Bills seek health care jobs for veterans

Legislation headed toward approval in the General Assembly would allow veterans to count their military health-care training and experience toward certification as nurses and other medical professionals in Virginia.

House Bill 2279, proposed by Delegate Mark Keam, D-Vienna, would let clinical education and practical experience in the armed services fulfill some of the qualification requirements for emergency medical services personnel in Virginia.

HB 1535, proposed by Delegate Donald Merricks, R-Chatham, would do the same for veterans seeking licensure or certification as occupational therapists, radiologist assistants, nurses and certain other health-care professionals.

Under the bills, state licensing authorities would determine whether “relevant practical experience and didactic and clinical components of education and training completed by an applicant during his service as a member of any branch of the armed forces of the United States” can substitute for other certification requirements.

Both measures have won unanimous approval in the House of Delegates and been assigned to the health licensing subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Education and Health.

Keam said the legislation will help veterans land health-care jobs.

“I’ve met many veterans over the past year or so who’ve come back from Iraq, and even older folks, who are having a really hard time getting jobs in Virginia and elsewhere,” he said.

“I want people in the civilian world, those that don’t have military background and those that don’t think about our veterans in the military, to start thinking about them. … What can we do to make a veteran’s life better? What can we do in society to make them welcomed when they come back?”

The legislation’s supporters include the American Legion and the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association.

“We believe that the veteran’s military training is a plus to any employer that is looking for help,” said Dale D. Chapman of the American Legion, the nation’s largest service organization for veterans.

He said military men and women are highly trained in their respective fields.

“These veterans come back to their homes and are experienced in nursing and other related health-care fields,” Chapman said. “There should be provisions for them to be able to receive credit for their work experiences while serving.”

Some health-care employers actively recruit veterans. For example, Inova Health System in Northern Virginia offers a program called “Military to Medicine” for training and hiring veterans, military spouses and recovering wounded service members.

But Keam said such programs have run into problems when the military training and experience veterans receive aren’t applied toward state certification in health-care professions.

HB 2799, Keam’s bill specifically targeting EMS personnel, is co-sponsored by Merricks and four other delegates: Republican Richard Bell of Staunton and Democrats David Englin of Alexandria, Kaye Kory of Falls Church and Vivian Watts of Annandale.

Keam is co-sponsoring Merricks’ broader measure, HB 1535. The other co-sponsors include a bipartisan mix of 15 delegates and seven senators.

Keam says that he hopes such bills will inspire creative ways to help veterans.

“You might have a great idea as well. And if you have good ideas, come talk to me because I want to put it in law,” he said.

To track or comment House Bills 1535 and 2799, visit http://RichmondSunlight.com. To learn more about the Inova Health System program “Military for Medicine,” visit http://www.militarytomedicine.org
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