Excerpts from RPCVs about being
I will tell you not what you want to hear, but what I know to be true because I have lived it...
Memory is a responsibility because as it is told it becomes witness and reaches beyond the individual
into the consciousness of the community." Arthur Frank
- My condition left me jobless, homeless, physically
disabled, and in pain. I'm sure there are many more of you out there. Luckily I
didn't have kids or other family responsibilities, so I've had TIME to waste on
the system, but what about the others?
- I would love to be asked to
give my personal case history… that I lived on $100 a month, got sick and
repeatedly asked for my PCMO’s (Peace Corps Medical Officers) help to do
more tests and was told there was nothing more to do, when there was and
now I get to live with a (...) disease for the rest of my life. So, the
OIG (Office of Inspector General during GAO of RPCVs) wants to know if it
is spending the PC is spending its money appropriately? The answer is an
- I don’t get responses from the
DOL anymore. My case has dropped off the face of the earth. During my
initial 2 years of surgery USDOL/OWCP paid for everything. But after there
had been a lapse in treatment they no longer paid my bills, nor would they
answer my calls. The bottom line was that I ended up paying the bills
myself to save my credit. My letters received no responses. After trying
so much I just gave up.
- I was medically separated from
[Africa] after 3 years because I became very ill. To date I am no closer
to finding out the cause of my illness. My experience dealing with the PC
Post Service Medical Unit has been one of the worst of my life. Can anyone
on this listserve help?
- I would be happy to share my
experience with whoever needs to hear about all this. I think OWCP
needs to change. As a taxpayer I applaud their goal of rooting out
fraudulent claims, but I don't think they have to make the experience
miserable for everyone else to do so. They do a disservice to those
of us who sacrificed our health and careers to serve our country.
And I think Peace Corps has a responsibility to be our advocates.
They promised to take care of us, but they pretty much abandoned me once
my plane set down in [the US] in the winter of 1986. I am still
sacrificing for Peace Corps and my country.
- Once one is medically evacuated
the situation becomes quite grim. You are suddenly a pariah because
they seem to be assuming that you're trying to take advantage of
their system. That's not true for me; I just want to get well and go
back to work. They are far from being proactive about diagnosis and
treatment; instead it's like pulling teeth to get approval to see
- I've lived off my
savings the past year, so my funds are essentially depleted - I stayed
with my family trying to get medical help …, so finding paid work
(anything) was very hard, and my Peace Corps "salary" was too
low to qualify me for any unemployment benefits. I continue to pay for my
CorpsCare health insurance, but they won't pay any claims per the Peace
Corps condition because it started during service, so I'm stuck with FECA.
- I am considered 100% disabled,
lovely label, isn’t it. The main problem I see is that the neurosurgeon
that needs to fill out this report is not thrilled with filling in a
definite date for period of disability - as no one can say how long this
will last, or what treatment might prove effective. Not to mention the
difficulty of even getting in to see him. It's discouraging. Everything
seems to take months at best to process and, while I currently have enough
money to live on, watching that negative cash flow is scary, to say the
least - and living in Limbo is equally disheartening. I don't feel that I
can plan my future, or that I have much control over my life….. “We are
the forgotten, burning in the streets, hands out, screaming: ‘This is not all I am; I had something else in
mind to do today.”
- I was in the Peace Corps
… It was an enormously rewarding experience… I came home in the
winter via a series of hospitals…
I was in a pretty bad way…No one from Peace Corps ever explained
that I was being moved from their organization into the care of the Dept.
