From time to time, unforeseen events occur that affect a VISTA’s status of service. For example, the project loses a key financial supporter; the sponsor staff leave the organization; the VISTA becomes seriously ill; the VISTA does not perform adequately; the candidate displays unacceptable behavior at PSO; undisclosed criminal history is discovered, etc. In instances such as these, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) must act to resolve the untenable situation. A VISTA candidate who has not yet sworn in as a VISTA may face deselection. A VISTA member may elect to resign from the VISTA program. Also, a VISTA member may be given the opportunity to transfer to another program, or face 1) early termination for cause; 2) early termination for lack of suitable assignment; or 3) early termination for medical reasons.
This chapter discusses the steps taken when circumstances necessitate a change in service or a separation from service for a VISTA member.
BREAK IN SERVICE
ADMINISTRATIVE HOLD STATUS
Under certain circumstances, the CNCS State Office may place you in “administrative hold” status in the VISTA program. During the time you are on administrative hold, you are not assigned to an AmeriCorps VISTA project; however, you are still an AmeriCorps VISTA member and are subject to all AmeriCorps VISTA program laws, regulations, and policies.
Examples of when the CNCS State Office may place you on administrative hold status include, but are not limited to, when the project in which you have been serving ceases operations or when the sponsoring organization where you have been serving requests your removal from its AmeriCorps VISTA project.
At the discretion of CNCS, while you are on administrative hold, your living allowance may continue. However, the living allowance may cease if you are engaged in activities that violate CNCS or AmeriCorps VISTA program laws, regulations, or policies.
Your end-of-service stipend or education award accrues during the administrative hold period. The accrual of certain other payments – as listed in the table below – may also continue.
STATUS OF SERVICE AND ELIGIBILITY FOR AMERICORPS VISTA BENEFITS
Status of Service
Successful completion of year of service
|Deferral of service|
|Transfer to another AmeriCorps VISTA project|
|Early departure for another AmeriCorps program|
if served at least 335 days
if served at least 335 days
|Early termination for cause (misconduct)|
|Early termination for non-compelling reason(s)|
CHANGE IN SERVICE
TRANSFER TO ANOTHER AMERICORPS VISTA PROJECT
Transfer between projects is an uncommon occurrence, but it is sometimes warranted. Examples when this may be warranted include: project closure, natural disaster, or other extenuating circumstance. CNCS may approve the transfer of an AmeriCorps VISTA member to a different project during a term of service. The CNCS State Program Director may approve transfers when he or she determines the following conditions are met:
- The member has the necessary qualifications and desire to continue service but is unable to do so at the current project assignment;
- The project-sponsoring organization that would be receiving the member concurs in the transfer after contacting the former sponsoring organization or CNCS State Office for an evaluation or assessment of the AmeriCorps VISTA member.
AmeriCorps VISTA members are typically given a fifteen (15) day opportunity period to seek and secure transfer to another AmeriCorps VISTA project. During this opportunity period, AmeriCorps VISTA members are placed in administrative hold status in the VISTA program.
EARLY DEPARTURE FOR ANOTHER AMERICORPS PROGRAM
In addition to AmeriCorps VISTA, AmeriCorps has two other major community service programs. They are the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (AmeriCorps NCCC), and the AmeriCorps State and National program. CNCS supports members who are serving in one AmeriCorps program to continue their commitment to service by serving in another AmeriCorps program. To that end, AmeriCorps VISTA members are encouraged to serve in another AmeriCorps program following their AmeriCorps VISTA service.
There may be instances when an AmeriCorps VISTA member who has nearly completed AmeriCorps VISTA service is accepted into a Peace Corps position or one of the other two AmeriCorps programs and is required to depart AmeriCorps VISTA service early to start training or service. To accommodate such an instance, an AmeriCorps VISTA member who has completed at least 335 days of service may terminate service with AmeriCorps VISTA with a prorated award in order to meet a window of opportunity to enter either AmeriCorps NCCC, AmeriCorps State and National, or Peace Corps service.
A prorated portion of the education award or end-of-service stipend corresponds to that portion of the term served. For example, an AmeriCorps VISTA member who has served 350 days would be eligible to receive 96 percent of the education award or 96 percent of the end-of-service stipend (350/365 = .959). The VISTA member is required to prove acceptance by the other service program to receive a prorated education award or end-of-service stipend. The VISTA member may do so by submitting written proof of such acceptance to the CNCS State Office.
DEFERRAL OF SERVICE
During the course of AmeriCorps VISTA service, if you have to leave your AmeriCorps VISTA service for a period of more than 30 days but not more than six (6) months, and your departure is due to very narrow, extenuating circumstances, you may be placed in “deferral of service” status by the CNCS State Program Director or designee. However, approval for deferral of service status is quite rare.
