As Congress considers new rules to help military spouses find work stateside, military officials are moving to ease barriers for spouses working overseas.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Army Secretary Mark Esper said at a press event Monday they had signed a memorandum of understanding earlier in the day with Navy Secretary Richard Spencer to look into rule changes regarding spouses’ employment at overseas bases.
The three services will spend the next few months discussing military-wide changes that could make working from home at overseas locations or applying for jobs at overseas bases easier.
“As we’ve looked at it, some of the challenges are our own rules and regulations, not country-specific problems,” Wilson said. “One example was just told to me when I was at Aviano Air Force Base (in Italy) … You can’t use your APO box for business mail. That presents a real limitation for spouse employment overseas.”
The move comes after a years-long push from Defense Department leaders to state officials on the issue of license and certification transfers across state lines, an issue that advocates have said contributes to high unemployment among military spouses whose families face frequent moves.
Defense Department surveys have shown that about 1 in 4 military spouses are unemployed.
Last week, a bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers introduced their latest attempt at addressing the issue, the Portable Certification of Spouses Act. The legislation would create universal licensing standards for a host of professions and to modify state residency rules for military spouses.
Esper said earlier this year he signed a new directive allowing military family members to run home businesses out of base housing, another change designed to ease the barriers for self-employed military spouses.
“It was just one of those things where we couldn’t find a good reason why we shouldn’t allow that,” he said.
Wilson and Esper said the new effort will build on that idea, surveying family members to see what changes could be put in place by military leadership to reduce the burden and barriers to conducting those jobs.
“It’s a team sport,” Esper said. “Making sure spouses can support their service members, and vice versa, is critical to retain the best talent.”
At the legislation unveiling last week, Second lady Karen Pence announced plans for a White House summit this week with leaders from 46 national businesses to talk about ways to create more job opportunities for the spouses of service members.
Pence, the mother of a Marine Corps aviator, called the moves an important chance to recognize the hardships of military life and support troops by taking care of their families.
Defense officials did not give a specific timeline for when their review of the overseas spouse employment policies will be complete.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.