of Labor, let alone how the system was supposed to work…I feel like I have
been playing catch-up for the two decades since then… Before I ever left
the hospital it was obvious I was going to have to rethink my direction in
life. I entered graduate school … while still being fed
intravenously. No one ever told me I was eligible for Federal
funding for retraining…I had to figure out the medical reimbursement
system on my own….. Sometime after I moved … my compensation payments
mysteriously stopped…In the end, it took the intervention of my Senator's
office to determine that (1) I had not received adequate notice that my compensation
was being discontinued and why it was discontinued, and (2) that it
shouldn't have been discontinued in the first place… It is apparent to me
that there are very few OWCP personnel who are competent to perform this
- I returned from (overseas). I'm
in (the US) now and getting really frustrated with OWCP. For having a
great experience, I came home in rough shape. I have active [disease of a
rare form] and the PC can't seem to get it through their heads that just
because my chest x-ray is clear doesn't mean I'm healthy. I also have
permanent liver damage from the original bout of [medication]. The
response I got was basically "sucks to be you." It took 3 weeks
to get a call back from OMS ) Office of Medical Services) and that was
only after I left a message saying I was going to infect all of greater LA
with [my disease] if they didn't do something. Right now I'm stuck and so
am dealing with free clinics and a county hospital for medicine and
surgery. Will this hurt my chances of getting my claim approved? I've
gotten a lot of stuff for free, cuz, well, I'm broke. Willing to go
- I'm assuming that our
Congressional inquiries are dead….. I'm not sure where to go from here.
Any ideas? For example, I'm going
to submit to Senator Dodd's office a recent letter from Michelle K.
Brooks, the Director of Peace Corps' Office of Congressional Relations, in
which she states: " ... Given that […..’s] claim is an accepted
claim, the Peace Corps cannot provide any further assistance. At this
point in the process, we can only recommend that he follow up directly
with DOL." This is precisely the type of brush-off that members of
our group have gotten from Peace Corps over and over again. (I
realize that I'm preaching to the choir!)…. We need to act--and act now.
- … It's unfortunate that Peace
Corps refuses to advocate for those of us who suffer at the hands of OWCP.
Peace Corps is the client agency and could have a powerful influence over
- I may ask my parents for
financial help…. I have dread thinking of dealing with the Peace Corps
again… The doctors wanted more
tests and the PC didn’t approve anything. I was so disappointed to
have to end my service that way. That is why I am avoiding the new FECA
claim. Any advice on opening this can of worms again?
- If your condition isn't one
that the Peace Corps wants to talk about (like the long term side effects
of taking Lariam), then they do a good job of preventing injured
volunteers from getting compensation.
- I am also frustrated, and
somewhat puzzled, by the lack of response that we've gotten from most of
the Senators and representatives we've contacted. Why are they so
reluctant to take on the Executive Branch? Are RPCVs such lowly beings
that we don't even make a blip on the radar?
- It has been very rare indeed
that I have been told that I have been approved for coverage. It was up to
me to call and find out for myself. I have rarely gotten anything in
writing saying I was authorized and once, when they changed claims
examiners on me, my new examiner said she couldn't find any evidence that
I was still authorized for medical compensation. I realized that I
had nothing in my possession but my phone notes to prove that I had
authorization. Needless to say, this is not a very empowering position.
- I was stabbed two days after
swearing in so my settling allowance was a pittance), homeless, jobless,
physically disabled, and still unfinished with my education (I was using
PC for credit to my master's program as I was a master's international
student). (No doctor will take me where I live because they won't bill
OWCP -- I have to drive 6 hours to be seen -- I may still require another
- The running commentary of this
group should discourage anyone from signing up. It is also a sad
statement of the consideration given to RPCVs and any responsibility the
government feels towards us. My left retina has been destroyed by
infections from service overseas. It has taken me years to find a
doctor who understands the disease and the epidemiology of it, to state
for sure what the relationship is to PC service. Too bad,
"untimely filing" says the OWCP.
- I was disabled in the Peace
Corps and twenty years later am fighting for every little scrap of help I
can get from OWCP. I posted a response but didn't know if you would see it
all these months later. Actually, I was excited to see someone with
the same problems (not that I would wish them on anyone of course.)
- My case is going nowhere.
