliance is essential to ensure that safety and security measures are adhered to and remain a top priority over the course of time. Each of these components helps create a framework to safeguard the well being of Volunteers and staff, enabling them to carry out the Peace Corps’ mission.

Statistical Results

While establishing new training procedures, expanding staff resources and insuring compliance are important; the ultimate evaluation should be measured by results. During the past two years, the Peace Corps has experienced a significant drop in Volunteer deaths, major sexual assaults, and minor assaults. The rate of serious sexual assault events is down one-third since 1997. Additional statistical data shows:In addition to the statistical data, the most effective tool for gauging success is to ask Volunteers. Every two years, the Peace Corps conducts a global survey to measure the levels of Volunteer satisfaction with programming, safety, medical, and other key indicators. In the most recent global volunteer survey, which had a 68 percent response rate (itself a high response rate):.

New Protocol on Violent Crimes Against Volunteers

Notwithstanding that Volunteers largely feel safe where they are living and working, safety incidents do occur. One assault against a Volunteer is one too many. We take each incident very seriously and mobilize all of our resources to assist Volunteers in need. Whether the crime is that of theft of a Volunteer’s property or a major sexual assault, the Peace Corps has trained, professional, caring staff in place to immediately respond and bring appropriate medical attention, counseling, and law enforcement to aid the Volunteer. In some situations, Volunteers are medically evacuated to the United States to receive focused care and treatment.

As I have explained, the Office of Safety and Security takes extensive measures to ensure that the agency is effectively working to prevent crimes against Volunteers. In addition to the extensive training, this office also collects data to analyze crime trends to help inform policy and prevent future incidents. For instance, the data indicates that Volunteers are most at risk for a major physical assault on a Saturday or Sunday between the hours of 7:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. in an urban, public area. Such risk factors are repeatedly emphasized to Volunteers during training so they can minimize their risk of becoming a victim. Volunteers are instructed on how to take personal responsibility to avoid risky situations and modify their behavior to protect themselves.

However, in the unfortunate situation when a violent crime against a Volunteer does occur, the Peace Corps has mechanisms in place to assist the Volunteer in every way possible. I have mentioned medical care and counseling. Allow me to turn to the issue of investigation and prosecution and the role of the Peace Corps Office of the Inspector General.

 Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez's Statement on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers before the House International Relations Committee

Last October, I issued a new Peace Corps “Protocol on Violent Crimes Against Volunteers,” which helped clarify the existing duties of the Inspector General when a Volunteer is a victim of a violent crime. Specifically, the Inspector General has a coordinating role and is charged with reviewing the investigation efforts of local officials, conducting appropriate follow-up actions to support an investigation, and assisting in the prosecution. As appropriate, the Office of the Inspector General escorts the Volunteer or former Volunteer back for host-nation investigative and prosecutorial proceedings.

With the restructuring of the new Office of Safety and Security, and to benefit the service to Volunteers and this agency, I was pleased to comply with the Office of the Inspector General’s request to more formally clarify to the agency the responsibilities of the Office of Inspector General in following up on violent crimes against Volunteers. While this protocol was simply a clarification of existing duties, I can also report that I have consistently increased the Office of Inspector General’s budget, which has risen by 30 percent since 2002.

The Peace Corps maintains a healthy working relationship with the Office of the Inspector General, which operates as an independent entity under the Inspector General Act, not the Peace Corps Act. As an independent office that audits our financial functions, evaluates the management and program operations, and investigates allegations of criminal activity, the Office of the Inspector General plays an important oversight role in evaluating and identifying areas and processes in the agency that require immediate attention as well as long-term improvement. We take their reports very seriously in the field and at Headquarters, and our Chief Compliance Officer checks to ensure that we appropriately follow up on their recommendations. For example, the Inspector General brought it to my attention that many problems existed with Volunteer hostels, which often draw Volunteers away from their sites and away from making lasting relationships with members of their community. After a thorough assessment, our Peace Corps manual was revised prohibiting the Peace Corps from providing, sanctioning, or condoning the use of hostels unless previously approved by the Director. This decision was not met favorably by many Volunteers, yet based on the Inspector General’s report, was in the best interest of the agency. I look forward to continuing our balanced working relationship that values both the Office of the Inspector General’s independence and recommendations.

