WASHINGTON — Pentagon leaders and first lady Michelle Obama are asking states to ease job licensing requirements for military spouses whose frequent moves hurt their employment prospects.
The push comes on the heels of a Defense Department report released Wednesday showing that more than one-third of all working military spouses regularly deal with the inconsistent state licensing rules and associated employment problems. Teaching, child care and nursing are the three most common occupations among military spouses, and all three typically require state certifications.
“Military families are asked to move again and again, and that transition is a huge headache and a barrier to employment for those spouses,” said Brad Cooper, executive director of the Joining Forces campaign.
Obama and top defense officials are urging states to accept a list of “best practices” to help military spouses, including providing temporary licenses for new state residents and creating a fast-track licensing process for individuals already certified in another state.
On Wednesday, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey called the licensing measures a common-sense step to help out military families that already make many sacrifices on behalf of the nation.
“Military spouses don’t really want special treatment,” he said. “At the end of the day, all they want is a fair shot.”
Obama said easing the licensing rules wouldn’t lower professional standards, but instead give recognition to the unique career paths of military spouses.
“It happens to nurses, school teachers, dental hygienists, lawyers … and so many other careers,” she said. “This licensing issue affects more than 100,000 individuals. The vast majority of [them] are ready to work. But too often, [they’re] left waiting for paperwork to clear.”
Marcus Beauregard, head of the Pentagon’s office of military community and family policy, said shortening those timelines is especially urgent because military families often live fewer than three years in a single location.
“That gives [spouses] little time to advance in their careers if they have to wait for certification,” he said.
Eleven states have passed laws supporting military spouse license portability: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Washington. Obama said she hopes all 50 states will adopt licensing transfer rules for military spouses by 2014.
Defense officials have lobbied state officials for similar protections for years, but Cooper said he is confident the cause can gain traction now because of the country’s new focus on helping troops and their families.