By Lisa Daniel and Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 26, 2012 - Continuing her efforts to ease employment challenges from duty-related moves, First Lady Michelle Obama joined Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn in Chicago today as the state became the 23rd to facilitate the transfer of military spouses' professional licenses.
Obama joined Quinn at the Illinois National Guard Armory, where the governor signed the "Military Family Licensing Act" into law.
Military spouses are the "folks who are giving their heart and soul to this country every single day," Obama said. "Every time our country asks them to pick up their families and move across the country at a moment's notice, they do it and they do it with pride."
The first lady also reminded spectators that homefront duties remain -- and increase -- for working military spouses while their uniformed husbands or wives serve overseas for months or years on end.
"On top of all that, they are some of the best volunteers in their communities," Obama said. "They still find time to participate on the [Parent-Teacher Association], in their parish council, to support the Little League and the Girl Scouts. So we owe it to these individuals to get this licensing issue right."
The first lady said she intends to renew the call to action for all U.S. states to facilitate license transfers for military spouses. "This is an eminently solvable problem," she added.
Getting states to ease the transfer of professional licenses for military spouses is a key issue for the "Joining Forces" campaign Obama started last year with Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden. They've set a goal of having all 50 states ease the burden of accepting military spouses' out-of-state licenses by 2014.
In states without the eased restrictions, military spouses spend too much time compiling and transferring documents and being retested, and many decide it's too much trouble, Marcus Beauregard, the Defense Department's state liaison chief, told American Forces Press Service in a June 22 interview. "We started looking at how to truncate that time," he said.
States require licenses for those in virtually every medical occupation, as well as teaching, social work, cosmetology and other fields, and the requirements vary from state to state, Beauregard said. Of working military spouses, one-third work in fields that require licenses, and most of those are medical, he said.
To ease the burden, some new state laws allow military spouses to transfer an out-of-state license with an endorsement of the office that issued it, Beauregard said, while others will accept the licenses with documents that validate the license or the holder's clean business record, and other states issue temporary licenses for spouses to do business.
"We don't ask them to lower any standards," he said. "We just ask them to encompass military spouses in licensure more quickly."
Teachers, generally, must go through a different process through each state's Board of Education, Beauregard said. Attorneys also have not been part of the legislative effort, as their licenses must be approved by each state's Bar Association. Last year, spouses in the legal profession created The Military Spouse JD Network, which lobbies the American Bar Association and state Bars to make attorney licenses more portable for military spouses, officials with the network said.
Military spouses whose work requires a license should prepare well ahead of a move by having a copy of their current license, as well as any documents needed to show the license is in good standing , Beauregard said.
"They need to be prepared for that transition, and hopefully, we will have the processes in place now to make it happen more quickly," he added.
While processes vary from state to state, Beauregard said, license approvals usually happen in the state's division of occupational licensing, as part of a consumer protection office, or a state board of health or education.
Since its launch, the Joining Forces initiative has helped significant numbers of military spouses and veterans alike, the first lady said today in Chicago.
"I want all of our military families to know that America does have your backs," she said. "It is really a country that appreciates and cares about your service. Whether it's fixing this licensing issue, or helping you find a job, or making sure that you and your family have the health care and benefits you've earned, we are working hard every day to serve you as well as you have served this country."