A new ranking scale from the Pentagon shows that most U.S. states still have work to do when it comes to helping spouses with professional licenses continue their careers after a military move to a new state.
The scale, included in a report released Monday, measures how portable each state's military spouse licensing allowances laws are. The Defense Department's red to green scale is meant to help lawmakers see how their state licensing boards compare with others in terms of "portability," or ease of transferring a professional license across state lines.
''There were lots of circumstances where boards may have interpreted the broad law differently than we had anticipated and really did not make it much easier for military spouses,'' Marcus Beauregard, Defense-State Liaison Office (DSLO) director, said Monday. ''And we also found that implementation of those laws was not consistent throughout the states.''
Beauregard said one barrier to passing state legislation that truly helps spouses is a misunderstanding of the word "reciprocity." While working with states from 2011 to 2016, he found some lawmakers did not understand that "reciprocity" means "if I accept yours, you accept mine."
Officials hope the new scale will provide a working definition of reciprocity.
The dark green part of the scale shows the supported amount of reciprocity, or interstate compacts. The red area indicates problems from no portability to weak language, using wording such as the noncommittal "may" instead of "shall."
Almost all states have passed some sort of spouse-focused licensing portability measure.
Arizona, Florida and Utah are currently just below the "optimum" dark green level. The first two require state boards to perform necessary verification, while the licensee just needs to pass a background check. Utah requires the employer to verify.
Jennifer Davis, National Military Family Association government relations deputy director, said Monday that she finds the new scale "encouraging" and is pleased the DoD is working with states to create a variety of occupation-specific interstate compacts to reduce the time and paperwork burden for fields such as physicians, nurses, physical therapists, emergency medical technicians, psychologists and audiologists/speech language pathologists.
Beauregard said the DoD is working with states to form an additional 10 to 15 occupation compacts, with the focus on allowing spouses to maintain their licenses in their home states while giving them the privilege to practice in all other member states without further licensing or registration.
"In most cases, interstate compacts provide the smoothest option in transferring an occupational license across state lines, but compacts take time to stand up," Davis said. "Clearly defining reciprocity and illustrating immediate and short-term ways to grant that reciprocity assists states seeking to provide more support to military families and provides smart and flexible ways to engage the issue of license reciprocity for military spouses."
Nearly 35% of military spouses have some kind of state license in teaching, nursing, accounting or other professions, Beauregard said. After a move across state lines, they have to get a new license -- a costly process that can take six to nine months as they must submit their old transcripts or licenses and possibly take new classes to qualify in their new state.
Military spouse unemployment rates can be difficult to track, with results depending on survey methodology. While the latest information from the Defense Department puts the rate at about 24%, other recent studies say it's closer to 16%. All measures, however, place the rate steadily higher than the civilian unemployment rate, which dropped to 3.6% in January from nearly 10% in 2010.
"For military spouses who have to transfer a license across state lines due to a government-directed move, maintaining employment can be daunting and frustrating, especially with a stagnant 24 percent unemployment rate," Davis said.
She said military spouses should be encouraged by the recent work by Congress and the DoD to address the problem.
"DSLO's providing each state with a 'performance report' of sorts allows states to understand where they are in the process of expediting license reciprocity and shows them where they can improve through best practices," Davis said.
Military spouses can track the progress of each state's reciprocal laws and review their requirements with the Labor Department's map here.
-- Dorothy Mills-Gregg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @DMillsGregg.