For the Professional Military Spouse Worried About Transferring Their License

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Professional Military Spouse

The professional Military Spouse

On March 10th, Heather’s husband received orders to Hickam AFB, Hawaii.

At first, Heather was excited to escape the chilly weather of Washington, but then reality started to set in. 

She’d have to not only uproot her family but likely experience a gap in employment due to her licensure status. 

Heather is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, a professional designation issued at the state and provincial level, meaning she will have to reapply to practice legally in a new jurisdiction. Heather is one of the thousands of military spouses that face the same struggle: maintaining their professional career while selflessly supporting their spouse. 

Currently, many professional disciplines are negatively impacted by the mobility required by the military. For example, cosmetologists, dentists, nurses, and therapists practice with licenses issued by the state. When families arrive at the next duty station, the military spouse must reapply for licensure in the new state. 

The application process can take many months, creating gaps in employment, additional stress, and financial instability for military families. Sometimes, states have different licensing requirements, and military spouses have to return to school to meet the requirements for their new jurisdiction.

In the past few years, there have been two acts introduced in the Senate and House to ease the burden experienced by military spouses with professional licenses. Let’s take a look at what gained traction in the legislative process and what, unfortunately, fell off the legislator’s table. 

The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act

Despite the unsuccessful Military Spouse Licensing Relief Act of 2021, the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act provides some consolation for military families. The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act allows each service branch to reimburse spouses up to $1,000 for relicensure and certification costs for 13 different careers related to a PCS. 

Each branch has its own requirements. To look into the requirements for your branch, click here.

Military Spouse Licensing Relief Act of 2021

Last year, Rep. Mike Garcia, R-California, and Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-California introduced a revised edition of the bipartisan Military Spouse Licensing Relief Act of 2020. The bill would grant military spouses with active professional licenses in one state reciprocity in another where their spouse is stationed on active orders. During the 2021 legislative season, the Act passed in the House but did not get much movement in the Senate. 

Hopefully, we’ll continue to see the Military Spouse Licensing Relief Act each legislative season until it is passed because the benefits would be profound. 

What other benefits or helpful systems exist for military spouses with professional licenses? Other notable benefits are the Military Spouse Preference and the provisions provided by the federal system.

Military Spouse Preference

Military Spouse Preference (MSP) is a special federal hiring authority that allows spouses to be noncompetitively considered for permanent and appropriated or non-appropriated fund positions. To be eligible for this special hiring preference, you must be:

  • A spouse of an active duty member of the armed forces
  • A spouse of a service member who is 100% disabled due to service-connected injury
  • A spouse of a service member killed while on active duty 

In addition to these requirements, there are specific usage requirements. Military spouses may apply for positions using their MSP until they either accept or decline a permanent and appropriated or non-appropriated fund position. The MSP benefit will not be lost if a spouse accepts or declines a temporary position. 

Although the MSP does not directly mitigate the woes of applying for a new license, the MSP reduces the gap in employment. 

Why is the MSP beneficial? 

The MSP allows spouses to be noncompetitively considered for permanent federal jobs, meaning that there is the opportunity to lessen the gap in employment. 

Is the MSP always available to me?

The MSP is always available to military spouses until they accept or decline a permanent position. The spouse is eligible for the MSP at every duty station, so when the family PCSes, their eligibility is reactivated.

How do I know if I’m able to use my MSP?

In a job announcement on USAJOBS, look for the “This job is open to” section. When military spouses are eligible to apply, there will be a green circle with two wedding rings. There may be other groups listed that are eligible, too, but ultimately, seek out the green circle with two wedding rings. Additionally, you can select the “Military Spouses” filter in search. The yielded results will be jobs open to military spouses. 

Federal Employment System

The Federal Employment System provides significant benefits, including the TSP, healthcare insurance, paid time off, and more. However, one notable benefit for military spouses with professional licenses is the ability to practice under one licensure, as long as the military spouse remains in the federal employment system.

For example, Heather, the Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Washington, applied for a federal position on Oahu. If she is hired, then she will not have to apply for a license in Hawaii because the federal government recognizes her Washington license as valid, assuming it is in a good standing position with Washington State. 

This benefit is extended to other professionals, too. 

The Federal Employment System can be a difficult system to figure out, with the unique resume requirements, pre-application questionnaire, and panel interviews. Military OneSource is an excellent site to visit if you’re considering applying to a federal job. They help write resumes, connect job seekers to valuable resources, and more. 

What’s Next?

Although moving every few years as a working professional is not ideal, there is legislation, programs, and more working together to ease the burden experienced by professional military spouses with state-issued licenses. It may take a considerable length of time to pass, but we can likely expect the Military Spouse Relief Act to reenter the legislative branch. If this bill were to pass, then many professionals would be positively impacted. 

Are you a military spouse with a professional license that has been negatively impacted by a PCS? Have you discovered other programs and tricks to help mitigate the difficulties associated with each move? If you have, we’d love to hear from you. Please post your experience in the comments below!

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Victoria Murphy

Victoria Murphy

Victoria Murphy is an Air Force spouse, real estate agent, and real estate investor who loves personal finance and iced coffee. She's passionate about helping service members, veterans, and their families build generational wealth and achieve their financial goals.

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