First lady and Jill Biden announce new push to support military spouses

Jay LaPrete/AP

A joint Defense and Treasury department report released Wednesday recommends that states adopt practices such as providing temporary professional licenses or endorsing outside certifications to help ease the burden of licensure requirements for military spouses.

The report is the latest from the Obama administration’s Joining Forces initiative, an effort spearheaded by First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, to combine the assets of many agencies and private sector groups to support military members, veterans and families.

Because military spouses move more often than the general population, those who work in professions that require state licenses – 35 percent of military spouses in the work force -- “bear disproportionately high financial and administrative burdens,” the report’s summary said.

Many states already have passed legislation in line with the report’s recommendations and 13 have similar legislative proposals on tap.

Best practices Joining Forces identified included having states endorse current professional licenses from other states, and providing provisional credentials to military spouses so they can begin to work right after their active duty partner is relocated while applying for certification in their new state. Many fields that require professional licensing, such as teaching, child care services and nursing, already have endorsement policies when a professional moves to a new state. The problem, according to Marcus Beauregard, state liaison for the Defense Department’s Office of Military Community and Family Policy, is states also require recent work experience in order to endorse outside certifications.

“That was difficult for many military spouses who may not have been able to work in their specialty and could not find employment in that specialty,” he said. Military spouses are 10 times more likely to have moved across state lines in the past year than their civilian counterparts, according to the report.

As a possible solution, state lawmakers in Colorado suggested adding a continuing education component, rather than proof of recent experience, Beauregard said.

Providing temporary or provisional professional licenses to military spouses so they can work while fulfilling requirements for a license in a new state is key, the report said. Spouses often have about two to three years in any location, Beauregard said. It can take as long as six months to get a license.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey joined the first lady and Jill Biden on Wednesday in announcing the report’s findings and urging all 50 states to pass legislation on the issue by 2014.

Joining Forces emphasized in a conference call with reporters Tuesday that this is a state issue. “Eliminating licensing concerns has been among top issues DoD presents to states each year,” Beauregard said.

The Pentagon created a Facebook page for military spouses last summer to highlight its efforts to push states to consider changing licensing rules through its state liaison and education opportunity office.

Beauregard acknowledged that state lawmakers may be reluctant to adopt such provisions, often based on perception or bureaucratic loopholes.

“The [state] legislators are having to approach not just a single entity but a number of different entities and show that this is not going to harm their standards, this is not going to dilute their ability to maintain the public safety,” he said.

Other suggestions highlighted in the report targeted those concerns and aim to expedite application procedures, such as granting the licensing official for the state authority to approve applications for the professional boards.

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