Spouses and troops moving to a new duty station would be able to more quickly transfer their professional license to work in the new location, under a measure included in the defense policy bill approved by House lawmakers Thursday.

Transferring professional licenses has long been an issue for military families, who often face onerous and expensive processes to be able to work in their new location.

One-third of military spouses are in professions requiring these credentials, such as nursing, hairdressing, teaching and law, to name just a few. Defense Department officials calculate there are about 132,140 active-duty spouses in professions that require licensing. The burdens spouses face in getting new credentials after each military move often result in lost family income and lost time in their careers by being unable to quickly gain employment at the next duty station.

About one in 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.

The House provision “would not only make it easier for military spouses to retain employment but it would also eliminate the costly and burdensome process of acquiring a new professional license every time a military spouse has to move on military orders,” said the originator of the bill, Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., in a statement.

Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate, and will be considered in senators’ work on their version of the policy bill, expected next month.

“I hope that my colleagues in the Senate swiftly pass this important legislation to support our military families,” Garcia said.

Under terms of the House provision:

♦ The professional license or certification must be in good standing in a jurisdiction

♦ The service member or spouse must have relocated because of military orders, and must provide a copy of those orders to the licensing authority in the new jurisdiction.

♦ The license or certification will be considered valid at a similar scope of practice and in the discipline applied for.

♦ The service member or spouse must abide by the rules of the licensing authority’s standards of practice, discipline and fulfillment of any continuing education requirements.

♦ If the service member or spouse is able to operate in multiple jurisdictions through an interstate licensure compact, that person will be subject to the requirements of the compact or the laws of that particular state, and not the federal law.

A better way?

The National Military Family Association has found that these interstate licensure compacts are the most effective way to address license reciprocity between states “as they bring states to the table along with occupation-specific boards and professional associations,” said Jennifer Davis, the NMFA’s government relations deputy director.

“We certainly appreciate the intent behind the legislation and the desire to get a handle on the high rate of military spouse unemployment, especially for those working in licensed fields. However, the challenge is that every state is different,” she said.

She noted that the fiscal 2020 defense authorization act established a process for DoD and the Council of State Governments to work together to streamline the compact process, which is “already paying off.”

“While the process of forming and standing up occupational compacts may be extensive, it is a thoughtful manner to address license reciprocity for licensed professionals who move from state to state,” she said.

In response to that 2020 law, defense officials approved grants earlier this year to the Council of State Government’s National Center for Interstate Compacts to help develop that licensure portability in five occupations: teaching, social work, cosmetology, massage therapy, and dentistry/dental hygiene. Others will follow.

The plan is to develop draft legislative language that states could consider adopting to bring consistency to these licensing requirements. But that is just the first step in a long process which could take several years or more.

The DoD state liaison office has been working for a decade to address the states’ licensing requirements and burdens on spouses, and moved in 2017 to also consider occupational license compacts as another alternative to improve portability for military spouses.

Over the years, some military spouses have questioned why there can’t be a federal law that requires states to offer reciprocity. If Garcia’s legislation makes it into the final version of the defense policy bill, it would accomplish that.

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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