“Dear Air Force – can you tell me if we are moving or not, we need soy sauce – I need to know whether to buy the Costco size or not.”
I know, it’s a small thing, but when you do this every few years, when you toss out recently opened bottles of condiments, half-full jars of spices, and bags of flour or cornstarch every time you move, it’s a niggling little thing that adds up. But when you move and find out that not only is the soy sauce is out of date, but also that your professional license is no longer valid – that’s not so niggling!
Here’s how it works. A young man or woman goes to college, maybe graduate school, graduates, takes prep classes, takes the examinations and celebrates passing. Then begins a career as a licensed professional in let’s say Arizona. The budding young professional now probably begins paying back a crippling amount of student loans.
If this is a military spouse, it adds a few wrinkles. Let’s suppose that her (and I know, there are a lot of male military spouses but he/she is awkward to write, so take it as written, OK?) service member spouse comes home and says, “Hey, we got orders! We are moving to [drum roll on the dining room table] Fort Rucker!” Professional spouse begins to research housing, schools, summer camps, new church family and, oh yeah, what about her job? That license she worked so hard to get, the exams she studied so hard to pass – pfffft! They are not valid in Alabama.
The big day comes. The moving truck rolls up, half-full bottles and jars fill trash cans, the dog is in his crate, the car is packed up, the kids are in their seats, and off they go. When they get to the new duty station, they camp in a hotel or, if they have housing, they set up an air mattresses and collapsible chairs, pull out paper plates and get ready to wait two weeks for their the household goods arrive.
And while trying to get the kids into camp, registered for school or simply to stop harassing the dog, the professional spouse must try to find a job. If she is an attorney, nurse, cosmetologist or any of the other careers that calls for licensing, she also must start the process of getting a new license. That can cost hundreds of dollars and require months of studying, examinations and waiting for the results. She might get her license in a year, but finding a job could take even longer. Military spouse unemployment has been as high as 24 percent.
Then, when things have all come together, the service member can walk into the house any day and announce, “Honey, we got new orders.”
I know attorney spouses who have passed the bar in multiple states, cosmetologists who have given up working after never being able to make back all the money they spent on classes and examinations, and nurses with licenses in multiple states who are desperately needed in so many places. They cannot get jobs at their new duty station.
The announcements last week by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden of states that are changing licensing rules was a step forward. Many states already have passed laws to ease licensing for service members and their spouses, and others are considering such laws. Because licensing is a state issue, no amount of calls to Congress will impact this issue; calling your state representative is crucial.
The careers of military spouses are not only a retention issue, but also another step to helping veterans and wounded service members. If a military spouse has a good job, the abrupt transition from active duty to retired (medical or “regular”) is less difficult. If a caregiver to a wounded service member has a job, the month after month after month wait for benefits can be eased by that paycheck and the fear that accompanies the wait mitigated.
Photo Credit: MorgueFile