A new provision in the defense bill bumps up the maximum military spouse reimbursement to $1,000, for relicensing and recertification costs each time they relocate with their service member.

The defense bill, waiting to be signed into law by President Donald Trump, also extends the authority for this reimbursement by two years — through Dec. 31, 2024.

Separate provisions in the bill would remove some barriers for spouses who own businesses when they move from state to state, and provide funding for Defense Department officials to work with states to address the core issue of cumbersome and costly requirements of getting relicensed or recertified in their profession every time they move from one state to another.

A current pilot program reimburses spouses for relicensing costs of up to $500, and was authorized in 2017, but the service branches implemented their individual programs in May and June, 2019. Thus, the reimbursement is retroactive for fees incurred with permanent change of station moves where orders were received on or after Dec. 12, 2017. It was not immediately clear whether the increased maximum would apply retroactively.

Many military spouses spend time and money getting re-credentialed in their field when they move to a new state, costing money for exams and other fees, as well as lost pay potential as they go through the process.

“These are huge wins for military spouses, and we’re really excited,” said Jennifer Davis, government relations deputy director for the National Military Family Association. While $500 might be enough to cover costs for some spouses, others, such as attorneys, have higher costs, she said.

It’s also important that the law extends the end date of the pilot program by two years, to the end of 2024, she said, because it took the services a year and a half to get their programs up and running. The Air Force, Army and Marine Corps started their programs in May; the Navy in June.

The services have reimbursed 423 military spouses a total of $138,015 to date, with an overall average reimbursement of $326. One service — the Army — lagged behind the others.

The Army, the largest service, has reimbursed 51 spouses, for a total of $15,500. That’s less than a third of the number of reimbursements for the Air Force (159), and about half of Marine Corps (101), and Navy (112). The Navy started its program a month after the other services.

By the numbers:

# spousestotal reimbursedaverage
Air Force159`$49,700$313
Marine Corps101$35,207$349
Total DOD423$138,015$326
Source: Air Force, Army,
Marine Corps, Navy

Army officials are working to clarify and simplify the filing and processing procedures, said Army spokeswoman Cathy Vandermaarel. The Army has received 96 requests for reimbursement. One was pending payment and 44 were returned for more action, she said.

Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force officials haven’t made any adjustments to their programs.

For specific information about how to apply to your service branch for reimbursement, visit Military OneSource, or check with your installation’s family center.

Tackling the relicensing problem in more ways

The defense bill also requires the Secretary of Defense to work with the Council of State Governments to help fund the development of interstate compacts on licensed occupations, in order to help remove military spouses’ burden of getting new occupational licenses every time they move with their service member. It would allow DoD to spend up to $1 million to help develop any particular compact; and the total amount of assistance couldn’t exceed $4 million in any fiscal year for all compacts.

DoD will also have to submit a report by Feb. 28 of each year on any interstate compacts developed with DoD’s assistance.

This provision was championed by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

State regulations and laws are beyond the control of DoD, although the DoD State Liaison Office has been working to educate states about the hardships military spouses face when they move from one area to another. Many spouses are attorneys, hairdressers, nurses, teachers or in a host of other fields that require credentialing.

Some states have changed laws or regulations to allow temporary licensing, expedited licensing and/or reciprocity of licenses with other states.

“Having been a governor, I appreciate that states feel some parochial interest in the people who practice in various professions in their state, and they want to keep control over that," said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. “But there’s also a recognition that we ask our military families to do so much." She and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, championed the legislation. Second lady Karen Pence was also involved in the effort.

The authorization for $4 million will help DoD work with states to come up with some uniform standards that can address the licensure piece, she said, so that spouses don’t have to go through redoing their licenses every time they move.

Shaheen and Cotton also championed a provision which guarantees the right of military spouses to use the same residence as the service member for any purpose, to include the registration of a business, regardless of the date of marriage. The provision makes changes to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

More and more spouses have started their own businesses, and move those businesses with them. They’ve expressed concern about the costs, the legal requirements, time requirements and other issues when they move their businesses to a new state.

Shaheen said she was inspired to work on this issue by Andrea Krull when she and her husband, Navy Cmdr. Matthew Krull of Manchester, visited Shaheen’s Washington, D.C. office. Andrea Krull has a small business in communications and public relations. Cmdr. Krull noted he can list New Hampshire as his residence, but his wife can’t. Thus every time they move she has to re-register her business, pay filing fees, and take other steps depending on the state.

Shaheen said she called Andrea Krull to let her know about the legislation, and told her, “We need to make sure the word gets out.”

She said Krull replied that in the military spouse community, “if anything good happens, the word travels very fast.”

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.

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