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Military families struggle as spouses face obstacles to transfer professional licenses after moves

Military spouses struggle with license transfers
Military spouses struggle to transfer professional licenses 03:20

The frequent moves required of U.S. servicemembers can often put a strain on military spouses, especially those with occupational licenses. Earlier this year, President Biden signed a bill into law designed to cut through red tape when it comes to transferring those licenses to a new state, but many military spouses said that, so far, not much has changed.

Michelle Wintering is a speech pathologist whose husband is in the Army. Sometimes the family stays in one place for less than a year, and she hasn't been able to work full-time because of how difficult it is to transfer her license from state to state.

"Some require specific coursework before you can be licensed there," she said. "And then you have just the phone calls and the emails and the paperwork that you have to submit for proof of licensure in previous states."

Wintering said she loves what she does, but "what's frustrating for me is when I have gaps in employment and I want to be working."

And she's not alone. 

Amanda James has a bachelor's degree and a teaching certificate. Her husband, Will, is in the Air Force. 

"I have five states in the last ten years on my resume," she told CBS News.

She said that, while she's been able to find some work, she's been "underemployed," having never been able to secure a full-time teaching job.

Some 39% of active duty spouses, more than 130,000 people, need a license for their job and face under- or unemployment each time they move, according to the Department of Defense.

James lived in Mississippi and Illinois for less than two years each. She said she couldn't get hired in either state because of the red tape surrounding the transfer of her license. Illinois, for example, doesn't offer expedited transfers for military spouses.

She ended up taking a job at a private school in Missouri, where she taught seven subjects and made just $20,000 a year. James ended up having to walk away from the job because of the amount of stress and lack of pay.

James said that the financial impact of not being able to transfer her license has been enormous and the family has "never quite caught up."

These struggles can lead to qualified servicemembers — like Wintering's husband — leaving the military early, creating a national security risk as branches struggle to recruit

To address this, Mr. Biden in January signed the Military Licensing Relief Act. The law is intended to make states to accept license transfers, but there's no deadline or plan in place yet for how to actually do that.

Rep. Salud Carbajal, a cosponsor of the bill who represents California's 24th congressional district, recognizes the hurdles but says "help is on the way."

"Let us work out the kinks, implement this legislative program and your life will be easier," he added.

"We're trying to make sure that this bill puts in the framework that makes it work in a reciprocal way across the United States," he said. "It's still going to require states to work with our DoD to make sure that the program works effectively."

Rep. Mike Garcia, the bill's other cosponsor who represents California's 27th district, said that individual states are "struggling with how to implement" the new law.

"For everything like this, with such a seismic change in the way they do business, there are going to be changes in the process. So we need to help them with that," Garcia said.

But for some, it's already too late. 

James said she's given up on trying to get a job as a teacher.

"It makes me feel like, am I not good enough?" she said. "Did I not get enough credentials? Did I not get enough certifications? It's been difficult."

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