Extenuating circumstances that justify attaining a deferral of service status are either a VISTA member’s need to take military reserve leave or to fulfill a jury duty obligation of more than 30 days.
You are not accorded deferral of service status if you are removed from AmeriCorps VISTA service for circumstances related to your proposed termination, your termination for cause, your eligibility for a medical termination, or your removal from a project.
If you are placed in deferral of service status, you may be reinstated into AmeriCorps VISTA service within six (6) months without resubmitting an entire member application form and without attending another Pre-Service Orientation. If your leave based on deferral of service status extends beyond six (6) months, your deferral of service status ceases and you will be exited from the VISTA program. To be reinstated once the leave is over, the CNCS State Office may require you to resubmit a new member application form.
During the time you are in deferral of service status, any or all allowances and end-of-term benefits are discontinued, including your living allowance, your accrual of the end-of-service stipend, your accrual of the education award, and your service-related travel reimbursement. If you return to successfully complete your service following a period of deferral, you are eligible to receive the end-of-service stipend or the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award, whichever is applicable.
SEPARATION FROM SERVICE
To ensure that AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organizations receive members who meet or exceed the expectations and requirements of service, CNCS may deselect an AmeriCorps VISTA candidate before enrollment in the VISTA program. Reasons for deselection include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Failure to meet Pre-Service Orientation (PSO) or Virtual Member Orientation (VMO) training selection standards which include, but are not limited to, the following types of conduct:
- Inability or refusal to perform or complete training assignments,
- Disruptive or inappropriate conduct during the PSO event or VMO sessions, or
- Failure to attend training sessions (including VMO webinars).
- Refusal or inability to accept the VISTA assignment (VAD).
- Refusal or inability to accept any term or condition of VISTA service.
- Failure to take the VISTA Oath of Service and/or to properly submit the VISTA Oath of Service form.
- Failure to commence VISTA service.
EARLY TERMINATION FOR CAUSE
CNCS may terminate you as an AmeriCorps VISTA member based on your conduct or performance (termination for cause) for any of the following reasons:
- Conviction of a criminal offense under federal, state, or local statute or ordinance;
- Violation of any provision of the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973, as amended, or a CNCS regulation, policy, or guideline;
- Failure, refusal, or inability to perform prescribed project duties as outlined in the project application or assignment description and as directed by the sponsoring organization to which you are assigned;
- Involvement in activities that substantially interfere with your performance of project duties;
- Intentional false statement, omission, fraud, or deception in obtaining selection as a member;
- Any conduct on your part that substantially diminishes your effectiveness as an AmeriCorps VISTA member; or
- Unsatisfactory performance of assignment.
Grounds for termination for cause also include: a VISTA’s failure to perform assignments in the VMO; a VISTA’s failure to punctually submit fingerprints to CNCS for completion of a criminal history check; being Absent Without Leave (AWOL) from a project site (even for a day); and exhausting and exceeding allowable leave prior to the end of your service term.
If you are unable to perform or resume project duties because of a medical condition, or if it reasonably appears that you are unable to perform or resume your project duties within the approved medical leave period, you are subject to medical termination. The CNCS State Program Director decides whether to terminate you for a medical reason(s) on the basis of information from your attending medical professional, or other relevant information obtained by CNCS.
When it is determined that you are unable to perform or resume project duties, CNCS issues you a written notice of medical termination, which includes the effective date. Following your submission of required documentation, you may be eligible to receive a prorated end-of-service award (i.e., a prorated education award or prorated stipend). If you medically terminate and wish to serve again with VISTA, you must reapply to the VISTA program to start a new, full term of VISTA service.
You may appeal the CNCS State Program Director's decision of medical termination. If you choose to appeal, you must submit a written appeal and supporting documentation within fifteen (15) days of receiving the written notice of medical termination. The written appeal and supporting documentation is submitted to the appropriate Area Manager.
The appropriate CNCS Area Manager reviews all appeal information submitted and may request additional information. After review of all pertinent information, the appropriate Area Manager renders a final decision on your appeal. If the final decision on appeal sustains the medical termination, the medical termination remains in effect. If the final decision on appeal overturns the medical termination, you are reinstated into AmeriCorps VISTA service retroactive to the effective date of termination. The final decision on appeal is a final agency decision.
REMOVAL FROM PROJECT
Removal of an AmeriCorps VISTA member from serving in a particular project assignment sometimes occurs. There are two common ways such a removal may occur: (1) a project requests a member's removal, or (2) a project cannot continue to operate all or part of its AmeriCorps VISTA program.
