More than a year after the law was signed to allow the service branches to reimburse military spouses up to $500 in professional relicensing fees when they move to a new state, the policies aren’t yet in place.
The Air Force seems closer than the other services to implementing this pilot program, which aims to help spouses find employment after their family moves to a new location.
Air Force officials expect the policy will be available to airmen this summer, said Air Force spokesman Maj. Nick Mercurio. But timelines were not available from the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.
“This delay has been frustrating for spouses. As the only charity currently reimbursing spouses for PCS-related licensure expenses, we know the need spouses face,” said Joyce Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association.
Each branch of service is currently developing a program to reimburse military spouses for these expenses, said Pentagon spokeswoman Air Force Lt. Col. Carla Gleason.
“Because the individual military services are responsible for both the permanent change of station move and the related reimbursement, the services retain the discretionary authority for this payment,” she said.
Local and state-level licensing or certifications are required in a long list of professions, ranging from dental hygienists and accountants, to doctors, hairdressers, nurses, attorneys and teachers, to name a few. The requirements vary from state to state, and from one profession to another.
The new Defense Department program provides reimbursement for up to $500 in qualified costs, such as exam and registration fees, to help spouses get a new license in their same profession in the new state.
“At a time when they’ve just had to quit a job because their service member received PCS orders, when they’ve just incurred the costs of a move, they find they can’t get a new job in their field until they fork over money they may not have to take another class or test in order to get licensed in their new state,” Raezer said.
“Congress understood this challenge and came up with a solution. Military leaders talk a lot about the need to support military spouses in meeting their career aspirations. By delaying implementation of the reimbursement, they’ve missed an opportunity to make that happen,” she said.
The pilot program is authorized through Dec. 31, 2022, by the fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act.
The National Military Family Association will ask Congress to extend the pilot program beyond 2022, because of the delays in rolling it out, said Kelly Hruska, government relations director for the association.
The law allows the services to reimburse spouses up to $500 for relicensing and certifications required to work in their same profession. It’s unknown whether these reimbursements will be retroactive.
Army Secretary Mark Esper noted that the Army is working on its policy regarding reimbursement of licensing expenses, during a recent town hall meeting at the Association of the United States Army, but didn’t provide a timeline. He said he’s heard from spouses that they pay “significant fees” to transfer their licenses to their new state. In addition, he said, he’ll continue to work with lawmakers to seek a broader national policy relating to this issue.
Meanwhile, officials in the DoD state liaison office have been working for years at the state level to bring attention to state lawmakers that transferring occupational licenses from previous states is an important issue for military spouses who want to be able to continue to work in their field. A number of states have adopted at least partial measures to provide some license portability, such as temporary licensure and streamlined processes.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.