Supporting Military Spouse Employment

Supporting Military Spouse Employment

Dr. Jill Biden:
Thank you, Secretary Panetta
and Deputy Secretary Wolin for your leadership. Thank you, General Dempsey,
for your kind introduction. Good afternoon, Deanie,
and all the Joint Chiefs and your spouses. Thank you for being such great
partners to Michelle and me. I want to offer a special
welcome to all of our service members and their spouses. We are honored to
be with you today. Many of you know, as
the General mentioned, that I am a proud military mom. One of the best parts of my role
as Second Lady is the privilege of meeting with service
members and their families all over the world. I am always amazed
at their courage, their determination
and their resilience. That inspiration is one of the
main reasons the First Lady and I started Joining Forces so that
all Americans are helping to support our military families. We’ve seen Americans
step up in so many ways. We’ve seen businesses hiring
tens of thousands of veterans and military spouses —
businesses like Sears, Kmart and Sam’s Club have made
commitments to hire military spouses or make base
transfers easier. Medical schools have committed
to educate their students about post-traumatic stress and
traumatic brain injuries and conduct new research
on these conditions. Schools, community organizations
and Americans of every age and background have
sent care packages, donated childcare and created
community celebrations for the military families in
their neighborhoods. And Americans are stepping up
because they know how much our military spouses and families
have done for our country. People like Ann Wells. Ann’s husband, Robert, is career
combat engineer and command service sergeant major. After 10 years of marriage,
Ann went back to school for her nursing degree. As a teacher, I have had the
privilege of teaching countless women like Ann, women who fight
hard for a good education. But like so many
military spouses, Ann moved frequently with her
husband and that often meant a new license was required
to pursue her nursing career in Hawaii, in Tennessee,
in Texas and in Missouri. That’s why our efforts here
today are so important. They are another way we can
show our support for those who serve this country. Please join me in welcoming Ann. (applause) Ann Wells:
Thank you, Dr. Biden,
for those fine remarks. And to all the leaders of
government, our First Lady, Secretary Panetta,
General Dempsey, thank you for your leadership
and your guidance today. And I just want to thank all of
you for making military spouses and our professions
a priority today. As an Army spouse for 32 years,
I am enormously proud of what my husband does. And I am proud to step up and
serve this country in my own way as well. But being a military spouse
brings with it some extra challenges, and as a registered
nurse, I know that firsthand. I take my profession as a nurse
just as seriously as Robert does the military. My family has moved ten times
throughout my husband’s career. I have long since lost track of
the number of months that I’ve spent waiting around for
licensing paperwork to catch up so that I could
continue my own career. One move happened 30
days after a deployment; we had to start moving during
the Christmas holidays. Moving the family, finding a new
home, a new school for the kids, you have to make new friends,
all this puts a loss of stress on the families. And, you know, I can’t even
start looking for a new type of work until I have an address
so I can start sending off for my license. There’s also the extra cost of
applying for the new license which differs from
state to state. You have the time waiting for
an official college transcript. You have to submit another
set of fingerprints to file in the state. You need to figure out what
forms have to be filled out, signed and notarized. One time the whole process was
so difficult to sort through and Robert was going through some
tough times after deployment that I finally gave up and
decided I just didn’t need to get my license in this state. And many of my friends that
I’ve talked to have similar stories as mine. The issue of occupational
license portability is one of the very top concerns we
have as military spouses. In serving this country we move
a lot; it’s just what we do. And for those of us in one of
the dozens of professions in this country that
require state licensures, these moves can be
particularly tough. Moving just in and
of itself is tough. Now add the financial pressure
of finding a new job and in a new location. We are not looking
for a handout. And none of us for a
second wants to change a professional standard. We’re simply looking to be able
to provide for our families and continue the careers
that we love. And so I’d like to thank
everyone here today for helping military spouses, like me, just
to do that, to be there with us. And right now I’d like to turn
it over to someone who has worked with Dr. Biden to make
a difference in the lives of America’s military families. She has not just
talked about it; she has actually gotten up
and done something about it. Ladies and gentlemen, the First
Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama! (applause) First Lady Michelle Obama:
Thank you so much. Thank you, everyone. Thank you all so much. Someone can give an
order to be seated. There are plenty of people
here who can do that, correct? (laughter) But thank you — thank you
for that wonderful welcome. And thank you, Ann. Thank you for the kind
introduction and for all that you and your family
have done for our country. I also want to thank Secretary
Panetta for hosting us here at the Pentagon. And of course, I
have to thank Jill, who has been such a wonderful
friend and such a terrific partner in Joining Forces. I also want to join in
recognizing General Dempsey and his wife, Jeannie — Deanie,
