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Legislation Seeks To Ease Vets' Transition To Public Sector Jobs

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Baltimore native and Iraq veteran Eric Smith speaks on Capitol Hill about the difficulties he faced in getting employment in medical field, despite years of combat training as a Marine corpsman.
Armando Trull
Baltimore native and Iraq veteran Eric Smith speaks on Capitol Hill about the difficulties he faced in getting employment in medical field, despite years of combat training as a Marine corpsman.

Nearly 30 percent of young veterans end up unemployed for some length of time after returning home. Critics say it's a combination of poor transitional training by the Pentagon and ignorance in the private sector about the soldiers' skills.

Now, thanks to a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate Wednesday, there are efforts underway to address these issues -- like the ones faced by Eric Smith, a 26-year-old veteran from Baltimore.

Smith went to Iraq twice. While there, the marine was a combat field medic, dealing with everything from gunshot wounds to broken limbs.

When Eric left the service in 2008, he was turned down for medical jobs as basic as nurse's assistant.

"During my tours I gained valuable experience in the medical field under extreme conditions," says Smith. "In spite of my knowledge and service I'm struggling to find a job today."

He wasn't qualified for many positions because he didn't have the proper certifications, and to get them meant starting from scratch.

That's why Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has introduced the "Hiring Heroes Act of 2011," which requires improved transitional training for soldiers leaving the armed forces and a mechanism to validate military training in the public sector.

"We train them, we educate them, we give them the skills, and then we don't use them and then if they're unemployed we pay their unemployment insurance," laments Murray, who chairs the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee.

One military sergeant, who asked that his name not be used, told WAMU that he thinks the bill is needed.

"It helps, you know," he says. "That way when our soldiers do get out they get out on the ground running."

Smith says that he is speaking out in support of the Hiring Heroes act in order to save some of his colleagues from the suffering the same problems he went through. His old unit is about to return from another deployment in Afghanistan.

"If what I'm doing right now can see to it that not a single one of those guys go through half of what I did ... then I would have done as best as I possibly can," he says.

The legislation has bipartisan support in the Senate.

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