According to the Department of Defense, military spouses are an educated bunch, with over 84% of military spouses having some college education, 25% have earned a four- year degree, 10% have an advanced degree, and 5% have professional licenses.
That’s the problem with statistics; 5% doesn’t seem significant until it’s put into perspective. That little number represents tens of thousands of military spouses, primarily female. MyCAA has also acknowledged that one of the side-effects of education is the up-keep with licenses during PCS moves, which are quite frequent for military families.
I was fortunate to have received a scholarship from MyCAA, in addition to another scholarship from my university. Combined, those two financial awards paid a fourth of the tuition for a graduate degree at Hardin Simmons University, and allowed me to fulfill my dream of becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), or psychotherapist.
The road that leads to becoming an LPC starts upon graduation. Similar to many other fields, the candidate must pass a national exam and gain clinical hours. It’s a lengthy process which takes about 24 months. In October, 2014 I received my full LPC license in Texas. That month, we also received orders to PCS to Louisiana—just over the state line. However, I couldn’t have foreseen the heartache that moving 50 miles would entail.
I called the Louisiana LPC Board to find out when they would meet again, and when the deadline was to apply for licensure there. The process is painstakingly slow. Every piece of the submission packet must be sent by mail to the Board. A few pieces of my packet were lost in the mail, so I rushed to re-send the signed documents by certified mail. This brought the total cost of being licensed in Louisiana to $275, after I just paid for licensure in Texas.
Because military spouses moves 10 times more frequently than a spouse married to a civilian, Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, helped put into action a restructured process for the 5% of military spouses in career fields requiring licenses. The three strategies include: endorsing existing licenses, issuing temporary licenses, or conducting expedited review processes for military spouses (each state chooses which strategy they’ll use). There are 47 participating states. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed a new law, HB 732 in May 2012, which helps speed up the transfer of professional licenses from other states when military families relocate due to PCS orders to Louisiana. To guarantee no delay after relocation, the bill allows for the granting of temporary licenses until a full license is obtained.
On paper this legislation looks good. In reality this is a different animal.
Jody Pace, a Registered Nurse from Texas, was scheduled to PCS with her husband to California. She spent four months and $200 for an RN license in her new state. “I tried calling several times and sent emails, but never heard anything back from the Board of Nursing. When I went to the office, face to face, they informed me that I hadn’t gotten my fingerprints in California, so it would take longer.” Jody applied for her license in November 2014 and received it four months later.
Alicia Hartman recalls paying $776 in the last two years for board fees in New York and Arizona. Her husband received PCS orders to Louisiana, and Alicia now faces more re-licensing fees when she arrives.
Unfortunately, some talented military spouses decide to leave the workforce because the new laws aren’t being implemented well. Caitlin Antonides was granted a temporary teaching certificate in Alabama. After one year, her certificate expired and she wasn’t able to continue despite being a veteran teacher elsewhere. She decided fighting the system wasn’t worth the burden for her and her family every time they move.
That’s just it. We shouldn’t have to make the decision to give up our own careers and aspirations because we are a military family.
It is becoming increasingly popular for military families to choose to live in separate locations, known as geo-bacheloring. Dr.Rachel Chesley, a pediatric oncologist, and her husband, made the tough decision to live apart since they married in 2009. To better support her career, he is leaving his Air Force pilot position later this year. These were the same choices my active duty husband and I faced after it was determined by the Board on November 21st, 2014, that my graduate degree lacked coursework in Human Growth and Development, and a Supervised Internship in Mental Health Counseling. This determination was based on the fact that the university where I was graduated from in 2012 is not accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. Hardin Simmons University has applied for this accreditation and anticipates receiving it at the end of 2015. They meet every other criteria including other accreditation and coursework in Human Growth and Development.
Human Development standards are established and mandated by the state of Texas in order for LPC’s to fulfill their role within their scope of practice. Questioning my coursework meant questioning the state of Texas. Since the Louisiana LPC Board did not interpret the law as it was intended when considering my licensure, I had the burden of proving to the Board that my education and experience was “substantially equivalent” to the background required by a Louisiana LPC. During my research, I realized I was essentially denied a license for doing less than what I am trained, qualified, and licensed to do only 50 miles from my house in Louisiana.
As David LaCerte, Louisiana Secretary of Veteran Affairs argues, I should have been granted licensure by endorsement. Winning my license to practice counseling in Louisiana was a personal win, but not necessarily one for military spouses.
The real take-away from this experience is that after surveying 22 international friends about their home countries I have learned the United States is unique in requiring re-licensing after moving across state lines. In Europe, citizens are free to move across the European Union. We need to keep the conversation going in order to bring awareness and improve quality of life conditions for military families. We are a resilient bunch but we tend to give up easily when told “no” by officials. Why? The answer tends to be that by the time the military spouse is given a definitive answer by their board there isn’t much time left before new PCS orders come through. Sometimes a deployment is on the horizon and we don’t think we have the strength or resources to play both parents and fight a powerful board. We may feel that there is no other choice but to accept a wrongful decision. The truth is that we shouldn’t have to because laws are already in existence.
Posted by Nancy Grade, Licensed Professional Counselor and Air Force Spouse