why am I saying Jeannie? Hi, Deanie. How are you? (laughter) Thank you. You’ve been amazing. You’ve helped us through. You’ve kept us on the straight
and narrow along with all of the other spouses of
the Joint Chiefs. You all have been
just amazing supports. And I also have to recognize
the Joint Chiefs as well. Thank you all. You all have been so steadfast,
just right there every step of the way. We are just proud of everything
that you do for this country. And we also have Deputy
Secretary Neal Wolin, who is here from the
Department of Treasury, who has put so much time
and effort into helping prepare this report. We wouldn’t be here today
without all that you have done, so thank you. Well done. Job well done. Absolutely. (applause) We also have Alan Krueger, who’s
the Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic
Advisors; of course, the First Lady of
Kentucky, Jane Beshear, who has been really doing some
phenomenal work in her state and taking the lead and stepping
up in ways big and small. We really are grateful to
everything that you’ve done. We also have members of Congress
here, we have state legislators, and we representatives from many
of our nation’s veterans service organizations who
are here with us. And we are all here today,
we have all gathered, to say this to America’s
military families: We are incredibly grateful
for your service. We understand the unique
challenges that you face; and we are going to do
everything that we can to make sure that you
can pursue your careers and provide for your families. Now as Jill said, over
the past few years, she and I have had the privilege
of visiting with military spouses all across the country. And as Jill said, you all are
some of the most courageous, resilient, and inspiring
people that we have ever met. You all are the ones who keep
your families together when your spouse is deployed. You’re the parents who turn off
the news at night for fear of what you might hear, who answer
all those questions about why Mom or Dad has been
gone for so long. You’re the spouse who steps up
to do the work of two parents, raising the kids,
running the household, juggling all the errands
and chores all alone. But you are still the
volunteer on the PTA. You still lead that food drive. You organize the
neighborhood carpool. You’re the families
who, every few years, you pack up your entire lives,
and you move whenever and wherever your country calls. But no matter how
much is on your plate, no matter what this
country asks of you, you all just keep
moving forward. You just keep serving
your families, your communities and your
country in ways that many of us cannot fathom. But when it comes to moving
forward in your own careers, when it comes to getting a job
and being able to provide for your families when you arrive at
that new base or duty station, far too often, you can’t just
keep moving because you’ve run into a brick wall. It happens to military
spouses again and again. You’re asked to
move to a new state. You want to get back to the job
you love and the job you need to support your family. But you can’t do any of that
because your nursing license or your teaching credentials
don’t transfer when you move to a new state. It happens to nurses like Ann. It happens to school teachers,
to childcare providers, to accountants, real estate
brokers, dental hygienists, lawyers too — that’s
supposed to be funny. No one likes lawyers. (laughter) And so many other careers. We have learned that more than
one of every three military spouses in the labor force have
jobs that require some kind of professional license
or certification. So this licensing issue affects
more than 100,000 individuals — 100,000 individuals. And the vast majority of you are
clearly ready to work when you get to your new state. You’ve already demonstrated
your specialized skills. You’ve already gained years
of professional experience. But too often, as Ann said,
you’re left waiting for paperwork to clear while your
skills go unused and more importantly your family’s
bank accounts shrink. And this is something Jill and I
hear about on every single base and in every single military
community that we visit. It is the number one issue that
military spouses tell us about. And we know that this is a
challenge for these families because the one important thing
that I have learned about military spouses is
they never complain. They never ever
ask for anything. 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. And that’s what today’s report
from the Departments of Defense and Treasury is all about. That’s what we’re doing. We’re all taking action. We’ve heard your frustrations,
and we’re finding solutions. And that starts by
first recognizing how these issues arise. Now, each state issues its own
professional license and sets its own standards of
professional competence. Take teachers, for example. To earn a teaching license,
states ask for some combination of state and
national test scores, supervised work experience,
and advanced coursework. But when you analyze
requirements like these across several states, you begin
to understand the challenges that arise for military spouses. In some states, for example,
applicants are required to take an entry-level course in state
history or other subjects before the licensing board
will grant a license. So if you’re a military
spouse with years of teaching experience and you move
across state lines, you could end up taking extra
classes for weeks on end before you can even get a job,
and that’s just what happens in one profession. When you’re talking
about dozens of careers, the web of requirements and
standards can get pretty thick. But before we go any further,
let me be very clear: 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. But it’s also clear that
this system poses very unique challenges for
our military families. And recently, a number of states
