Alexandria Echo Press

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar introduced legislation recently that is designed to relieve the shortage of emergency medical personnel, especially in rural areas, by streamlining civilian paramedic training for returning veterans who already have emergency medical experience from the military.

Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) joined Klobuchar in introducing the bill, and Representatives Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) introduced Klobuchar’s bill in the House.

“On the one hand, we have a severe shortage of emergency medical personnel in rural communities,” said Klobuchar. “On the other hand, we have an abundance of returning veterans who have significant training and experience. They’re an ideal talent pool to relieve the shortage.”

The legislation, S. 2993, is called the “Veterans-to-Paramedics Transition Act.” It would accelerate and streamline the transition to civilian employment for returning veterans who already have emergency medical training.

Klobuchar explained, “When we have soldiers who are trained to save lives on the front lines of combat, they should also have the opportunity save lives on the front lines right here at home.”

Specifically, the bill would provide federal grants for universities, colleges, technical schools, and State EMS agencies to develop an appropriate curriculum to train these veterans and fast-track their eligibility for paramedic certification. A standard paramedic training program can take one to two years to complete.

This bipartisan legislation has already been endorsed by the American Ambulance Association as well as the Minnesota Ambulance Association and the National Rural Health Association.

There are more than 300 licensed ambulance services in Minnesota, with 85 percent of them located outside the Twin Cities and other urban areas like Rochester, Duluth and St. Cloud.

Rural communities have long faced critical shortages in emergency medical personnel. A Minnesota Department of Health study several years ago described it as a “quiet crisis.” In that study, 75 percent of rural emergency medical service providers said they needed to add more staff, and 67 percent reported having difficult covering their shifts.

“We very much welcome this legislation to address Minnesota’s shortage of emergency medical personnel,“ said Buck McAlpin, president of the Minnesota Ambulance Association. “Every year, one to two ambulance service operations close in rural Minnesota and, in some places, there is growing concern about whether an ambulance will even be available when someone calls 911. Minnesotans have a right to expect that a well-trained emergency responder will be there for them.”

Meanwhile, thousands of men and women in the military receive emergency medical training as part of their duties. For example, most Army combat medics are currently certified as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) at the basic level.

When these veterans return to civilian life, however, their military-based medical training is not counted toward training and certification as civilian paramedics. Many existing programs require all students to begin with an entry-level curriculum. For veterans, this means spending extra time and money for training that, in effect, they have already received.

Klobuchar first announced the legislation in Minneapolis in April, when she was joined by Jesse Folk, a Minnesota National Guard member from Ortonville who served in Iraq for one year and received training as a combat medic. He described his emergency medical training and experience, as well as his frustration at trying to find a civilian paramedic education program that would recognize and build on the training he already received in the military.

“We cannot afford to squander this wealth of skill and experience, especially when rural communities have such a shortage of emergency medical personnel,” said Klobuchar. “Our nation has invested in developing the skills of our servicemen and women. We need to make the most of this investment when they return to civilian life.’’