Proposed Legislative Changes

I understand this Committee intends to consider legislation in the near future that will impact the Peace Corps. One of the major strengths of the Peace Corps Act is that it is a broad authorization, which has over the years, given ample opportunity for the agency to maintain its independence and its effectiveness. Congress set forth broad objectives, and let the Executive Branch, in consultation with the host government or its peoples and Congress, establish programs that meet the individual needs of each country. Few agencies have been so successfully and efficiently managed over such a long period.

 Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez's Statement on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers before the House International Relations Committee

To maintain our effectiveness in an era of continued growth and opportunity requires that management has the flexibility to make decisions that best serve the agency and, most importantly, the Volunteers. We do not believe that it is in the best interest of this agency to pursue any of the legislative changes that we understand the committee plans to consider.

As noted above, the Peace Corps currently has a positive and independent working relationship with the Office of Inspector General, as a Designated Federal Entity under the Inspector General Act of 1978. The budget for the office has consistently increased over the last three years, with a current budget of $2.55 million in fiscal year 2004 supporting 17 positions (the total budget for the agency is $308 million). Given the size of our agency and funding level, we find this arrangement appropriate and in line with similar agencies of our size and stature. Other agencies where the Inspector General is appointed by the head of an agency include AMTRAK, the Federal Reserve, EEOC, and SEC. The President appoints Inspector Generals at large departments and agencies, such as DOD, Commerce Department, Department of Education, HHS, and HUD.

 Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez's Statement on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers before the House International Relations Committee

Secondly, we find it unnecessary to permanently institute an Office of the Ombudsman. This new statutory requirement would be duplicative on many levels, diluting the authority already granted to the Office of the Inspector General. Given the broad parameters that we understand the legislation would create for the Ombudsman, it could actually conflict with the Inspector General’s existing jurisdictional authority and could artificially interrupt standard review procedures. In addition, the agency is in the process of considering establishing an internal liaison to facilitate post-medical services issues on behalf of returning Volunteers -- an item I will address further at the close of my remarks. Again, while the idea may have merit, we do not see the creation of such an office as an appropriate use of our agency’s funds.

Impact of the 5-year rule

As you may know, the Peace Corps is a unique federal agency in that most employees are limited to serving the agency for five years, though we are permitted to extend the service of a limited number of employees past the five-year mark. This creates a dynamic, energetic atmosphere in which Peace Corps staff works hard to have a positive impact on the agency during their five-year tenure. Recently, Congress gave the Peace Corps authority to exempt certain positions associated with safety and security from the five-year rule. Since this is a departure from our historical employment laws and regulation, I carefully reviewed the positions and formally designated our first group of 23 exempt positions on October 29, 2003. Nineteen of these positions are in our newly re-organized Office of Safety and Security, which is the Peace Corps office primarily responsible for Volunteer safety and security. One Safety and Security Desk Officer position in each of the regional directorates has been designated, and the position of Director of Quality Improvement in the Office of Medical Services has also been exempted. We believe that these 23 positions are the most clear-cut and readily justifiable applications of the new authority, as they most directly and obviously impact Volunteer safety. Additionally, the 71 safety and security coordinator positions at post are not subject to the five-year rule limitation.

While these were the most obvious designations, I have ordered that an independent, outside expert be hired to review Peace Corps operations and make recommendations on what additional, second-tier safety-related positions should be taken out from under the five-year rule. The review will specifically include the Office of Inspector General. At the conclusion of the expert consultant’s review, I will make decisions about any other appropriate exemptions for personnel related to safety and security. Because of these on-going activities to implement the five-year rule exemption appropriately, we also do not see the necessity of further legislation in this regard, which the Committee may soon contemplate. The first 23 positions, which directly impact Volunteer safety and security, are now exempt and we expect to exempt a number of second-tier positions as we proceed through this process.

