Spouse Employment

The Idea

States can make it easier for military spouses following service members who are transferred to get new jobs by: 1) endorsing their professional licenses from the states in which they were previously employed, 2) issuing temporary licenses, or 3) recognizing alternate methods of certification.  

The Issue

In a 2010 survey, the military family support group Blue Star Families found that of military spouses surveyed, 49 percent felt their spouses’ military status negatively affected their work prospects. The survey also indicated that of 61 percent of military spouses not employed outside the home, 48 percent want to be employed outside the home. And a Department of Defense survey reported that 85 percent of spouses want or need work. One obstacle: Some military families move as many as 12 to 14 times in a 27-year career, according to Blue Star Families.

These frequent moves mean that spouses must look for work frequently. The moves also mean that those in professions that require professional licenses at the state level, such a teaching or nursing, must often reapply for certification as they move from state to state. According to the Pentagon’s State Liaison and Educational Opportunity office, about one-third of military spouses work in fields that require licenses.

The state liaison office initiated a Facebook forum in 2011 to learn about spouse licensing problems. Spouses described the cost burdens of paying for new licenses each time they move, lengthy certification processes, additional training requirements, and waiting periods. Many jobs also require background checks, which can delay hiring.

What States Are Doing

The Pentagon’s State Liaison and Educational Opportunity office reports that as of mid-2011 states were using several different strategies to ease licensing problems for military spouses.

The first strategy allows state boards or regulators to recognize the active credentials from another state. This works well for spouses who have active licenses in other states.

Colorado created a military spouse interim authorization for employment in public schools in 2008.

Colorado public schools may now hire individuals who have relocated to follow their service member spouses and are licensed (or having pending licenses) in their prior states of residence. The law pertains to individuals applying to be teachers, principals, and school administrators.


A second strategy allows a spouse who holds valid license in one state to work temporarily while completing licensing requirements in the new state of residence. These provisional licenses give spouses time to complete state requirements or pass state exams.

Florida passed legislation in 2010 to allow military spouses (as well as members of the Armed Services) to use licenses from other states for six months if the applicants: live in Florida because of military orders, hold valid licenses in other states, pass background checks, and pay a fee. 

A third strategy allows state agencies to accept alternate proof of professional competency in lieu of a current license in another state or recent work experience. This approach addresses a barrier facing many military spouses: gaps in employment.

Spouses often cannot find jobs, or jobs in their professional occupations, especially during assignments to remote or overseas posts. These employment gaps mean that spouses may lack current licenses as well as recent relevant work experience.

Some states have provided other methods for military spouses to demonstrate competency. These include alternatives such as supervised work experience or accepting continuing education credits in lieu of current experience.

Colorado passed legislation in 2010 allowing chiropractors, dentists, dental hygienists, nurses, optometrists, physical therapists, and nursing home administrators to practice their professions if they meet other requirements, such as passing tests or undergoing trial periods in Colorado.  These are the professions regulated by the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies; working with one agency made the bill less complicated and therefore easier to pass; according to Representative Marsha Looper, a bill sponsor.

Half a million veterans and service members live in Colorado at any given time, which made this legislation a practical and necessary step.


State Compacts

States also can join compacts that allow for standards and consistency in various fields, making it easier for military spouses to move between states.

What the Federal Government Is Doing

  • As part of its Joining Forces campaign, the White House has launched the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP). Through the partnership, companies pledge to improve job opportunities for military spouses and offer jobs that will allow spouses to transfer when they relocate. By October 2011, more than 3,800 military spouses had been hired through the program, and more than 54,000 jobs had been posted on the website
  • The Department of Defense sponsors the My Career Advancement Account MyCAA program unofficially referred to as the spouse tuition program for military spouses attending community colleges, or working toward certifications and licensures. The program awards up to $4,000 over two years in educational aid to junior enlisted and junior officer active duty spouses who are pursuing degree programs, licenses, or credentials leading to employment in portable career fields. Guard and Reserve spouses are eligible only if they can start and complete courses while their spouses are on active duty.
  • The Department of Labor (DoL) awarded an emergency grant to the Washington State Employment Security Department and its partners as part of the Base Realignment and Closure Committee (BRAC). The grant program, known as “Heroes at Home 2,” aims to help 825 spouses living on or near Joint Base Lewis-McChord upgrade their skills or find new careers.