You might have overlooked the man in the blue service uniform quietly mopping floors at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore last year. But not so long ago, Eric Smith was wearing military garb and performing emergency medical procedures on wounded soldiers in Iraq. Since returning from the battlefront in 2008 after two tours of duty, however, the former Navy hospital corpsman has been out of work or underemployed.
Smith enlisted at 17 and by 19 was leading a four-man team at a 20-bed battle zone ICU. But his lifesaving skills are not recognized by stateside medical facilities that demand civilian certification and licensing. Smith and thousands of other highly trained and experienced vets don’t qualify for jobs equivalent to or less demanding than ones they held in the military.
Back home in Baltimore, Smith has found only menial jobs. “All the things I was trained to do are going to waste,” he says ruefully. “It cost the Navy, the American people really, a million dollars and nearly six years to train me. And it’s lost.”
Now 27, Smith is going back to school to earn the EMT certification that will allow him to perform the same tasks he did so well under battlefield conditions. “The war at home,” he says, “is tougher than the war overseas.”