Proposed Legislation Supports Transition of Veterans to Civilian EMS

Issue 4 and Volume 38.

Many employers have found that former military personnel make excellent employees. Men and women who served as paramedics in the miliatry have a proven track record for sacrifice, commitment to duty and getting the job done, often in the most austere of environments.

Unfortunately, when former service members attempt to transition from the military into civilian life, they find that their experience and expertise means nothing. Instead, they are forced to start over with their certification as EMTs, as though they had never worked in EMS.

Transferring certification isn’t easy, since each branch of the military handles it differently. For example, Army paramedics are required to test and certify through the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT). The Air Force requires its paramedics to pass the test, but does not require them to hold the NREMT certification. The Navy requires neither. Most service members, regardless of branch, must pay for the test and certification out of their own pockets.

If that isn’t discouraging enough, finances frequently play a significant role in whether or not a service member pursues a civilian job in EMS. With few financial resources, most veterans simply cannot afford the cost of EMT and paramedic programs, so they seek other professions.

In January 2013, U.S. Representatives Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and Lois Capps (Calif.) reintroduced a bill from this past year, H.R. 235: Veteran Emergency Medical Technician Support Act of 2013. The bill, which had 17 co-sponsors, was created to help veterans who served in the military as paramedics earn civilian EMT certification.

“Our military men and women receive some of the best technical training in emergency medicine—and they prove their skills on the battlefield every day,” Capps says in a prepared statement. “When they return home, however, experienced military medics are often required to begin their training completely over at the most basic level to receive certification for civilian jobs. This unnecessarily keeps our veterans out of the workforce and withholds valuable medical personnel from our communities.”

Arguing from the House floor, Kinzinger urged his colleagues to support the bill, saying, “The returning men and women deserve a smooth transition from the military into the civilian workforce. As a nation, we must recognize the experience and education that our military-trained EMTs receive.” He noted that as a pilot in the National Guard, he was able to take a test granting him the civilian equivalence of what he learned in the military. The aviation field has taken significant advantage of this opportunity. He also pointed out that, although there is a real shortage of EMS workers in rural areas across the nation, there is no shortage of military veterans returning home to these areas. He argued that this bill meets both the needs of the area and the veteran.

On Feb. 12, the bipartisan bill passed the House and was referred to the Senate the next day. As of press time, a sponsor has not been formally named, although several senators are considering signing on.

The proposed legislation encourages states to:

  • Use federal demonstration grants to streamline state procedures and requirements for veterans. States that can demonstrate a shortage of EMTs will be given priority.
  • Determine the extent to which education, experience and skills are equivalent to state requirements.
  • Identify methods, such as waivers, by which military-trained EMS personnel can forego or meet state requirements.

According to the bill sponsors, the military educates approximately 12,500 combat medics, Navy corpsmen and Air Force medical technicians every year. Currently, there are an estimated 40,000 paramedics on active Army duty and in the National Guard.

On the civilian side, the U.S. Labor Department projects that this country will need an additional 120,800 EMTs and paramedics by the end of the decade. Due to an aging Baby Boomer population and longer life spans, the Labor Department estimates that, by 2020, the U.S. demand for EMTs and paramedics will increase by 33%.

The House bill was funded at $200,000 per year over the next five years to cover the cost of the transition. To comply with the House Pay Go rules, the cost is completely offset by spending cuts.

Support for this proposal goes beyond Congress. As part of their “Joining Forces Initiative,” First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, EdD, addressed the National Governors Association in late February, asking them to do their part in putting American heroes back to work. Their remarks build on President Barack Obama’s announcement this past summer of the Military

Credentialing and Licensing Task Force. Although the Task Force’s initial aim did not include EMS, the scope of its efforts have been expanded to assist states in translating military training and experience into credit towards professional licensure for EMTs and paramedics.

Even with this strong support at the federal level, the transition from military to civilian EMS isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. The military employs a variety of levels of paramedics, including trauma care, wilderness medics and those with basic training, who never see combat situations. It will take additional work on the part of EMS leadership to assist in identifying appropriate equivalencies between military and civilian training and experience.