February 20th, 2012
By Jennifer Olin, BSN, RN
Nearly 4000 spouses of members of the United States military are nurses. Every time they move with their husband or wife they have to look for a new job and get a new license to practice. In a time when there are noted nursing shortages and the unemployment rate among military spouses is double that of their civilian-life counterparts this seems like an unnecessary burden.
Now, the Obama administration has set a goal that all 50 states will pass their own legislation addressing these licensing issues for military spouses and make it easier to transfer professional licenses and certifications from one state to another. “We know it’s an ambitious goal. We know it won’t be easy to achieve, but we also know that our nation’s military families have waited long enough,” said first lady Michelle Obama, last week during an address at the Pentagon.
Obama said the issue of licensing difficulties is the number one problem military spouses talk about when she and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, travel around the country promoting the “Joining Forces” campaign. Joining Forces is a comprehensive national initiative to mobilize all sectors of society to give service members and their families opportunities and support. “So on the rare occasion when our military spouses do speak up and ask for our help, then it’s time for all of us to take action,” Obama said.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta joined the first lady and Dr. Biden during the Pentagon address. He noted that these licensing issues often inhibited his own wife’s ability to practice as a nurse when he was in the service.
It’s In The Numbers
More than 100,000 military spouses—or 35 percent of military spouses in the workforce—are in nearly 50 occupations and professions that require licenses or certifications, says a new report authored by the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Treasury Department. Of those 50, the top three professions are teachers (5.2 percent), childcare workers (3.9 percent), and registered nurses (3.7 percent).
Also according to the report, between 2007 and 2011 an average of 15 percent of military spouses reported moving across state lines in the previous year, compared with 1.5 percent of their civilian counterparts.
So far, 11 states have adopted legislation that supports military spouse license portability: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Washington.
Another 13 states have proposed legislation to help spouses in these situations: Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. Officials would like to see every state pass legislation streamlining licensing processes by 2014
“We’re not asking any state to change their standards. These state rules are important, and states have every right to set benchmarks just like these. In doing so, they hold our professionals to a high bar and they give us all peace of mind whenever we walk into a hospital or enroll our kids in school,” said Obama. “But it’s also clear that this system poses very unique challenges for our military families.”
Best Practices Suggestions
The Defense Department’s state liaison office has been working on this issue since 2008. In 2011, the office presented some options to state policymakers that would ease the process for spouses, while preserving the integrity of the licensing process. The report provides tips and ideas for states, “not edicts and decrees,” Obama said.
The best practices that the DoD and Treasury officials identified in their report include:
Since each state sets its own licensing requirements, the report explains, these requirements often vary across state lines. A lack of license portability — the ability to transfer an existing license to a new state with minimal application requirements — can cause spouses to bear high administrative and financial burdens as they attempt to obtain a license.
DoD officials admit this issue has been a long-standing concern for the department. Each year, the DoD chooses 10 issues of importance to present to state policy makers, he noted, and this issue has been making the cut for many years.
Helping wives and husbands of military personnel with employment can have a resounding impact, both on a families' well-being and on military readiness, the report noted. A spouse's employment plays a vital role in the financial and personal well-being of military families, and their job satisfaction is an important component.
"Without adequate support for military spouses and their career objectives, the military could have trouble retaining service members," the report said.
"Our military spouses support the well-being and safety of our nation, and we can best appreciate their sacrifices and unique challenges by adopting practices that lessen the burdens of their frequent moves," officials wrote in the report. "They have a compelling need, and we are suggesting tangible solutions. All that is needed is the willingness to take action."
The first lady and Biden will present this issue to all 50 state governors and their spouses later this month at the National Governors Association Conference. They are also rallying professional organizations and advocacy groups to engage on this issue at a state level.
In Other Military/Nursing News
In a move that will help military trained nurses in the state of Georgia, last week Governor Nathan Deal signed legislation amending a state law that inadvertently excluded some military-trained nurses from a license to practice in Georgia. According to a release from the Governor’s office, HB 675 revises the definition of “approved nursing education programs” for registered professional nurses and licensed practical nurses.
“Legislation sometimes has unintended consequences, and no one ever wanted to prevent these professionals from working in Georgia,” the governor said. ““With the current shortage of healthcare professionals in our state, this bill will provide more opportunity for highly qualified nurses to practice here. “
The bill passed the Georgia General Assembly unanimously and now approximately 150 more nursing professionals will be eligible for employment as healthcare providers.