Military family licensure problems in congressional crosshairs

Problems transferring licenses from military to civilian world or from one state to another are starting to get attention in Congress.

Lawmakers, military officials and service member interest groups are rallying around the need for nationwide employment licensing changes for military spouses and those leaving the service.

The Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel hearing this week highlighted the disconnect between military family life and the states’ professional credentialing systems for truck drivers, mental health therapists, teachers and other occupations.

“We are making some inroads here, but … we do need to work on the civility of licensing and the transferability,” Air Force Chief Master Sgt. James Cody told the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel during a Feb. 14 hearing.

Cody called for a national baseline on professional licenses for military spouses in order to ease the burden on them.

“There [needs to be] at least some type of baseline foundation where everybody fundamentally agrees that in this transition time we’re going to accept things as long as they need some minimum level,” Cody said.

That would involve the cooperation of all the states.

The unemployment rate for military spouses is currently at 21 percent according to the 2016 Annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey conducted by Blue Star Families.

Military interest groups worry that despite the inroads on license transfers, military spouse unemployment is still so high due to constant relocation and the bureaucracy involved. About one third of military spouses’ careers require licenses.

Last year all 50 states eased requirements for military spouses whose careers required professional licenses.

Spouses still must jump through hoops to get their license in a new state. Military families are also responsible for the processing fees associated with the transfers.

“I do think we have a responsibility to take on the cost of that, help with the cost of that through some type of offset because it is very expensive. … So it makes it prohibitive when you’re talking about a two-to three-year move ratio. It’s almost cost prohibitive,” Cody said.

The National Military Families of America agrees. Their 2017 legislative agenda calls for a “tax credit or DoD grant to spouses who need to obtain a new professional license or certification” following a move.

That’s not the only place where licenses are giving military families trouble. Service members leaving the force are finding they have to go through training they already received in the military to get civilian licenses for the same skill.

An exchange between Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Army Sgt. Maj. Daniel Daily highlights the issues:

WARREN: Sgt. Maj. Dailey, the Army trains thousands of soldiers every year to drive trucks in the most difficult conditions — in combat, with hazardous cargo at night, in sandstorms, you name it. If it’s tough, you train people to do it.

So would you say those folks are pretty good truck drivers?

DAILEY: I would say my opinion they’re the best in the world, ma’am.

WARREN: Best truck drivers in the world, that sounds like an expert opinion on that.

So with those kinds of skills, when they transition from the Army, it is reasonable to assume that they could pretty much sign on with any long haul trucking company and hit the interstate the next day, right?

DAILEY: That is correct, ma’am.

WARREN: And they can?

DAILEY: Not fully, ma’am, no.

WARREN: No, they can’t. How come?

DAILEY: Ma’am, it’s a complicated matter. First and foremost, one, we have to credential them — those young men and women. Two is we have to work. The requirements for each and every one of the 54 states and territories that license those trucks, ma’am.

WARREN: Yeah. So we’ve got a state and national licensing problem here, and we can’t take the world’s best truck drivers and just automatically move them into truck driving jobs, right, civilian truck driving jobs.

Cody said one of the challenges of creating a national baseline is making sure the requirements are not degraded.

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