Given the training and skills service members get on the job, it should be easier for their credentials to transfer to allow them to compete in the civilian sector, senators said. 

"I think we can fix this problem," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., at a hearing this week exploring issues affecting single service members and families. 

Tuesday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing was the first of two appearances in as many days by senior enlisted advisers in which they discussed credentialing concerns, among other topics. They appeared Wednesday at a meeting of the Defense Department Military Family Council.

Each state has different credentialing requirements, and those differences may prevent service members and spouses from finding employment if their credentials don't transfer to a particular jurisdiction. DoD and the services, as well as the White House Joining Forces Initiative, have made inroads into addressing the issue, though Warren acknowledged more work needs to be done. 


She also said she had no interest in changing or lowering civilian certification standards.


"That's not the problem here," she said. "But it seems to me that America spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year to train our service members to do these highly skilled jobs. We train them to do these jobs with precision, to do them without mistakes, to do them in active combat situations. And I believe they should be ready to move into civilian life with those certifications.

"What concerns me right now is that too many service members are being roped into expensive credentialing programs by predatory for-profit colleges that are looking to get hold of those military benefits and make a profit off them. I just want to work on making it easier for our service members when they leave the service, to have that credential in hand and know that that credential is going to be recognized in all relevant 54 jurisdictions."

TRUCKERS AS A TEMPLATE

Warren questioned the senior enlisted advisers about specific examples, including truck drivers.

"The Army trains thousands of soldiers every year to drive trucks in the most difficult conditions, in combat, with hazardous cargo at night, in sandstorms, you name it. If it’s tough, you train people to do it," she said. "So with those kinds of skills, when they transition from the Army, it is reasonable to assume that they could pretty much sign on with any long haul trucking company and hit the interstate the next day, right?"

Not exactly, said Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey, the service's top enlisted soldier, calling it "a complicated matter."

First, soldiers must earn one of the Army's 1,556 credentials -- the Army is reviewing an initiative to expand the ability of soldiers to earn such certificates and licensing, Dailey noted in written testimony. Second, he said, "we have to work the requirements for each and every one of the 54 states and territories that license those trucks."

The Navy is moving toward reinventing its training pipeline to allow sailors to train to a specific skill set in each one of the ratings "and then get to a credentialing opportunity so that they'll have that expertise as they do make that transition," said  Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Steven Giordano, the service's top enlisted sailor.

The Navy now offers every sailor at least one opportunity to earn a credential in each one of the 80 enlisted ratings, but those ratings encompass a number of different skill sets.

PORTABILITY PLAN

The Defense Department's state liaison office has been working to inform state legislatures about the difficulties that service members have with the different credentialing requirements when they make the transition to the civilian community. On a similar track, officials have been working to address licensing and credentialing issues for military spouses who move from state to state with their service members.

During a briefing to the DoD Military Family Readiness Council, Marcus Beauregard, director of the DoD State Liaison Office, said 50 states have enacted some law that at least partially addresses the issues of licensure for separating service members and license portability for military spouses. 

Dailey said those numbers are "a little misleading" because the overwhelming majority of service members' credentials are not recognized by states when they leave the military, and the service must partner with outside groups to credential its soldiers.

Yet, Beauregard said, "In 47 states, they have written into law that they will accept military education, training and experience toward a license. It has to be substantially equivalent to that license. That, we can't get around." 

There are similar issues with military spouses, who often face licensing issues when they move from state to state. Beauregard said 37 states have provisions that allow acceptance of military spouses' licenses from another state; 46 states have provisions allowing spouses to get a temporary license to start a new job while waiting for a license; and 32 states have expedited procedures for licensing for military spouses.

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody, in one of his final appearances as the top enlisted airman before his Friday retirement, said he was concerned that DoD's numbers about states' progress toward easing licensing problems for spouses also might paint a more optimistic picture than the reality.

"I get concerned when I see slides like this because I read that slide optimistically. That we don't really have a huge problem because of the work you've done, versus there's really a lot more work to be done," Cody said at the Wednesday council meeting. 

He noted that there are many different types of licenses, and there's a cost for getting the licenses. Even if the administrative process is eased in some way, the spouse has to write a check for the licensing process, and "that's sometimes cost prohibitive," he said.

Beauregard acknowledged the concern and said DoD has had some of the same questions about how states' laws are working for military spouses. DoD has commissioned the University of Minnesota to do a 50-state review, checking with their boards to see how they've been carrying out these laws.  

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also addressed the issue of spouse licensure at the Senate personnel subcommittee hearing.

"If an individual is credentialed or licensed to work in one state, maybe we could look at making those licenses applicable in other states," he said.

Karen Jowers covers military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times. She can be reached at kjowers@militarytimes.com .