Volunteer Care

Lastly, let me take a moment to address this issue and reiterate a point that is true agency-wide: the Volunteer is at the heart of all Peace Corps programs and policies. These are Americans who commit to serving 27 months abroad with the hope of making a contribution and a connection to people they do not know and often learning a language that they do not speak. Volunteers exhibit great commitment, optimism, and a “can-do” attitude as they work toward sustainable development at the grassroots level in emerging countries. While the circumstances in which they work may be challenging, the personal and professional rewards can be immeasurable. As an agency, we commit to providing the best experience possible to our Volunteers from their first contact with Peace Corps as an applicant to their years as a returned Peace Corps Volunteer. The Volunteers are our heart and soul and everything this agency does revolves around them.

Thus, we constantly strive to provide support to our Volunteers and continually seek ways to improve. During a Peace Corps Volunteer’s service in the field, the Office of Special Services plays an essential role in our Volunteer support system. For instance, the Office of Special Services coordinates the after-hours duty system, which provides 24 hours a day, seven days a week coverage for all Volunteers and their families. Parents may call this office, at any time, if they need to advise their Volunteer of a critical illness or death of a family member. The Office of Special Services immediately informs the Country Director so that the information is passed on to the Volunteer as soon as possible, and arrangements can be made for special emergency leave if appropriate. The Office of Special Services also serves as a key link with families in the intense time of a country evacuation or the tragic event of the death of a Volunteer. This office is also a key resource for staff and volunteers in assisting with mental health and behavioral issues. In all of these situations, the trained professionals who work in the Office of Special Services strive to provide top-quality care, timely information, and supportive service to Peace Corps Volunteers and their families. Here is just a sample of one family’s experience. “When Peace Corps called us about Beth's accident in Zambia and her life-flight to Pretoria, my husband, Gerry, immediately flew to South Africa to be with our daughter … Through this terrible time, I was in close telephone contact with a Peace Corps counselor in Washington, D.C. When Gerry arrived, he was met and supported throughout by a Peace Corps medical officer … the Peace Corps was our advocate in every way possible. They treated us as though we were part of their own family.”

While Volunteers may or may not have circumstances that necessitate the involvement of the Office of Special Services during their tenure, all Peace Corps Volunteers go through a readjustment process upon completion of their service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. For some, the transition back to life in the United States is a return to familiarity -- the filling out of paperwork and taking care of any needed medical follow-up. For others, however, moving from two years of medical care by the Peace Corps, helping with everything from a toothache to a serious medical issue, can present a more significant challenge.

 Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez's Statement on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers before the House International Relations Committee

The Post Service Unit in our Office of Medical Services facilitates post-service medical benefits to returned Peace Corps Volunteers with service-related medical conditions as their care is transferred to the U.S. Department of Labor. Volunteers are considered Federal employees for the purpose of health benefits provided through the Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA) program administered by the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs at the Department of Labor. The FECA program provides post-service medical and compensation benefits for conditions exacerbated, accelerated, or precipitated by service in the Peace Corps.

While Peace Corps staff remains vigilant in trying to ensure that claims on behalf of returned Peace Corps Volunteers are processed by the Department of Labor in a timely manner, this is an area where there is room for improvement. Progress in this area both reward former Volunteers that have already served their country and enhance the attractiveness of the Peace Corps Volunteer program to future Volunteers. As we strive to provide our Volunteers with the best service possible, we welcome positive steps -- such as a post-service liaison -- which would result in reducing delays experienced by former Volunteers as they seek resolution of their healthcare claims.

Additionally, when a Volunteer completes his or her service, the Volunteer has the opportunity to purchase private health insurance through CorpsCare (a program similar to the COBRA health insurance plan). Peace Corps pays the first premium covering the first 31 days and then the individual can continue to purchase the policy for up to 18 months. The policy is designed to cover any medical issues not related to a Volunteer’s service. After identifying a gap during which many Volunteers who purchased CorpsCare were experiencing a lag time as they awaited a decision on their FECA claim, Peace Corps renegotiated the CorpsCare contract to provide former Volunteers with greater continuity of coverage. The new CorpsCare contract went into effect on March 1, 2004, and we are especially pleased with this new arrangement, which should be a great improvement in providing care for returned Peace Corps Volunteers.

