Joe Stenberg left the Army in April 2009 anticipating that his experience as a combat medic in the Iraq War would help him land a well-paying job in the medical field.
Instead, the retired sergeant from Joint Base Lewis-McChord found that much of the training from his 10-year Army career didn't translate to the civilian professional licenses he'd need for the jobs he wanted.
He worked for a time drawing blood as a phlebotomist and as a basic emergency medical technician licensed to do little more than drive.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics last year found that veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have a slightly higher unemployment rate than civilians with no military service behind them. Last spring, when the study was completed, 10.2 percent of recent war veterans were unemployed while 9.3 percent of nonveterans were out of work.
Stenberg's story sheds light on those numbers. He was given a medical discharge two years ago and has had trouble holding down work because of struggles with post-traumatic stress.
He left Tacoma when he determined that he couldn't afford to live in the South Sound without a steady income. He's now seeking work and medical care in Spokane. When he shows his resume to employers in his field, he says they tell him, " 'It's great. You can do it, but you're not legally allowed to. It shows you have skills and experience, but it means nothing to us.' "
He was part of a forward surgical team in Lewis-McChord's 62nd Medical Brigade that operated on Iraq's front lines in 2005. There were about a dozen people in his team working in high-pressure situations. They came under rocket and mortar fire several times.
"While I was with them, I did everything from A to Z. I was trained in emergency surgeries where there wasn't a hospital," Stenberg said.
Rep. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said she hears stories like Stenberg's too often in her district. She sponsored the House versions of the employment bills.
"I met several different people in the course of my job who have been in war zones fixing people and they can't become an EMT," she said.
The proposals at a glance
Bills: HB 1417 and SB 5307
What they do: Require the state departments of Licensing and Health to evaluate whether military training should be applied to professional licenses for medical careers, such as nursing, radiologic technicians and emergency medical technicians.
Next hearing: HB 1417 is due to appear before the House Committee on Health Care & Wellness at 1:30 p.m. Monday.
Bills: HB 1418 and SB 5308
What they do: Require the state Department of Licensing to evaluate whether military experience should apply to professional licenses for engineers, cosmetologists, barbers, land surveyors and security guards.
Next hearing: SB 5308 is due to appear before the Senate Committee on Labor and Commerce & Consumer Protection at 10 a.m. Monday.
For more information, go to www.leg.wa.gov. You can search for bills under the "Bill Search" tab.