Michelle Obama & Jill Biden: Helping Military Spouses Continue Their Careers

Military families move more than most of us but too often their credentials don't carry over across state lines, which means they're out of a job.

What if you were a nurse or a teacher and your husband or wife served in the military? More than likely you’d have to move every few years, which means in order to keep your nursing job or teach in your new state, you’d need to get a new license or certification. This could take months, and then it could take many more months to get a job which means if you are that nurse or teacher, by the time you could work in your new state it might be close to moving time again.

Enter First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, who have made raising awareness of military families one of their top priorities. They joined Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to release a new report showcasing the hardships military spouses face when they can’t transfer their licenses from state to state.  The report also includes a series of recommendations for states to make it easier for military spouses to get the certification they need when they move.

“The fact of the matter is this transition is a huge headache and a barrier to employment to our spouses,” said Brad Cooper, Executive Director of Joining Forces, the joint military families initiative spearheaded by the first lady and Dr. Biden.  "They move state to state while serving this country and when they get to a new state, they have to get a new license to practice.”

These are more than 100,000 military spouses who serve in one of nearly 50 professions that require a state license or credential, according to Cooper.  Last year, military families were ten times more likely to move than civilian families.

"The issue of spouse employment has consistently ranked in the top five issues of concern to military families in our national Military Family Lifestyle Surveys," Vivian Greentree, Ph.D., Director of Research and Policy for Blue Star Families, a military family support group, told iVillage.  "It is so important because many of our military families have to be two income households and when a military spouse’s career field is in an area that requires a license or some type of certification, which many of them do, the constant moving between command posts for a spouse’s military career can really begin to have a dampening effect on a military spouse’s ability to pursue employment."

According to a May 2010 survey of military spouses conducted by Blue Star Families, almost half of the respondents said that being a military spouse negatively affected their ability to have a career, and one in five pointed to having a hard time because of different license requirements in states.  One military spouse, a real estate broker, said the cost to get her license and restart her business after a move to Texas would have been more than she would have earned in the 18 months she lived there before moving to Kentucky.  "In Kentucky, I would have had to do it all over again," she said, according to the new Pentagon report.

The first lady and Dr. Biden are urging all 50 states to pass legislation by 2014 that makes it easier for military spouses to transfer their state licenses or certification across state lines, according to Cooper. Currently, 11 states with sizable military populations have passed such legislation, while 13 other states have proposed bills on the books.  The report also includes recommendations for states on what they can do, such as allowing the transfer of a license across state lines and providing a temporary license allowing the military spouse to practice while he or she fulfills the requirements to get a new license or certification.

"No one is asking any states to charge their standards," said Cooper.  The goal is for states to be more "flexible" to "accommodate military lifestyles."

"It’s not special treatment, it’s leveling the playing field for our military spouses, who are often at a disadvantage because of resumes that look like swiss cheese," Greentree told iVillage.  "It means healthy military families which means a healthy national force."

We applaud the move and hope every state gets the message.  Military families sacrifice enough as it is.  They shouldn't have to sacrifice their careers and jobs too.

Kelly Wallace is Chief Correspondent of iVillage.  She was one of only five reporters who recently traveled with the first lady to Iowa, Arkansas, Texas and Florida as part of her Let's Move campaign.  Follow Kelly on Twitter here.

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