As we seek to further Peace Corps’ three goals, the Volunteer is always the central focus. We are continually striving to improve the agency and ensure that our Peace Corps Volunteers have meaningful, productive, and life-changing experiences as they serve throughout the world. Over 170,000 Americans have served in the Peace Corps, and we look forward to providing excellent care to the people of the United States who may serve, are serving, or have returned from service. The Peace Corps will not rest on our achievements and accomplishments. We will build on the successes and learn from events as they occur. Not long ago, I read a message from the parent of a volunteer who was grateful for the quality of care that was rendered by Peace Corps staff overseas and here in the United States. The parent wrote, "As a United States citizen, I am very proud of the Peace Corps; it is a superb organization worthy of every citizen's support."


 Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez's Statement on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers before the House International Relations Committee

The safety of the Volunteer is the number one priority of the Peace Corps, and remains the primary focus of many of the research, planning, training, and compliance components of the agency. As noted above, our agency has accomplished a great deal over the past 22 months -- in both safety and security and the growth of our programs. Our FY 2005 budget request of $401 million will support this continued growth and maintain the infrastructure we presently have in place.

In conclusion, I am grateful to you and members of the Committee for your continued support of the Peace Corps mission. September 11th is a grim reminder that the work of past, present, and future Volunteers is more critical than ever. I believe that the Peace Corps is well positioned to safely achieve expansion and build upon the successes of the past 43 years.

March 23, 2004 - US Newswire: Hyde to introduce Peace Corps Safety and Security Act of 2004

Hyde to introduce Peace Corps Safety and Security Act of 2004

Read and comment on this Press Release from the Committee on International Relations that Chairman Henry Hyde will introduce the Peace Corps Safety and Security Act of 2004 to create an agency ombudsman; enhance the Corps' security office; and give greater independence to the agency's Office of the Inspector General. Read the story at:

To: Assignment Desk, Daybook Editor*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Safety & Security of Peace Corps Volunteers: Hyde schedules Wednesday oversight hearing; Plans introduction of legislation to remedy problems

BACKGROUND: The president's intention of doubling the size of the Peace Corps comes at a time of heightened risk for Americans living abroad. Recent critical reports by the General Accounting Office (GAO) and an award-winning series by the Dayton Daily News illustrate uneven performance by the Peace Corps in developing safe and secure housing and worksites, responding to volunteer concerns, and planning for emergencies. Among those scheduled to testify are Walter R. Poirier, the father of missing Peace Corps volunteer Walter J. Poirier. The younger Poirier, a native of Lowell, Massachusetts, and a 2000 graduate of the University of Notre Dame, served as a volunteer in Bolivia until his disappearance in March 2001. A subsequent GAO report found that "the Peace Corps failed to properly supervise Poirier and lost track of him." Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez is expected to testify on recent policies adopted by the Peace Corps to promote the safety and security of its volunteers. Later this month, Chairman Hyde will introduce the Peace Corps Safety and Security Act of 2003 to create an agency ombudsman; enhance the Corps' security office; and give greater independence to the agency's Office of the Inspector General.

WHAT: Full Committee oversight hearing: Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers

WHEN: 10:30 a.m., Wednesday, March 24

WHERE: Room 2172 Rayburn House Office Building

WITNESSES: Gaddi H. Vasquez, Director, The Peace Corps; Charles D. Smith, Inspector General, The Peace Corps; Jeffrey Bruce, Editor, Dayton Daily News; Jess Ford, Director, International Affairs and Trade, General Accounting Office; Walter R. Poirier, father of missing Peace Corps volunteer; and Kevin Quigley, President, National Peace Corps Association.

Issues expected to be examined at the hearing:

-- How does the Peace Corps monitor the safety and security of its volunteers in the field?

-- Is there a standard policy on a global or country-by- country basis that requires supervisors to visit or contact volunteers in person at a specified interval?

-- How does the Peace Corps train its volunteers, especially with respect to safety and security? After several months on assignment, do Peace Corps volunteers feel that they have been adequately prepared for their assignment?

-- Is it possible to expand the presence of the Peace Corps in additional countries while taking into account the safety of Peace Corps volunteers?

Click on a link below for more stories on PCOL

Read the series on Safety and Security here

Leave your comments on the series below.

Read comments by RPCVs here, here and here.

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Congress; Hearings; Legislation; Safety and Security of Volunteers



Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.