The Boston Area Office will not respond to communications from me or my
Congressman. My congressional caseworker told me yesterday that she
is "stumped" and has no idea what to do next. After
speaking with her, I called both of my Senators and OWCP in Washington, D.C.
in an attempt to stir the pot, so to speak. I'm not sure if anything
will come from my afternoon of phone calls, but I thought it was worth a
- It appears that OWCP will try
anything to avoid contact with claimants and their Congressional
Representatives. Playing politics is yet another approach the agency
will use to remain unapproachable.
- I understand your frustrations
with Peace Corps administration. I spent 18 months in Africa where I
became quite ill with a number of tropical conditions in addition to being
forced to take mefloquine. The medical staff were grossly
incompetent on a good day and downright malicious if you tried to get any
meaningful attention. I don't know if my concerns are the same as yours
but I will be happy to compare notes and I'm not afraid to speak out.
- Maybe I'm a slow learner but it
wasn't until I received the OIG's letter [Office of the Inspector General
hired by the PC to investigate volunteers receiving OWCP] that it dawned
on me why no one in Peace Corps seems to be willing to help RPCVs with
their OWCP claims: It isn't in the agency's best interest, at least
from a fiscal point of view… If we could get RPCVs from 10 different
states to sign a letter to that House Committee and we cc'd the letter to
the corresponding Senate Committee and each of the RPCVs' Senators and
Congressmen, then the letter would be in the hands of a sizable number of
our elected representatives. Whether or not that would reach the
critical mass needed for action remains to be seen.
- It is bad enough to get the
letters from DOL that feel threatening, but to get one like this from
Peace Corps made me mad. Isn't anyone looking out for *our*
interests? I think what the OIG is looking to do is reasonable, but
given how one sided this whole struggle seems, I feel very frustrated that
this 'investigation' seems to be equally one sided. I find it
insulting given how many of us have had to deal with all of DOL's nonsense
that they didn't say they were looking into if the system were working
well for us, like you mentioned.
- I put all the medical bills on
my credit card, as they had told me to do saying they would pay them all,
and then they refused to pay them or if they paid them it was at a 1/4 of
the cost… Of course I will forever have lung and sinus issues
because I wasn't treated properly for 8 months. PC kept saying
it was a psych issue, not a physical illness and if I could figure out why
I was unhappy I would get better. In the end it took over two
months of heavy-duty antibiotics to make me better, but I will forever
have issues because of PC incompetence. Keep fighting.
- I offered to pay one
neurologist out-of-pocket, but he wouldn't take me as a patient even then
because workman's compensation is involved;…. I've lived off my savings
the past year, so my funds are essentially depleted… I continue to pay for
my CorpsCare health insurance, but they won't pay any claims per the Peace
Corps condition because it started during service...
- Make sure you keep going to the
doctor. PC likes to pull the "you were fine and didn't see anyone for
a week, if it was that bad then you would have seen someone." I heard
that so many times. Cause then they turn to, "you were fine for that
week, so this illness must have happened in the states and that is not our
issue, you are on your own." Please, please keep seeing someone and
have doctors document everything! It is your only way out... Also ASAP get
your PCMO's records. It is really interesting reading those, half my stuff
was never documented, but there was enough there to help my case. It is a
really long road, but it does end. You just have to be strong and plow
through it. I broke a huge glass window one day after fighting with PC for
hours and hours on the phone. At the end of the phone call I threw the
phone and it went through the window to the street. Yes, it will be
frustrating, but you are more important than any of this.
- I was very happy to find your
email this morning in my inbox. Wow! You mean there are others in my situation
(I sort of figured that).
- If others are in this situation
and need to hear my story to help their cause, please I will do whatever I
can to make changes! PC needs an overhaul and I am going to make it
my life's mission to see that happens! Best of luck to everyone!
What was it about the Peace Corps? About Ethiopia,
that has meant so much in our lives?
The answer is, I believe, that once a long time ago,
when we were young and believed we could make a difference,
we flew to the horn of Africa and touched this world firsthand,
touched it where it burns,
and we have never healed.