Are EPCVs Reapplying to Peace Corps Penalized for Seeking Mental Health Therapy?
A single country Peace Corps evacuation is traumatic enough. But when Peace Corps evacuates every one of the nearly 7,000 PCVs during a global pandemic and financial downslide, the impact is unimaginable.
Since this has never happened in the history of Peace Corps, what are the rules? What if the evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers (EPCVs) wants to return to service when the program reopens? Does pursuing mental health therapy penalize the EPCVs reapplying to return to Peace Corps service?
For many Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), readjustment after service is much harder than adjusting to service in our host country. Some EPCVs may be able to talk about their experiences with their family and friends. Others may chose to join our peer support program sessions. And then, some EPCVs need to pursue formal therapy sessions with a mental health professional.
Unfortunately, there are rumors that applicants are often challenged and/or denied if they recently pursued formal mental health therapy. Is therapy alone enough for disqualification? If not, how heavily weighted is it in that decision? Will EPCVs be also denied from returning to service if they pursued formal therapy in light of these extraordinary circumstances? But some EPCVs are even worried about asking the questions directly to Peace Corps.
One of RPCV Health Crusade’s driving principles is to help remove health obstacles for the community of PCVs and EPCVs/RPCVs. Another is to help represent and improve the health needs of this unique community. So naturally, we wanted to get some clarification to the concerns. On behalf of EPCVs, we perused the Peace Corps website and reached out to Peace Corps directly for answers. We felt it was important to dispel any mis-information generated by the rumor mills.
EPCVs Reapplying for Reinstatement vs Re-enrollment
Let’s first put some context around the questions.
When the Peace Corps reopen its programs, EPCVs have the option to reapply to service. EPCVs reapplying have the option to be reinstated or re-enrolled.
If the EPCV apply (and qualify) for reinstatement, they would return to their original post in their previous service country. Of course, that also depends on when that host country reopens and if the program and positions are still available. The Peace Corps website specifies they “cannot make any guarantees”. And the EPCV must be “willing to commit to the new length of service time requested by the post”.
If the EPCV apply for re-enrollment, this means starting a new full service term. This includes training and 2 years of service regardless of how many months you previously served. And you may be training and serving in a different host country than previously assigned.
Reapplying after Seeking Therapy
After close-of-service, Peace Corps covers the cost of 3 qualified mental health therapy sessions. Additional sessions require a FECA claim through the Department of Labor. (We confirmed this through direct reply by the post-service unit but not found on the website.) Yet Peace Corps service has so many intricacies on so many levels. It could take more than 3 sessions just to lay the foundation with a therapist unfamiliar with Peace Corps service. But we will leave that topic to a future discussion.
EPCVs (and RPCVs) only have 6 months to pursue these Peace Corps-covered mental health therapy sessions. But we are now nearing the end of that window. Yet Peace Corps has not provided the needed clarification and guidance on if and how pursuing professional mental health therapy affects their reapplications to service.
According to the Peace Corps website for EPCVs, “Current/past engagement in counseling alone is not a reason for medical non-clearance to Peace Corps service”. But the website does not identify the other qualifying reasons go into a medical non-clearance determination.
Do EPCVs go through the same medical clearance process as new applicants? Is there a different set of medical requirements or exceptions EPCVs versus new applicants? Due to that uncertainty, some EPCVs who want to reapply have made the painful decision to forgo any professional therapy.
Waiting for Direction from Peace Corps
Unfortunately, we couldn’t find these answers on the Peace Corps’ medical clearance process or the page specifically for EPCVs. Since information is not posted in a single section, we perused many different parts of the Peace Corps website. While this exercise helped expand the Resource Library’s Peace Corps-specific information, we did not find the needed answers on the website.
On behalf of these EPCVs, we reached out to Peace Corps for clarification. But as of this posting, we have not received these details from a Peace Corps representative. We will provide an update as soon as we receive the specifics directly from Peace Corps. But if any EPCV has already received some of these answers from Peace Corps, please share with us!