A bill to give Peace Corps volunteers a state retirement benefit offered to military veterans was derailed in the House Tuesday after some legislators said the two types of service aren’t equal.
The proposal would allow Peace Corps alumni to purchase credit toward their state retirement. “They could purchase up to five years of credit total, not to exceed their total numbers of years of service in the Peace Corps,” said Rep. Graig Meyer, a Hillsborough Democrat and the bill sponsor.
North Carolina offers a similar opportunity to military veterans and certain other groups. “Six other states allow this, including Virginia and South Carolina,” Meyer said. Peace Corps volunteers are not paid salary for their work overseas.
But after initially voting 94-14 in favor of the bill, some House members – mainly Republicans – sought to change their votes and called for a second vote.
“Serving the country in the military is unique among forms of services,” said Rep. Dan Bishop, a Charlotte Republican. “Serving in the Peace Corps doesn’t rise to the same level, and it doesn’t warrant the same sort of exception.”
Bishop compared Peace Corps volunteers to people who serve as foreign missionaries or who take time off work to care for ailing parents. But Rep. Grier Martin, a Raleigh Democrat and a military veteran, said that’s a bad comparison.
“The Peace Corps, like the military, is a federal entity where people sign up to actually serve our country,” Martin said.
Meyer’s Republican bill co-sponsor, Rep. Jon Hardister of Greensboro, said he was surprised by the last-minute opposition. He called for the second vote to be postponed, and the bill will now go back to a committee for another hearing.
Considered one of the Cold War’s most innovative programs, the Peace Corps was established by President John F. Kennedy on March 1, 1961. While campaigning, Kennedy argued that America needed a new civilian volunteer “army” to live in underdeveloped nations to assist however possible. Postings were often dangerous and at times credited with preventing smaller revolutions and conflicts from blossoming into larger Cold War battlefields.
According to www.peacecorps.gov, there are more than 220,000 Peace Corps volunteer alumni.