SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – It’s often said that while the Airman might wear the uniform, families also bear the burden that comes with military service.
That load comes in many forms, and with spouses in particular, that could mean putting a career on hold, creating an obstacle to career progression, personal growth and even a secondary household income as they move from state to state with their active-duty member. For those with a professional license or certification, it becomes a cyclical process of moving, getting recertified or licensed in their profession, going to work, and moving again.
But a new Texas law went into effect Sept. 1, 2019, that provides relief for military spouses with out-of-state professional licenses in fields such as education, medical, real estate, cosmetology and more. The license reciprocity law enables them to get to work shortly after moving to a military installation in the state, something that has been a barrier or hindrance in the past.
The 86th Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 1200 during its 2019 session, and Gov. Greg Abbott signed the legislation into law in June.
Adrene Wike, a military spouse and Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce and Industry director of research, said military spouses are often over-educated and underemployed, a result of restarting a career after a permanent-change-of-station move. The new law, she said, is a game changer for military spouses and their families as well as employers and communities.
“Overall, for spouses, it’s going to ease some of that anxiety of having to move. It’s going to help the military because there are spouses who encourage their active-duty member to retire or get out wherever they are located so they don’t have the stress of moving,” the Air Force security forces veteran said. “That might not be as much of the case if they know they can pick up and easily find work elsewhere.”
According to the law, spouses must notify the governing state agency of their business or occupation of their intent to practice in Texas, and present proof of residence and a copy of their military ID. The state, in turn, will confirm the spouse’s license with the other jurisdiction and then authorize the spouse to engage in said business or practice.
The spouse will then be able to begin working in their occupation for the duration of their active-duty member’s assignment, not to exceed three years from the date the spouse receives confirmation from the state.
Wike said Wichita Falls and surrounding communities are understanding more than ever the benefits of hiring military spouses, and businesses are very much willing to do so.
“There is a potential pool of individuals sitting here that can work,” she said, “they just have that one barrier that’s now going to be removed. That’s really how it helps Wichita Falls.”
According to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report in June 2017, about half of military spouses are employed, 25 percent are working more than one job to help the home financially, and 1-in-10 are actively looking for employment. About 70 percent of employed spouses, the report said, feel they are not using their level of education or past experiences adequately in their current position, and nearly two-thirds said they are working in a position that requires less responsibilities and skills than their previous job.
In short, the report said, military spouses are highly educated, work-eligible individuals who aren’t using their qualifications to their full potential.
“In nearly every category, spouses with greater educational attainment appear to struggle more than spouses with a high school degree or some college,” the report said. “Not only are they more likely to be unemployed, they also face longer periods of unemployment and are more likely to be underemployed.”
Michelle Schroeder, director of Sheppard’s Airman & Family Readiness Center, said medical and education career fields are the two primary areas spouses see a delay in employment when coming to Texas. From paperwork to additional courses, state board requirements for the two had an impact on how quickly military spouses could get to work.
She said Texas has been supportive of military spouses, and the license reciprocity law is another example of the state taking steps that will benefit that group specifically.
“I am very optimistic with the changes we’ve seen recently that everything is going to continue moving in a forward direction, and as with anything, word of mouth is going to spread among the spouse community,” she said. “There’s going to be a spouses that PCS’s to one of the Texas bases or PCS within the next year, they’re going to know Texas has this reciprocity, and I think word is definitely going to spread.”
In years past, spouses would generally have to wait until arriving at their new location to get information on employment opportunities and licensing requirements, Schroeder said. Spouses would also take their resumé to the A&FRC, which would then forward the resumé to the gaining base’s A&FRC so they could assist in a job search.
Technology has made that task a little easier in recent years. She said the A&FRC frequently sends out local job announcements to more than 200 email recipients, including military spouses. Schroeder said a vital role of the A&FRC is to assist spouses in finding opportunities locally through networking with agencies in Wichita Falls such as the Chamber of Commerce and Texas Workforce Solutions
Another positive move for military spouses and families came when the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act went into effect. The NDAA allows the military services to reimburse relicensing and recertification costs incurred by military spouses because of a permanent change of station or permanent change of assignment, and it is retroactive to Dec. 12, 2017.
Costs can include exams, registration and others, and the new program will reimburse up to $500 for each qualifying PCS or PCA.
The following criteria must be met to be considered a qualifying PCS/PCA:
• The Airman’s PCS/PCA orders must be authenticated on or after 12 December 2017, and must authorized movement of the Airman’s dependents at government expense
• The Airman is PCSing/PCAing from a duty station in one State to a duty station in another State, including Hawaii; Alaska; Washington, DC; and the U.S. territories on orders that are authenticated on or after 12 December 2017. Not authorized for moves upon accession, Career Intermission Program, retirement, or separation from the armed forces.
• Qualifying relicensing costs must be incurred and paid after the date the member’s PCS/PCA orders are authenticated and the Airman must file a claim within 24 months of the date the orders are authenticated.
• Your servicing Finance Office will process your reimbursement application. You will be required to provide a copy of the applicable PCS/PCA orders, a copy of your spouse’s original State occupational license, and the paid receipts for items required to obtain relicensing from the new State (exam fees, registration fees, etc.). Your servicing Finance Office will advise you of the forms you’ll need to fill out as well.
For more information about the Texas license reciprocity law or relicensing reimbursement, call the Airman & Family Readiness Center at 940-676-4358.