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Family Matters Blog: Leaders Aim to Ease Spouse Employment Woes

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 16, 2012 – Army spouse Ann Wells has firsthand experience with one of the most pressing employment challenges for military spouses: obtaining an occupational license after a move.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Military spouse Ann Wells speaks during a Pentagon ceremony to discuss a study on military spouse employment, Feb. 15, 2012. First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, released the report, which focuses on ways to ease employment barriers for active duty spouses, including streamlining licensing requirements that vary by state. DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Wells has moved her family at least 10 times during her husband’s 32-year military career, and at each stop the registered nurse struggles to resume work -- not due to a lack of training or experience, but because of lengthy and complicated occupational licensing procedures. In one state, she said, the process was so difficult she decided to forgo her efforts during that assignment.

First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey unveiled a new report yesterday aimed at removing barriers for spouses struggling to obtain occupational licenses.

The Defense and Treasury departments produced this report to offer states a roadmap they can use to streamline or expedite licensing procedures.

Speaking from the Pentagon, Obama said she and Biden have heard of these issues at every stop they’ve made to speak with military families. “It is the No. 1 issue that military spouses tell us about,” she said.

Spouses whose careers require licenses confront varying requirements from state to state. A lack of license portability -- the ability to transfer an existing license to a new state with minimal application requirements -- can cause spouses to bear high administrative and financial burdens as they attempt to obtain a license.

Obama noted the magnitude of this issue. More than one in every three military spouses in the workforce has a job that requires a professional license or certification, she said, citing the report. “This licensing issue affects more than 100,000 individuals -- 100,000 individuals. And the vast majority of you are clearly ready to work when you get to your new state.”

The first lady cited some possible solutions, such as temporary licenses that would enable spouses to get a job as they work to complete state requirements and waiving cumbersome requirements for military spouses who have demonstrated their competence.

“The report contains tips and ideas, not edicts and decrees,” she said. “But the point is that there are solutions here. This is a solvable problem.”

Obama lauded the 11 states that have addressed this issue with legislation and the 15 others that have legislation pending or waiting to be introduced. “But that still leaves 26 states that have yet to address this issue,” she said.

Obama said officials are setting a national goal: By 2014, they want to see all 50 states pass legislation to address licensing issues.

“We know it’s an ambitious goal. We know it won’t be easy to achieve, but we also know that our nation’s military families have waited long enough,” she said to applause.

Panetta stressed the importance of supporting the nation’s “extraordinary” military spouses and family members, who serve and sacrifice so much.

“In this building we do everything we can to provide service members with the best support system in the world with everything they need in order to do their mission,” he said. “But there is no support system like the family.

“The love, the devotion, the support, the loyalty, the dedication of our loved ones is what makes us get through each day, through thick and thin. We simply could not do this mission without you,” he said to resounding applause.

Wells said she’s proud of her husband’s career, but values her own just as much. Military spouses, she said, “are not looking for a handout, or to change a state’s standards,” she said. “We are simply looking to be able to provide for our families and continue the career that we love.”

For more on this effort, read my AFPS article or the White House’s blog.

Related Sites:
Family Matters Blog

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