Eric Smith calls himself one of the lucky ones, returning home from the war in Iraq in 2008 with two arms and two legs.
But his luck has yet to produce a full-time job. In the past year, the 26-year-old Baltimore veteran has found part-time work as a bartender — which paid $4 an hour, plus tips — and as a mail sorter, which paid $8 an hour. And when he was desperate enough for income, he volunteered to be a test patient in a drug study, which earned him $1,200 for a four-night hospital stay.
It's not exactly what Smith had in mind.
After getting bored with high school, he quit as a 15-year-old sophomore and enlisted in the Navy two years later, serving two deployments in Iraq. He became a senior hospital corpsman, leading a four-man team in a 20-bed intensive care unit, gaining experience that he thought would easily translate into a good-paying civilian job.
That never happened.
Today Smith lives with his parents on Baltimore's east side, making ends meet with a $541 disability check he receives each month from the Department of Veterans Affairs, payment for the lower back, shoulder, hand, knee and ear injuries he sustained in the war. He said the ringing in his ears, caused by explosions, is continuous: "You just get used to it."
With a little help from Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, Smith has become the face of veteran joblessness on Capitol Hill this year, testifying at a hearing, speaking at a press conference and lobbying individual members of Congress.