Officials Invite Spouses to Share Employment Ups, Downs

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. 

Also last year, Flori­da passed a bill that enables mil­i­tary spous­es with a valid license from anoth­er state to auto­mat­i­cal­ly obtain a tem­po­rary six-month license, Kringer said. This gives spous­es the oppor­tu­ni­ty to seek employ­ment while fil­ing for their per­ma­nent license, he explained. 

The state also has devel­oped a process to expe­dite the required back­ground check. Rather than sev­er­al weeks or months, spous­es can have their back­ground checks done in a week.

But despite these efforts, Kringer said, offi­cials know they may be miss­ing an issue or poten­tial solu­tion. “We don’t know if we’re doing it per­fect­ly,” he acknowl­edged. “We made edu­cat­ed guess­es that helped frame these ini­tial efforts, but now we need to hear from spouses.” 

Kringer encour­aged spous­es to use the dis­cus­sion board so offi­cials can bet­ter direct their efforts. They’d like to hear what prob­lems spous­es are fac­ing or have faced, he said, and they’re hop­ing to learn from suc­cess sto­ries as well. 

The dis­cus­sion board, he added, also can serve as a source of infor­ma­tion to oth­ers. Spous­es can learn from some­one else’s lessons learned, for example. 

Although offi­cials hope for exten­sive input, Kringer cau­tioned that spous­es should­n’t expect per­son­al­ized respons­es. The dis­cus­sion board isn’t intend­ed to fix indi­vid­ual issues with states, he explained, but rather is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to offer feed­back to ensure offi­cials are mov­ing in the right direc­tion. “This isn’t going to be a quick process, but over the years we should make good head­way,” he said. 

Lead­ers under­stand how dis­rup­tive fre­quent mil­i­tary moves can be to a career, Kringer noted. 

“There are ben­e­fits, but it’s dis­rup­tive,” he said. “And no mat­ter how well we work this, we can’t make it so it’s not dis­rup­tive. But we want to min­i­mize that dis­rup­tion as much as possible.” 

This effort is part of an over­all, inter­a­gency effort to increase spouse employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties, Byers explained, not­ing that spouse employ­ment was one of the key issues iden­ti­fied in a White House report released last month titled “Strength­en­ing our Mil­i­tary Fam­i­lies: Meet­ing America’s Com­mit­ment.” The report not only iden­ti­fied key issues mil­i­tary fam­i­lies face, but also pre­sent­ed the pro­grams and resources gov­ern­ment agen­cies plan to launch in the com­ing months to address them. 

For exam­ple, the Trea­sury and Defense depart­ments are work­ing togeth­er to release a report on licens­ing and cre­den­tial­ing prac­tices faced by mil­i­tary spouses.

“Spouse edu­ca­tion and employ­ment mat­ters because it leads to their ful­fill­ment,” Byers said. “If they feel ful­filled pro­fes­sion­al­ly … they’ll have a greater chance to thrive while serv­ing the nation.” 

Peo­ple can find more infor­ma­tion about spouse edu­ca­tion and career oppor­tu­ni­ties, includ­ing free career coun­sel­ing, on the Mil­i­tary One­Source website. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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