Real Mom On New Help for Military Spouses: "It's About Time"

We asked a military spouse, a mom of two kids, about the new push by Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden to help military spouses keep their jobs when they move from state to state.

Devra Gordon-Renner got her degree, a master’s in social work, back in 1992 and calls that the “easy part.” She planned to become a licensed social worker but then her husband, now retired from the Air Force, got orders to move. Since licenses in Louisiana could only be transferred to a few other states and they weren’t moving to those states, all her hours of supervision that would lead to a license were essential useless. They were not transferrable.

“The bases available to us were not reciprocal,” she said during a phone interview. “Who would take my career officially into account when they were assigning my husband?”

She and her husband moved to Kansas and she faced two issues. Number one, she didn’t know how long they would be there and number two, a lot of the jobs required a license. “What I chose to do was find positions that were consistent with my professional training.  I could work in social work related fields but I could not call myself a social worker,” she said.  Those jobs meant lower benefits, lower pay and no real retirement income – all the things she would be enjoying if she could have transferred all her work toward a license from Louisiana to Kansas.  “I don’t think I should have to give up my retirement and other benefits because of this nomadic lifestyle that I’ve agreed to,” the mom of two boys, ages 16 and 11, who co-authored a book about mommy guilt, said, adding that military service members aren't expected to give those things up whenever they relocate.

More spouses like Devra might not have to give up their careers and jobs – after a new Pentagon report, highlighted by the First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, urged states to make it easier to allow spouses to transfer or get new certification once they cross state lines. “This report simply provides a roadmap for best practices,” the first lady said. “The report contains tips and ideas, not edicts and decrees."

“Amen!” said Devra, when I asked her reaction to the report, which calls on all 50 states to pass legislation making it easier for military spouses to continue their jobs and careers when they move. “Of course, it’s about time. How long did they think that all of us were this cookie cutter view of a military spouse?” she said. “It kind of dumbfounded me.”

11 states so far have passed legislation to make it easier for military spouses to get the certification or licenses they need to continue their profession, according to Joining Forces, the joint initiative by Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden to raise awareness of military families. 13 other states have proposed laws on the books. The first and second ladies are urging all states to have such legislation by 2014.

Devra, who is on the Washington, D.C. task force for Blue Star Families, a military family support group created by military spouses, will be looking for follow through from federal and state officials. “I am looking for them to be meeting with the appropriate organizations that look at our licensure,” she said. “I would expect that they almost have a governor’s meeting of these licensure folks and say, ‘Okay, what are we going to do?... Why is this so difficult?”

After Kansas, Devra, her husband and her boys moved to Illinois. “All those hours of supervision (in Louisiana) that I had were now completely useless to me because they were too old,” she said. “There was really nothing for me to do,” she said, saying she took a job part-time. “I was fortunate I was able to find jobs that were still in my skill set... I wasn’t getting the salary I should have been getting at that point in my career."

Eventually, the family moved to the Washington, D.C. area where Devra is now a social worker for a large school district in Northern Virginia. While she has a provisional school social work license, she is still not a licensed clinical social worker.  "For me personally, the hardest thing about not being able to be clinically licensed is that it limited my options, such as becoming a clinical supervisor or taking on a part-time private practice," she said.

"The assumption that we should just kind of bag our career is frustrating," she said.

Devra didn't ultimately have to give up her career and has become highly accomplished but only after expending "quite a lot of energy to creatively make it work," she told us.

Let's hope help is on the way so other military spouses like Devra won't have to work so hard to continue their careers -- and others won't have to ultimately give up their careers -- and their dreams.

Kelly Wallace is Chief Correspondent of iVillage.  You can follow Kelly on Twitter here.

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