With regard to the first scenario, the project requests the removal in writing to the CNCS State Office, and the request should be supported by a statement of reason.
The sole authority for terminating a member, or giving a member the opportunity to transfer, rests with CNCS. The sponsoring organization's request for removal of a member, including a written statement addressing the circumstances, is submitted to the CNCS State Program Director who notifies the member of the request. During the period when CNCS is assessing whether proposing termination for cause is warranted, or instead, providing the member an opportunity to transfer to another project, the member is placed in administrative hold status where he or she may not return to the project site or sponsoring organization. The member is notified in writing of his or her administrative hold status, whether he or she will receive allowances, and the prohibition on engagement in any project-related activities during that period.
The CNCS State Office will take one of the following actions concerning a member who has been removed from a project assignment:
- Accept the member's resignation from the AmeriCorps VISTA program;
- If removal was requested for reasons other than those listed above in "Early Termination from Service," the CNCS State Office will be available to support the member in locating another suitable assignment by providing the member a list of other operative AmeriCorps VISTA projects in the state. If the member does not secure reassignment within the prescribed opportunity period, the member is terminated from AmeriCorps VISTA service for lack of suitable assignment. In some instances, such an early termination from the AmeriCorps VISTA program would be for a non-cause reason. There are no 45 CFR Part 2556 appeal rights for early termination for lack of suitable assignment. Members may grieve terminations for lack of suitable assignment under 45 CFR Part 2556;
- If removal from the project is for a reason listed above in "Early Termination for Cause," the member may appeal the early termination to establish whether such termination from AmeriCorps VISTA service is supported by sufficient evidence. Termination appeal procedures are outlined in 45 CFR Part 2556; or
- If CNCS determines that removal from the project based on a reason cited under "Early Termination for Cause" is not established by adequate evidence, CNCS will cease termination for cause proceedings and provide the member an opportunity to secure reassignment at another AmeriCorps VISTA project. If the member does not secure reassignment within the prescribed opportunity period, the member will be terminated for lack of suitable assignment.
With regard to the second reason a member may be removed from a project assignment, the removal may occur because a project cannot continue to operate all or part of its AmeriCorps VISTA program. Examples of this type of removal from a project happen when the Memorandum of Agreement between CNCS and the sponsoring organization is terminated or not renewed. In such cases, the member’s removal from the project is due to no fault of his/her own, and the member is placed in administrative hold status and given an opportunity to secure reassignment. If, despite the member’s good faith efforts to secure reassignment, no appropriate reassignment is secured by the member within the prescribed opportunity period, the member may be terminated for lack of suitable assignment. Under such a circumstance, however, his/her termination would be based on a “compelling personal circumstance.” Accordingly, s/he may be eligible for a prorated end-of-service award. The CNCS State Program Director assesses the relevant facts and determines whether the member has established a compelling, personal circumstance, and is therefore eligible for a prorated award.
TERMINATION FOR LACK OF SUITABLE ASSIGNMENT
If a CNCS State Office removes a member from a project, for reasons other than those listed above in "Early Termination for Cause," the CNCS State Office is available to support the member in locating another assignment by providing the member a list of AmeriCorps VISTA projects in the state. If the member does not secure reassignment within the prescribed time period, the member is terminated from AmeriCorps VISTA service for lack of a suitable assignment.
Termination for lack of suitable assignment is never, by itself, sufficient to make a VISTA member eligible for a prorated education award or end-of-service stipend. Specifically, a member who is terminated for lack of a suitable assignment is not eligible for a prorated education award or end-of-service stipend unless the member can also demonstrate the early termination was due to a "compelling personal circumstance." For example, a member's lack of interest in a possible new assignment does not establish a compelling personal circumstance. Similarly, the fact that a possible new assignment is not similar to the member’s prior project assignment does not establish a compelling personal circumstance. Moreover, a member’s multiple, yet unsuccessful, efforts to secure reassignment are not sufficient, by themselves, to establish a compelling personal circumstance. Rather, examples of situations that constitute a compelling personal circumstance are listed below in "Early Termination of a VISTA Member for a Compelling Personal Circumstance."
If a member is offered an appropriate reassignment and declines the new assignment, CNCS has no obligation to offer additional or alternative assignments. In this instance, the member is not eligible to receive a prorated education award or end-of-service stipend.
A member terminated early for lack of suitable assignment does not have appeal rights under 45 CFR Part 2556; however, the member may grieve termination for lack of suitable assignment under 45 CFR Part 2556.
