Peace Corps Under Fire for Questionable Mental Health Policies

( – The Peace Corps presents its medical clearance process to applicants as “extremely thorough… to ensure [their] safety and well-being” but cheerfully notes it tries to “clear as many people as possible.” It even encourages individuals to apply if they have a pre-existing condition or receive mental health services. Yet, despite those upbeat claims, the agency is currently under fire for its dubious mental health policies.

On September 26, three John Doe plaintiffs filed a civil action complaint, individually and on behalf of others similarly situated, against Carol Spahn in her official capacity as the Peace Corps administrator. The lawsuit (Doe A et al. v. SPAHN, 1:23-cv-02859) seeks class-action certification in the US District Court for the District of Columbia.

The 34-page pleading accuses the Peace Corps of violating the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. ยง 701 et seq.) by discriminating against applicants with mental health disabilities.

The main body of the complaint includes accounts from nine qualified individuals with disabilities, including John Does A through C and Invitees A to F. They allege that Peace Corps officials rescinded their invitations/applications for mental health reasons. They further claim the agency failed to consider making individualized assessments of their ailments in light of current medical knowledge or making reasonable accommodations for them.

The plaintiffs are seeking five remedies from the court.

  1. A declaration from the court that the Peace Corps method of medically clearing applicants violates the Rehabilitation Act;
  2. Injunctive relief to ensure the agency complies with that law in the future;
  3. An opportunity to have their applications/offers to join the Peace Corps reinstated;
  4. Legal costs and attorney’s fees;
  5. Any other relief the court deems fair and equitable.

An unnamed official from the Peace Corps circulated a statement to media outlets acknowledging the lawsuit. He noted that he couldn’t comment on pending legal matters but noted that the agency’s top priorities included the “health, safety, and security” of its volunteers.

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