Mr. Speaker, America’s Peace Corps and those volunteers are our angels abroad. They represent the very best in America. Here with us today in the gallery, we have one of those brave volunteers, Ms. Sara Thompson.
Since she was a little girl, Sara dreamed of helping rural communities in Africa. When she grew up, the Peace Corps gave her that perfect opportunity. She served in Burkina Faso, where she worked to keep girls in school.
Unfortunately, her dream turned into a tragedy when the Peace Corps prescribed medication called mefloquine to protect her from malaria. During her service, she began to have horrific nightmares and struggled with mental health.
When she turned to the Peace Corps for help, the medical officer excused her symptoms as simply ‘‘not adjusting well.’’ One night, Sara woke up dizzy, nauseous, and threw up the entire night, so she went to the doctor, and the doctor told her it was an ear infection.
Months later still, Sara struggled with nausea and nightmares. And with no support from the Peace Corps, she took matters into her own hands and started to research those medical problems. It was then that she realized the malaria medicine the Peace Corps had given her was making her sick.
As it turns out, mefloquine’s side effects are so terrible, Special Operation Forces in the Army won’t even take that medication. Sara was never warned about these horrific side effects by the Peace Corps, and the doctors in her post country didn’t seem to recognize the symptoms either.
Our Peace Corps volunteers deserve better. They deserve better care than this, but, unfortunately, I have heard too many stories like Sara’s about Peace Corps volunteers. Young, enthusiastic volunteers eager to make a difference in the world are let down by the organization that they once held in such high esteem.
Peace Corps volunteers selflessly sacrifice years of their lives to help people that they have never even met, often in some of the most desolate, dangerous places on the globe. Their service to our country should not turn into a nightmare that ruins or even ends their lives because we don’t take care of them. Small, commonsense changes could make a big difference in protecting our Peace Corps volunteers abroad and when they get home.
That is why Representative KENNEDY and I introduced the Sam Farr and Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act. This bill has passed our Committee on Foreign Affairs and takes important first steps for our angels abroad. It betters medical care for volunteers in the country, improves training on the side effects of malaria medications, and allows the Peace Corps to better prescribe other types of malaria medication.
In addition, this bill better protects our volunteers from sexual assault and harassment when they are in foreign countries. When they return, it extends their health coverage, so they can get the care they need rather than stop taking care of them, as has happened in the past. There is still more that needs to be done to ensure the safety and security of those wonderful volunteers.
They deserve to be protected by the United States and our law when we send them to far reaches of the world. When they return from service with injuries and sickness, volunteers should be able to make ends meet with the disability payment that they receive, which is not the case now.
Mr. Speaker, I hope to see these provisions in law some day, but until then, the Sam Farr and Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act makes critical improvements for our volunteers. It is essential to see it become law. Peace Corps volunteers like Sara are the face of our country in places where America’s shining beacon of hope and liberty to other people may not always shine so bright without Peace Corps volunteers.
These individuals promote goodwill, a better understanding of the United States, and this helps us secure enduring partnerships with these nations. It also does good in the country that they are in. They change lives every day in local communities that they serve, and they do this many times when they are alone. We must ensure we are doing all we can to minimize unnecessary dangers for our Peace Corps volunteers, both at home and abroad.
The Sam Farr and Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act is a crucial first step, and I urge leadership to bring this bill to a vote soon. As a former judge, I can tell you that it is our duty to do everything within our power to protect these angels abroad.
These goodwill ambassadors like Sara Thompson are some of America’s best, and America must take care of them when they serve overseas, when they are helping people overseas, and when they return home to America from being overseas.
And that is just the way it is.