Officials ask spouses to share employment ups, downs

By Elaine Wilson: American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON — Defense Department officials are inviting military spouses to air their state licensing issues and concerns as part of an overall effort to boost spouses’ education and career opportunities.

The department has created a discussion board where spouses can describe their experiences — both good and bad — with state licenses and certifications as they move from state to state.

“We’d like to eliminate barriers that would enable spouses to pursue their goals, and licensure is a major barrier to spouses as they seek careers,” Aggie Byers, senior policy analyst with the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program, told American Forces Press Service.

One-third of employed military spouses are in career fields that require a state license, such as some health care professionals, teachers, accountants, pharmacy technicians and medical billers, explained Ed Kringer, director of state liaison and educational opportunity for the Pentagon’s office of military community and family policy.

Officials often encourage military spouses to pursue portable careers, since they may offer easier paths to employment in new locations. However, spouses are running into some issues as they move from state to state, Kringer acknowledged.

A license that’s valid in one state isn’t always valid in another, he explained, rendering spouses unable to work until they can complete the licensing requirements for their new state of residence.

Compounding the issue, some states have stringent application processes or the board may only meet once every three to four months. If spouses miss one board, they’ll potentially have to wait months for another. In worst-case scenarios, some states don’t endorse another state’s license at all, leaving those spouses back at square one in the licensing process, Kringer said.

“The process can be confusing, time-consuming, expensive, and can leave spouses out of the job market for long periods of time,” he said. “We realize that a spouse may only be (in a state) for two to three years, and will be missing six months or more of work.”

This lack of employment can have a snowball effect, he noted. States often require people to demonstrate reasonable competency, which entails expertise gained on the job. A spouse, for example, may be required to have worked two out of the past four years in a career to obtain a license. But military spouses who lived overseas for several years, or in a small town with limited career opportunities, may not be able to meet this requirement, he added.

To counter these issues and others, Defense Department officials are working with states to streamline processes and eliminate licensing barriers, Kringer said.

Officials have focused past efforts on easing the transition process for registered nurses and teachers. For example, Kringer said, officials have worked with states over the past several years on a licensure compact that will ease state-to-state transitions for registered nurses. For teachers, he added, they’ve been asking states to accept one specific certificate across the board rather than requiring a new certificate in each state.

However, only about 11 percent of working spouses are registered nurses or teachers, according to the current population survey, Kringer noted, so officials are working to minimize the challenges facing spouses in all portable careers.

Efforts to institute change already have paid off, he said.

Colorado, for example, passed an endorsement bill last year that’s speeding up the licensing process for military spouses, Kringer said. Colorado has a regulatory agency that oversees 77 different careers that require a license. The legislation gives the agency’s director authority to grant endorsements without board approval, eliminating sometimes lengthy waits for a board to meet. Additionally, the state now accepts continuing education units in lieu of experience, he added.

More than 25 other states have similar regulatory agencies, he said, and officials are hopeful they’ll pass similar bills once they learn of Colorado’s success.