U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia has been joined by three other members of the Senate in introducing legislation in a bi-partisan effort to improve the health care received by Peace Corps volunteers.
The Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act of 2018 is named in memory of a 23-year-old Brentwood, Calif., volunteer who lost his life while serving in 2013 as a Peace Corps volunteer in China.
The initiative including Mr. Isakson’s fellow Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee, and Democrats Dianne Feinstein of California, and Chris Coons of Delaware follows legislation he introduced to assist volunteers who have been victims of sexual assault.
The circumstances of Mr. Castle’s death were reported by the New York Times, which included a review of the agency’s audits and extensive interviews with his parents. Read the New York Times account of Mr. Clark’s death by clicking here.
Among efforts to provide volunteer support, the legislation ensures the Peace Corps hires well-qualified personnel capable of administering effective health care services, provides the director the authority necessary to appropriately review and evaluate the performance of all current medical staff.
It also seeks to tighten up oversight by the agency and accountability and it seeks to reduce the risk of criminal involvement and extends health care coverage for service-related injuries through three months after volunteers return from service.
The Kate Puzey Volunteer Protection Act was named for the late Miss Puzey of Cumming, Ga., who was murdered in 2009 while serving as a volunteer at a girl’s school in the village of Badjoude in Benin, West Africa. News reports at the time cited her parents’ dissatisfaction with what they perceived was a coverup by the agency and the manner in which they were notified.
Miss Puzey, 24, had notified the Peace Corps office in Cotonou, Benin’s capital, that a Benin school teacher was abusing students, possibly even having raped some and fathered children of students who then didn’t continue with their educations.
The teacher was regularly hired to put together Peace Corps training sessions, and his brother was an associate director for the Benin program. A month following the notification, Miss Puzey was found on the front porch of her house in the village with her throat slit.
In February last year, the teacher, his brother and two others charged in the crime were acquitted despite the efforts to the U.S. State Department and Mr. Isakson. Read the Atlanta Journal Consitution’s account of the acquittal by clicking here.
The legislation that was signed into law provides whistleblower protection for Peace Corps volunteers, a safeguard that was in place for federal employees but not for Peace Corps volunteers. This type of protection would have given Miss Puzey more protection when she reported her allegations.
In addition, it requires the Peace Corps to develop sexual assault risk-reduction and response training and protocol in consultation with experts that complies with best practices in the sexual assault field. The training also is to be tailored to the specific countries in which volunteers serve.