Editor’s note: The following is an opinion piece. The writer is not employed by Military Times and the views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Military Times or its editorial staff.
Every one to three years, a significant number of military families are ordered to a new location. One of the main questions that comes to mind for military spouses at this time is, “Will I be able to work?”For those of us who work in fields requiring a certification or license, this can be a difficult question to answer.
The relicensing process can take, on average, anywhere from three to six months. Some states have reciprocity or will allow previously licensed professionals to work with a temporary license, but others allow neither.
More than half of the military spouses surveyed in a report published in 2014 by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families said their careers require some sort of state certification. More than 72 percent of those requiring a license stated that they must be relicensed after a permanent change-of-station move…and nearly 8 in 10 respondents had moved within the past five years.
For families like mine that have relocated three times within the past three years, the cost in relicensing fees alone is discouraging. Our families move, we apply to be relicensed, pay hundreds of dollars in fees, wait three to six months, have a job for about a year, and start the cycle over in the next location.
A nurse, for example, could have hundreds of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses over three years just to transfer her license from state to state and remain eligible for jobs within her field.
Teachers, occupational therapists and other state-licensed workers face similar financial burdens, on top of other requirements that could include additional classes or background checks, even if spouses were just working in their former state.
Military spouses may get some relief from such expenses under the Lift the Relocation Burden from Military Spouses Act, proposed in July by Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y. It would reimburse military spouses up to $500 for relicensing fees incurred by PCS moves across state lines as well as direct the military to work with states on expedited portability.
That means spouses all over the country could get back up to 100 percent of what is spent for fingerprinting, exams and application fees required to work in a new location.
If passed, the act may help to close the pay gap military spouses experience and improve our unemployment rate. We would be eligible for more time-based pay raises by getting to work sooner and remaining in the job longer, and we would be less discouraged by the out-of-pocket costs many of us face to even apply for work.
Even if you’re not part of a dual-income military family, there’s reason for concern. A recent Blue Star Families study estimated the challenges to military spouse employment has a societal cost of $710 million to $1.07 billion per year in unemployment benefits, health care and lost income tax.
For a small investment in licensing assistance, more spouses may be able to pay income taxes and fewer families would need to depend on unemployment.
Lower stress thanks to simplified license portability and reduced out-of-pocket expenses — not to mention possible employer benefits — could even reduce health care costs.
Spouses asking, “Will I be able to work?” deserve a simple answer: Yes. By backing Stefanik’s proposal, and by working to make state licenses and certifications for those spouses more portable and less costly, we can help spouses continue their careers and benefit the greater military community.
Read more at militarytimes.com.
Amanda Roberts is a graduate student in the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work at the University of Southern California. She is married to an active-duty Navy submariner.