Mr. Speaker, Representative KENNEDY and I introduced the Sam Farr Peace Corps Enhancement Act to protect our Peace Corps volunteers, our angels abroad. This bill builds on and extends protections for volunteers that became law as the result of the Kate Puzey Act which I introduced and finally became law in 2011.
H.R. 2259 protects volunteers at every stage of their service with the Peace Corps: the onboarding process, their time in country, and when they return home. Before they make a decision regarding where to serve, many potential volunteers are not fully aware of critical information like health risks and crime rates in various countries.
This bill requires the Peace Corps to provide this information to volunteers upfront so that they can make an informed decision regarding where to serve. While they are deployed in country, the bill requires that the Peace Corps ensures volunteers have access to qualified medical doctors.
These doctors must consult with outside experts and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) on best practices, particularly on mental health and malaria medications that can have serious long-term side effects.
We also added important provisions on protection from sexual assault and harassment recommended by the Office of Special Counsel report released earlier this year. When volunteers return home from their service with debilitating injuries and illnesses, they should not have to spend months dealing with bureaucratic red tape at the Department of Labor before receiving care.
This bill will ensure they immediately receive the care they need and deserve. These common sense changes will make a big difference in ensuring the safety and security of our volunteers. But this bill is just a first step in protecting our volunteers.
I fought long and hard for a provision that unfortunately did not make it into the legislation that passed out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee today: to increase the disability payment provided to disabled returned volunteers so they can make ends meet.
This important provision enjoyed broad support from Peace Corps volunteer groups, including Health Justice for Peace Corps and the National Peace Corps Association. I hope that this provision will one day become law. However, until then, the improvements in this bill are essential and valuable for our angels abroad.
A crucial provision that did make it in here was the extension of the authorization of the Sexual Assault Advisory Council for an additional 5 years. The Council was initially authorized by the Kate Puzey Act and serves to advise the Peace Corps on agency wide sexual assault policy.
Without this important bill, the council’s authority would lapse this year. Peace Corps volunteers selflessly sacrifice years of their lives to help people they have never even met. Often in some of the most desolate, even dangerous, places of the world.
They are the face of our country in places where America’s shining beacon of hope and liberty may not always shine so bright. Their service to our country should not turn into a nightmare that ruins, or even ends their lives.
As a former judge, I can tell you that it is our duty to do everything within our power to protect our angels abroad.
It’s time to stand up and take action for our volunteers. They are some of the very best we have.
And that’s just the way it is.