If the CNCS State Office believes that you may be subject to "for-cause termination" for any reasons cited above in "Early Termination for Cause," a CNCS State Office staff member will communicate with you about the matter. If the staff member states that grounds for termination exist, you will be given an opportunity to resign in lieu of being terminated for cause. You, or a designee, may inform the CNCS State Office in writing that you are resigning from the VISTA program. If you do not resign, the administrative procedures outlined in 45 CFR Part 2556 will be followed.
You may also choose to resign from VISTA service for personal reasons. Resignations must always be in writing. When practicable, written notice of resignation should be given at least two weeks in advance to ensure that your departure will be minimally disruptive to the project and the VISTA program.
Members who intend to resign early from VISTA service should notify their supervisor, who will contact the CNCS State Office. The State Office will unlock the Future Plans Form in the Close of Service area of the member's my.americorps.gov account. Once the Future Plans Form is unlocked, the member completes Part A of the form and notifies the supervisor to complete Part B and submit to the CNCS State Office. It is important to notify CNCS in time to avoid overpayment of the biweekly living allowance and other member allowances and benefits.
EARLY TERMINATION OF A VISTA MEMBER FOR A COMPELLING PERSONAL CIRCUMSTANCE
In rare circumstances, AmeriCorps VISTA members may qualify for a prorated end-of-service stipend or prorated education award because they demonstrate that they need to leave service early for a “compelling personal circumstance”.
The CNCS State Program Director retains the authority to approve a VISTA member's eligibility for a prorated end-of-service stipend or prorated education award if the member leaves service early because of a compelling personal circumstance, such as:
- Serious medical condition or disability of the AmeriCorps VISTA member, which prohibits the member from effectively completing his/her term of service;
- Death, critical illness, or disability of an immediate family member (spouse, domestic partner, parent, grandparent, sibling, child, or legal guardian), if this event makes completing a term unreasonably difficult or impossible; or
- Conditions attributable to either nature or the program and not to the AmeriCorps VISTA member, such as natural disaster, strike, or premature closing of a project or program, that makes completing a term unreasonably difficult or impossible.
A prorated end-of-service stipend or prorated education award may also be given for public policy reasons or other extenuating circumstances, as determined by the CNCS State Program Director, such as:
- Fulfilling military service obligations;
- Fulfilling jury duty obligations;
- Accepting permanent employment by a member who is a recipient of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF);
- Accepting another AmeriCorps or NCCC position (if VISTA member has served at least 335 days); or
- Accepting a Peace Corps Volunteer position (if VISTA member has served at least 335 days).
Under no circumstances does a VISTA member’s termination for cause make the member eligible for a prorated end-of-service award. In addition, neither resigning from VISTA service, nor leaving VISTA service to enroll in school, nor leaving VISTA service to obtain or to engage in employment, makes a member eligible for a prorated end-of-service award. Similarly, a VISTA member’s dissatisfaction with the VISTA project or program does not make the member eligible for a prorated end-of-service award. Additionally, absent a showing of a compelling personal circumstance, termination for lack of suitable assignment does not make a VISTA member eligible for a prorated end-of-service award.
Generally, members have the responsibility for demonstrating a compelling personal circumstance that prevents them from completing their term of service. Members must communicate and provide documentation of these circumstances to the CNCS State Office for a determination. In the case of early terminations that result from conditions attributable to the project and not the AmeriCorps VISTA member, depending on the circumstances, the member may not need to provide documentation.
Types of Acceptable Documentation to Show a Compelling Personal Circumstance
- Serious medical condition or disability of the VISTA – Documentation from the treating physician or other medical provider that indicates the VISTA member is unable to continue to serve because of a serious medical condition or a disabling condition. Documentation must be on official letterhead and include the medical provider's contact information.
- Critical illness or disability of an immediate family member – Documentation from the treating physician or other medical provider that indicates an immediate family member has a critical illness or disabling condition. Documentation must be on official letterhead and include the medical provider's contact information.
- Death of an immediate family member – A copy of the death certificate, reference to a published obituary, or other official written documentation of death (e.g., copy of newspaper article).
- Fulfilling military service obligations – A copy of the VISTA member's orders to report for military service.
- Fulfilling jury duty obligations – A copy of the court notice requiring the VISTA member to report, as well as selection, for jury duty.
- Accepting employment by a member who is a recipient of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families – Documentation from the appropriate government office indicating the VISTA member is a recipient of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), as well as documentation of employment acceptance from the employer.
- Accepting another AmeriCorps or NCCC position (if the member has served at least 335 days) – Documentation of the VISTA member's acceptance into the AmeriCorps or NCCC program and the training or start date.
- Accepting a Peace Corps Volunteer position (if VISTA has served at least 335 days) – Documentation of the VISTA's acceptance into Peace Corps and the training or start date.