About one out of five military spouses who are in professions requiring licensing and certification said they waited 10 months or more to get their credential after a permanent change of station move, according to a 2019 survey of active duty spouses conducted by the Department of Defense.

And since this survey was fielded in the latter part of 2019, it doesn’t reflect any issues spouses may have had because of COVID-inflicted delays. The survey covered a broad array of topics, ranging from child care and spouse employment, to stress, deployment and support services.

One-third of military spouses are in professions requiring these credentials, and they must often go through onerous and expensive processes to obtain them each time when they make a military-required move with their service member. Whether they are nurses, attorneys, hairdressers, teachers, or in other professions requiring credentials, they often face costly credentialing fees, but also lost family income and time in their careers by being unable to quickly gain employment at the next duty station.

Since 2012, the wait times for these credentials hasn’t changed much, according to the results of this survey, and those conducted in 2012, 2015 and 2017.

“Given DoD’s work and legislative efforts over recent years in the area of licensure, at both state and federal levels, we’re shocked by how little has changed since 2012,” said Jennifer Davis, government relations deputy director of the National Military Family Association. “When the average PCS is two to three years, and 20 percent of spouses who work in career fields requiring a license are waiting 10 or more months for a new license, that shows a disconnect in collective efforts.”

Some spouses may be waiting for half or a third of their time at a new duty station after a PCS to get their license, she said. “This wait has a huge effect on a military family’s budget and a spouse’s well-being as a contributor to the family’s short- and long-term financial status.”

Based on the responses of the more than 10,000 spouses, the spouse unemployment rate is 22 percent, and spouse licensure barriers are part of the issue. Getting the “on-the-ground view” from spouses who are experiencing these long wait times will help understand how to tackle the problem, Davis said, and she encourages military spouses to share their employment stories with advocacy organizations like NMFA, state legislators, and others to help form a clear picture of how to tackle these challenges.

“We desperately need to bring the military spouse unemployment rate down. Twenty-two percent is unacceptable,” she said.

Officials are encouraged that the survey showed that more than 50 percent of spouses reported they were able to get their credential within four months or less, said Marcus Beauregard, director of the DoD state liaison office, during a Dec. 2 briefing on the results of the survey.

However, the survey may not reflect the time it takes to request the documents necessary to validate an application before it’s even submitted, he said. The survey question asked was: “How long did it take you to acquire a new professional or occupational license or credential?”

There’s an ongoing initiative working with state licensure boards to allow an initial credential within 30 days, with the spouse subsequently providing extra needed documentation. Beauregard said DoD officials are hoping that over time, they will see the percentage increase of spouses who get their credential within 30 days.

According to the survey report, since 2012, the percentage of spouses who were able to get their new credential in less than a month has steadily decreased from 15 percent, to 12 percent in 2019. There has been a gradual increase in the percentage of spouses able to get their credentials within one to four months — from 36 percent to 42 percent.

Defense officials have been working with states for nearly 10 years to address those issues and provide temporary relief for spouses in a number of professions. Although DoD doesn’t have control over states’ requirements when it comes to these occupational and professional licenses, DoD officials have racheted up their efforts to persuade states to address the problem. It was a key focus area in previous Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s line of effort in taking care of service members and their families.

The ramped up efforts happened at about the time this survey was fielded.

Reimbursement for credentialing fees

Realizing the financial burden of these credentialing fees on spouses due to military relocation, lawmakers have provided some relief by allowing reimbursement of up to $1,000 of these fees, each time a spouse relocates with a military member.

These reimbursements have been in place for about a year and a half, so there were no questions asked about this benefit on the survey, which was fielded shortly after the services began the reimbursement program.

However, recent numbers provided by DoD show that nearly $372,000 in reimbursements have been paid to 1,062 spouses as of earlier this fall, an average of about $350 per spouse.

The Navy is leading the pack by far in this program, with 351 Navy spouses reimbursed a total of $125,345, as of Oct. 9.

# spouses reimbursedtotal $$ paidaverage
Army
(as of Sept. 22)
241$86,809$360
Navy
(as of Oct. 9)
351$125, 345$357
Marine Corps
(as of Oct. 8)
217$75,906$350
Air Force
(as of Aug. 13)
253$83,735$331
Total DoD1062$371,795$350
Source: DoD

For information about how to apply to your service branch for reimbursement for licensing/credentialing fees after a PCS move, visit Military OneSource, or visit your installation family center.

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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