have stepped forward to address this very problem. So let me just tell you about
what just some of a few states are already doing. In Tennessee, they’re granting
temporary licenses in many professions, which will allow
spouses to get a job first, then complete any remaining
state licensing requirements. In Colorado, the director of
their state licensing agency now has the power to waive
cumbersome requirements for military spouses who clearly
demonstrate their competence. And then in Arizona, they passed
legislation to grant licenses, in most professions, to military
spouses who have at least one year of experience. So that’s three states with
three different solutions. In each of them, military
spouses with professional skills and experience don’t have to
wait before they get to work. If they need to complete any
remaining requirements in their new state, they can do it
as they earn a paycheck. And that’s the general
guideline that eight other states have followed as they’ve
created laws of their own. And we’re pleased that 13 more
states have legislation pending or waiting to be introduced. But that still leaves 26 states
— that still leaves more than half the country — that have
yet to address this issue. And, again, that’s where
this report comes in. We know that there’s no
one-size-fits-all solution here. Every state is different. So this report simply provides a
roadmap of best practices that leaders across the country
can use as a resource as they explore ways that their state
can better support these military families. The report contains tips and
ideas, not edicts and decrees. But the point is that
there are solutions here. This is a solvable problem. So today we are setting a
national goal — by the year 2014, we want all 50 states
to have passed their own legislation to address
these licensing issues. And 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. (applause) And it’s also important
to note that this isn’t just about military spouses. This issue affects our troops. It affects our
military children, all of whom are relying on the
income of these spouses earn. This affects our schools and our
hospitals and our businesses that need those
skilled employees. And all of that affects
our entire economy — our unemployment rate,
our productivity, our competitiveness
all around the world. So it’s time for us to come
together as a country to find some solutions to this problem
that has affected so many of our military families for so long. It is time for us to make sure
that our military spouses, that their hard work and
professional skills are recognized, no matter
what state they move to. And we’re all willing to do our
part to work together to move this issue forward and to
provide support for states along the way. That’s why, in addition
to today’s announcement, when our nation’s governors
gather at the White House in just two weeks, Jill and I are
going to make this ask directly. We’re going to ask each of the
governors to lead the charge on this issue in their state. We’re also going to reach out
to state legislators across the country, and we’re going to
ask them to jumpstart the legislative process. The state liaisons here at the
Department of Defense will be working nonstop to help these
state leaders craft and pass bills that fit
their states’ needs. In addition, we’re going to be
asking advocacy groups like the National Military Family
Association to engage at a state level to build the kind
of grassroots support that will help get this done. And we’re going to urge
more national professional organizations to follow the lead
of the American Bar Association, which actively is encouraging
its state affiliates to make licensing accommodations
for military spouses. So we are ready to roll up
our sleeves and do some heavy lifting on this issue. We are ready to
make this happen. And if we can do this, if we
can work together so that every state can find its own solution,
we’ll once again show all of you — our incredible military
families — that America has your back. After all, that’s exactly
what you do for all of us every single day. That’s what you do for us. No matter how much
we ask of you, no matter what
the personal cost, our military families
always answer the call. They always do. And today, as we
announce this new effort, I’m reminded of a group of
military spouses that I met with a few years
ago in Kentucky. One woman we were talking
to, she choked up as she told me about some of
the challenges that she and her family were facing. And I’ll never forget what
happened next: another military spouse who was sitting there,
she jumped in and she said — and this is a quote — she
said, “I don’t know this woman. I didn’t meet her before today,
but when she leaves here, she will have my number. And she will be able
to call me anytime. She’s got the support of
this friend right here.” See and I tell that story
because that’s who military spouses are. That’s exactly who they are. That’s the life that so
many of you here today lead. That is the commitment that you
show every single day to your families, to our communities
and to our country. And I just want you all to
know that you can call on us, and we will answer. We owe it to you and
your families who have sacrificed so much. And so to all of the
state leaders out there, in this room and beyond, I want
to thank you for everything that you’ve done so far, and I look
forward to working with you to finish this job. And to our troops and
our military families, I cannot thank you enough
for everything you do for this country. We are inspired by you. We are so proud of you, and we
are working as hard as we can to serve you as well as you
have served this country. Thank you all, God bless,
and God bless the United States of America. Thanks, so much. (applause)

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