Strengthening the Peace Corps

At the young age of 23, Nick Castle knew he had a higher calling. So directly following his graduation, he headed overseas to China to teach English, volunteering in the Peace Corps. Sadly, Nick became seriously ill after becoming an ambassador abroad.

He was the victim of an inefficient, underequipped, and unresponsive Peace Corps-led medical team in China. After he reported that he was ill, he was prescribed a broad antibiotic. Nick quickly began to experience drastic weight loss, but he was reassured he was okay.

As the weeks progressed, he was confined to his bed, too ill to even stand up. But his doctor never recommended that he go to the hospital. After experiencing dangerously low blood pressure, Nick was finally sent to a hospital.

As the ambulance made its way to him, it got lost on the winding roads in the remote area of China. Before the ambulance could get Nick to the hospital, he stopped breathing. Nick died a few weeks later in early 2013.

A 2014 Peace Corps Inspector General report found that Nick was the victim of medical negligence. ‘‘Failures and delays in treatment’’ were exposed, ultimately leading to Nick’s death. Investigations revealed that the Peace Corps medical team misdiagnosed his illness.

This heartbreaking death of a young man serving our country and the world could have been avoided had the Peace Corps staff been properly trained, equipped, and had a responsive team. Unfortunately, Nick’s case is representative of a broader problem: Peace Corps volunteers struggle to access quality medical treatment when they are abroad in remote areas of the world.

And when they return to America, then they face a red-taped, bureaucratic nightmare. They are covered by the Peace Corps for 3 months while they wait on the Department of Labor to determine that their illnesses or injuries are service related. But the Department often takes much longer than 3 months to make that determination, forcing those Peace Corps volunteers to pay out of pocket for costly medical expenses. When attempting to get medical coverage through the Department of Labor, many are faced with costly personal expenses.

So, Congressman KENNEDY and I have sponsored H.R. 2259, the Sam Farr Peace Corps Enhancement Act. Sam Farr was a Peace Corps volunteer and a Member of Congress.

This act seeks to improve and strengthen the health, safety, and wellbeing of current and returning Peace Corps volunteers. It requires that Peace Corps volunteers have access to a qualified Peace Corps medical officer and medical facilities while they are at posts overseas.

And when those volunteers return home, it extends their Peace Corps coverage for up to 6 months while they wait on the Department of Labor to determine coverage. It enhances access to health care for returning Peace Corps volunteers as well, and it expands and improves provisions of the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act, enhancing the ability to assist and protect volunteers that have experienced sexual assault, among other issues, while in lands across the seas.

Peace Corps volunteers are America’s angels abroad. They are some of the best that we have. They are the spirit of humanitarian assistance. They work in remote areas of the world helping others—areas of the world that many Americans can’t find on a map. So America must make sure to take care of these amazing people when they serve in lands far away so that there are no more deaths like Nick Castle’s. And that is just the way it is.

And that is just the way it is.


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