The real news about Joining Forces
Published: February 20, 2012
Searching for employment statistics about military spouses several years ago, I tracked down someone in some government office, because I heard she was working on a study related to the subject.
When I finally reached her by phone, I told her I was a military wife writing about military family issues, and asked about the statistics I was seeking. She told me the report was not available yet, because she was still working on compiling figures.
“And," she added, “I could get it done a lot faster if I did not have to deal with phone calls like this one.” Click.
This was pre 9/11, and I was learning the hard way that military spouses’ careers and questions weren’t on anyone’s front burner. I never did hear the results of that particular study.
Fast-forward to 2012: A report about military spouse careers was released last week with no small fanfare. First lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey spoke to more than 300 guests and dignitaries at the Pentagon about the findings of a joint analysis by the Department of Defense and Treasury Department.
The findings will be no surprise to military spouses, but now it’s official: According to the report, we are “10 times more likely to have moved across state lines in the past year” than our civilian counterparts. Also, more than a third of us have careers requiring state licensing or certification, in fields such as education, medicine and legal.
This is not news to us. The news is that people of influence are paying attention to those challenges and looking for solutions by getting to know us, statistically and in person.
“One of the best parts of my role as second lady is the privilege of meeting with servicemembers and their families all over the world,” said Dr. Biden, whose son is a national guardsman.
The recent report, part of the first and second ladies’ Joining Forces initiative to support military families, also includes suggestions for ways state governments can help military spouses make professional licenses more portable.
The estimated 100,000 military spouses who have careers requiring state licensing or certification know the score. When moving to a new state, getting authorization to work there in fields such as nursing, teaching or real estate can eat up the bank account and the calendar. By the time the process is complete, it’s nearly time to move again.
“This is something that Jill and I hear about on every single base,” the first lady told the Pentagon audience. “It is the number one thing that military spouses tell us about.”
That was news, even to me. It certainly would be news to civilians who know military spouses only through news reports on post-traumatic stress disorder or YouTube videos of surprise homecomings by deployed parents.
“Deployments, as tough as they are, are just a subset of the challenges that the military spouse faces,” said Gen. Dempsey in his remarks at the event.
He’s right. The impact of deployments on families is significant, but it is not all that is significant to us.
Eleven states have enacted legislation to ease license portability for military spouses. Thirteen more are working on it. Michelle Obama said she’d like to see the process completed in all 50 states by 2014.
Of course, the rest is up the states and their leaders. The DOD has been working to alleviate this this problem for some time. Progress has been slow. Perhaps it will be accelerated by the endorsement of these two influential women.
When I ask military spouses what they think about Joining Forces, they are mostly optimistic that the initiative will continue to bring attention to military families’ strengths as well as our challenges.
Mrs. Obama closed her remarks at the Pentagon with a promise: “You can call on us and we will answer,” she said. “We owe it to you and your families who have sacrificed so much.”
It sounds like progress. It’s better than having someone in some government office hang up on me.
Access a copy of the report about miitary spouses and occupational licensing by clicking here.