Can Senior Citizens Join The Peace Corps?
November 9, 2021General Retirement
Can senior citizens join the Peace Corps? Some older Americans who never got the chance to serve when younger often ponder this question.
Senior citizens can absolutely join the Peace Corps if they are U.S. citizens and meet a health assessment to ensure their host country can meet their medical needs. There is no established upper age limit for becoming a Peace Corps volunteer.
Many people consider joining the Peace Corps in their younger years but get caught up in life changes like college, the working world, or marriage and starting families. As the years and then decades pass, senior citizens begin to feel like it must be too late to realize their dream of Peace Corps service. But the truth is that the Peace Corps agency only has a minimum age requirement, not an upper age limit.
There are always certain challenges for every Peace Corps Volunteer, but most who serve feel like they’re truly helping improve the world and that the good moments outnumber the bad. Older Volunteers offer a wealth of wisdom and lived experiences that younger members simply haven’t yet developed. This can prove an advantage when it comes to adapting to a new environment and culture.
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What Are the Age and General Requirements to Join the Peace Corps?
This independent agency was founded when President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order in March of 1961. Congress later passed the Peace Corps Act in September of the same year, and over 240,000 Americans have served in 142 countries since its creation. The only two general Peace Corps requirements that must be met are U.S. Citizenship and being age 18 or over. There is no upper age limit.
Beyond those general requirements, each applicant must be evaluated for certain medical conditions that simply cannot be accommodated in Peace Corps host countries. Prospective volunteers go through in-depth medical examinations and dental assessments to ensure their health needs can be met while serving the agency. Applicants should also meet if not surpass the listed requirements of the particular job opening to which they are applying.
There are some guidelines regarding those who have either directly worked in U.S. intelligence or with familial associations to those in intelligence work. The Peace Corps is committed to enforcing a total separation from any governmental intelligence activities in both actual fact and mere appearance. Those who have worked with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) will be automatically prohibited from Peace Corps service. All other associations are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, including those who have served in military intelligence.
The Peace Corps values having a diverse pool of volunteers who come from an array of heritages and backgrounds. Those veterans who have served in the military as either active duty members or reservists are also valued as applicants. Currently serving reservist military members may also be able to serve, provided that they meet notification and other requirements.
How Will Peace Corps Service Affect My Retirement and Medicare Benefits?
The Social Security Administration has the ultimate authority on when and how Social Security retirement and Medicare benefits are affected by Peace Corps service. Social Security will consider a Volunteer’s monthly readjustment allowance (even though it’s not paid out until service completion) and a portion of their monthly living allowance as earnable income. Deductions will also be taken each month from the readjustment allowance for Medicare and Social Security.
Senior citizens are able to enroll in Medicare three months before turning 65 and for seven months afterward. Those who receive Social Security payments during their Peace Corps service will be automatically enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B as of the months they reach age 65. Those who do not collect Social Security payments will need to specifically apply for Medicare benefits when they qualify to enroll. Peace Corps applicants and Volunteers should check with the Social Security Administration to ensure they comply with all requirements.
What Kind of Medical Screening Do Peace Corps Applicants Receive?
Many senior citizens may be understandably concerned about having their medical needs met while serving overseas in the Peace Corps. Some countries offer more extensive medical services than others, and access to medical treatment can also vary from one community to another. The Peace Corps conducts thorough medical and dental assessments of each applicant before clearing them as an active Volunteer.
The medical clearance process begins when each applicant completes a Health History Form (HHF) along with their initial application to help expedite things. The Peace Corps handles all of this medical information in a confidential manner and sends each HHF to the Office of Medical Services (OMS).
It’s important for applicants to accurately and completely complete their HHF. Sending in incomplete, inaccurate, or misleading medical information could lead to that applicant being disqualified or later terminated as a Peace Corps Volunteer. That situation could also put a Volunteer’s health in serious jeopardy and affect their ability to participate in the agency.
What Steps Are Involved in a Peace Corps Medical Review?
The OMS has a standard procedure for completing each application’s medical review. These steps consist of the following:
- Assignment of certain dental and medical tasks applicants must handle. These typically consist of obtaining examinations, specialist evaluations, and lab and health screenings. These are all mandatory.
- Completion of a personal statement and specialist evaluations in certain cases. The OMS could request these if an applicant’s medical history makes it necessary to determine whether the Peace Corps can meet your health needs.
- Completion of all documentation and health exams as required. These should be submitted via the medical portal.
- Full review of applicant’s submitted documentation. OMS will evaluate all of the submissions and request more information if necessary.
- Determination of medical clearance to serve. Based on the medical submissions provided, OMS will determine whether an applicant is medically cleared to serve in the host country where they were initially invited. If not, OMS will either help the applicant obtain an invitation to an alternative choice that can adequately meet their medical needs or declare the person is not medically cleared to serve. There is an appeals process for those who wish to use it.
Medical determinations are made dependent upon an applicant’s dental and medical status during the review process. Those who experience significant changes in their health conditions, go through surgeries, seek medical treatment for new conditions, or have changes in their medications are required to report that immediately to OMS to ensure their medical clearances are not affected.
Do Senior Citizens Find Service in the Peace Corps Rewarding?
Obviously how rewarding someone finds their Peace Corps service is going to depend on each individual, but many senior citizens do value their experiences as a Volunteer. Peace Corps Volunteers who are age 50 and above make up approximately 7 percent of almost 7,000 Americans serving overseas in more than 60 nations. One article on the Peace Corps website shared some insights from older Volunteers who had recently returned from Moldova.
Cleveland resident Deborah Sesek recommended that older Volunteers enter the experience with zero expectations. She pointed out that each person’s Peace Corps service will be unique for them, and that the ability to adapt to surprises and unexpected situations is helpful.
Howard University professor Donna Barnes did the best she could to mentally prepare herself, but did find some of the adjustments regarding personal hygiene and living quarters to be challenging. However, once she was able to sort all of that out, she found herself overall loving working as a small village’s health educator.
Tom Corr, who previously worked as a California lawyer, adjusted to his “confusing and challenging environment” and found himself thriving in his changing circumstances. He surprised himself with his own ability to learn new things and adapt to changes. Overall, he said that the positives of each day’s little victories outweigh the balance of their small defeats.
One big challenge that many older Volunteers list is that of learning a new language. That’s a skill that can be difficult for many people to tackle at any age, but it can be harder for older individuals who may have never spoken another language besides English. One Volunteer said he found the language lessons quite intense, whereas another decided to flip his schedule around to make sure he studied the more difficult items earlier in the day. A strategy that helped him since he would be much fresher for tackling those topics.
Other older Volunteers found their age to offer certain benefits. They point to their greater life experiences as a big asset. Some cultures greatly value the experience and advice of older people, which can definitely help Volunteers working in those communities.
Seattle resident Cynthia Katocs recommended that older Americans view their time in the Peace Corps as an opportunity to use their skills to help others while they get a chance to explore the world. According to her, senior citizens serving in the Peace Corps should try to relax, soak in the new culture around them, and know that the positives will outweigh the negatives.
About THE AUTHOR
With multiple family members currently in senior living facilities, David is in the trenches every week, learning the ins and outs of nursing homes, assisted living, memory care, and general senior living.Read more about David Bolton
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