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Licensing Rules for Military Spouses


Military spouses with a career have a difficult time finding a job. They have a 26% unemployment rate and an even higher underemployment rate. The Department of Defense has promoted spouse employability through the MyCAA program, encouraging the development of careers that are more easily transferable from duty station to duty station. The success of the MyCAA program developed an unexpected problem: individual state licensure.

Military spouses with a career that requires state licensing have an even more complicated time finding a job. Real estate agents, nurses, teachers, and cosmetologists (just to name a few) find themselves under the additional prerequisite of meeting a new state’s licensure requirements to participate in the job market. In response, the Department of Defense’s state liaison office has been actively pursuing license portability legislation for military spouses since 2008. In conjunction with the Joining Forces Initiative at the White House and the active vocal support of First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden (wife of Vice-President Joe Biden), portability and transferability of professional licensure has come to the attention of many state legislatures and governors.

Twenty-three states have already enacted military spousal license portability laws. Each of the 23 states has different regulations regarding licensure for military spouses. In a nutshell, what is being asked for (and what most of the 23 states have done) is two-fold:

  • temporary licensure for those who come to the state fully licensed from another state;
  • an expedited process to obtain that state’s license.

This in no way decreases the level of education and skills or expectations of professionalism required to do the job. Military spouses don’t want that whatsoever. They simply wish to have acknowledged and addressed that their status as a military spouse, with the accompanying fluidity of residence, creates a unique economic and professional situation compared to traditional civilian workforce. To paraphrase an old cliché, military spouses do not want a handout, just a hand up.

The outcomes of this legislation are significant. Unemployment, food stamps, and assistance levels for military families will be reduced. Retention of military service members whose spousal employment is a factor in reenlistment will increase. It also spills out into the civilian sector. Employed military spouses pour more money into the local economy, helping to develop additional jobs for civilians. Once the expedited process is underway, it can be applied to civilians with professional licenses who find themselves moving to another state.

Seven states have legislation pending. That leaves 20 states with no legislation (see map of all 50 states). If your state has no legislation or legislation pending, contact your state representatives to encourage them to introduce and pass these license transferability laws for military spouses. Even states that seem to have no active military bases often house a large military population; think liaisons and recruiters. While on the surface a military issue, this issue affects us all.

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