Completion of Service (COS) is the term used to describe a Peace Corps volunteer who has officially ended their government service within the designated time frame of 24-27 months. COSing qualifies a volunteer for special privileges, such as in the US government hiring arena and with Peace Corps graduate-level fellowship programs. I was actually the first volunteer in my group to ‘early COS,’ meaning that I requested to leave up to 90 days before my actual COS date. I had an unusual situation in that Cape Verde’s official COS date was for many years at the end of September (exactly 2 years from the day we were sworn in as ‘volunteers’). However, the Country Director requested that it be moved to the end of July, given that so many PCVs were requesting early COS in July and August.
Because of this new COS date in late July, I requested an early COS from the new date to leave in early May due to my scholarship to study in Japan in July. My request was accepted, and so I left 2.5 months before the normal COS date in late July. If your early COS request is not accepted, or if you want to leave for some other non-medical reason, you can ET, or ‘early terminate’ your contract. You supposedly lose some privileges, although I couldn’t really tell you what they are, off hand. You will get a smaller readjustment allowance, which is money that you accumulate each month you are in service for when you finish your contract. Mine is lower than other volunteers in my group because they are leaving in July, whereas I left in early May and accrued less.
Another thing that can happen to you is that you can break a rule, which will enable the Country Director or the Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C. to administratively separate you from your PC service. This is the worst-case scenario, given that it is the equivalent of a dishonorable discharge from the military. When future employers call Washington, D.C. to confirm you were a volunteer, they will be told you were administratively separated, which can mean anything from ‘using drugs’ to ‘killing someone.’ You may have, in fact, only visited another volunteer and not told the staff you would be away from your site, and then you were caught, but your future employer may imagine you did something much worse. Before administratively separating you, Peace Corps will always give you the option to ‘ET’, or early terminate your contract, as I mentioned earlier. A volunteer from my group was almost administratively separated this year because he published a volunteer newsletter that was pure comedy, but could have been interpreted as offensive to some. Volunteers rallied on his behalf, and he was not administratively separated in the end, but he very easily could have been. It’s really best to realize that anything illegal or possibly offensive/dangerous you do can be seen by someone as innocent as your neighbor, and your Peace Corps boss can find out eventually, misinterpret the information, and you can be sent home. In Cape Verde, even a ‘rumor’ that you in possession of drugs can lead to administrative separation.
After you COS, you are considered a RPCV, or Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, of which there are thousands in the USA. In fact, I was getting treatment in a Maryland emergency room the week I returned from Cape Verde, and my doctor asked which country I had served in because he was a RPCV from Ghana in the 1980's! We were both shocked to find out we had so much in common and he gave me more personalized treatment than usual because he felt we had a common bond, our Peace Corps service.