ASHTON, Ill. – Josh Harmon, during his nearly 6 years in the Army National Guard, says he treated soldiers for common illnesses like the flu, worked in operating rooms and dealt with mass causality situations.
But it took him 8 months to get certified as an EMT in Illinois, a state that recognizes both state and national certifications for an EMT license.
Harmon, 37, of Ashton, was trained as a medic in the U.S. Army, after spending 7 years in the Marines.
A proposed bill – H.R. 235 – which has passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, aims to streamline the certification and licensing for military veterans seeking jobs as emergency medical technicians in civilian life.
The bill was proposed by Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, who represents Lee County.
“As a military guy myself, and talking about the issue of veterans unemployment, and talking to people about areas of need, this just made sense,” Kinzinger said.
The congressman served in the Air Force and currently serves as a pilot in the Air National Guard.
H.R. 235’s intent is to shorten – or eliminate – that delay by providing grants to states with a shortage of EMTs to streamline the process for veterans.
The bill’s funding includes $1 million over 5 years, with $200,000 available for grants in any given year, Zach Hunter, a spokesman for Kinzinger’s office, said in an email.
“The purpose of this limited grant program is not to give all 50 states grant dollars,” he said, “but rather for the few states with the significant needs to review their licensure processes and implement changes that could be replicated by other states.”
Dia Gainor, executive director of the National Association of State EMS Officials, said a state’s decision to apply for a grant would be twofold.
“It’s going to be a process of self-assessment,” she said. “[They’ll ask,] ‘Do we have shortage of state EMTs? And do we have process improvement opportunities in the EMT license process that the grant could help?’”
Getting the right certification
Harmon, like all Army and most Air Force medics, has an EMT certification through the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians.
It’s required, the registry’s Executive Director Severo Rodriguez said, adding that the Navy uses the national certification in a “limited manner.”
The national certification needs to be renewed every 2 years, he said, adding that the certification is only half of the process. A license must be given by the state for someone to work as an EMT as well.
New York, North Carolina and Wyoming are the only states that don’t recognize the national certification as proof that an applicant has demonstrated the skills to be an EMT, Gainor said.
The state issues permission to practice, Gainor said, adding that an examination – or certification – is just a prerequisite. There may also need to be a relationship with a firehouse or EMT company, fees to pay, criminal background check or other prerequisites, she said, which vary by state.
In Illinois and Montana, Gainor said, the applicant has the option of getting the national certification or the state certification.
If an applicant working to get a state EMT license in Illinois already has a national certification, reciprocity is granted for the corresponding level.
Hamron’s 8-month delay, he said, was with the reciprocity for getting the national certification to count for the state licensing process.
Harmon said he was told during the delay that some of his medical education didn’t meet the requirements. It wasn’t until after meeting Kinzinger, Harmon said, that his reciprocity made progress.
Military medics have the same, if not more, experience and training than their civilian counterparts, experts say.
“You do 16 weeks at Fort Sam [Houston], which is in San Antonio, Texas,” Harmon said of his medic training in the Army. “And it is very intensive. You’ve got roughly a year’s worth of EMT training done in 6 weeks and then you have some field work where they simulate combat. So it’s very intensive.”
The national registry is working on starting a pilot program with the Army, which would have medics renew their national certification during the administrative process of leaving the military.
“We have quality soldiers and high quality training,” Rodriguez said of military medics. “They meet or exceed the civilian level.”
Getting the certification renewed for another 2 years, he said, takes something off those veterans’ minds while they’re re-entering civilian life.
Veterans and jobs
H.R. 235 passed the House by voice vote in Feburary 2013. To become law, it needs to be approved by the U.S. Senate and signed by President Barack Obama.
Kinzinger said there are additional ways to reduce the high unemployment among veterans, which the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated was 9 percent among veterans who served after September 2001.
Addressing the mental health issues for veterans, improving job placement and training and finding ways to streamline veterans’ entrance into the civilian workforce, he said, are all things that need to be explored.
“There’s a lot we need to do,” Kinzinger said.
Harmon is self-employed. He trains mixed martial arts fighters out of a barn on his Ashton property and teaches concealed carry permit classes.
He’s able to support his wife and four children, he said, while doing those jobs and working as a part-time EMT in Ashton. For him, gone are the days, he said, when the next deployment was the best opportunity for work.
But there are other veterans who aren’t in the same position, Harmon said, and why he feels it’s important to make the transition into the civilian workforce as easy as possible.
“That’s the big thing,” he said. “Protecting [veterans] when they get home – getting them the opportunities to not have to keep this deployment cycle going.”