Military Families Should Be Able to Transfer Professional Licenses Across State Lines, New Survey Finds

A group of children at the Malmstrom Child Development Center.
A group of children from the Malmstrom Child Development Center play with a worker Sept. 8, 2022, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mary Bowers)

Many Americans believe that military family members should be able to use their professional licenses in any state regardless of where the credentials were received, according to the results of a survey released Wednesday.

About 83% of 848 registered voters surveyed nationwide said they support rules that allow the use of the licenses wherever military family members may move in the U.S., a policy known as license reciprocity, according to Merit, a web-based identity verification platform that sells professional licensing verification services.

The company is working with military-focused nonprofits and associations, including the Association of the United States Army, to advocate loosening professional licensing rules for military families, according to their website. The survey was conducted online Sept. 16-18 for Merit by Embold Research.

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Professional licenses are required by states for a variety of careers and services, including cosmetology, nursing and working as an attorney. Fees for those licenses and certifications as well as the classes and tests required to get them can cost thousands of dollars.

The licensing rules are also often complicated and frequently governed by state-specific regulations, local professional organizations or both. For example, rules for attorneys are overseen by individual state bar associations while licenses for psychologists are typically mandated by law and overseen by a state-based board.

Gaining a new license can also require hundreds of hours of training. For example, an EMT license in California requires 160 hours of training, while a cosmetology license in New Jersey requires 1,200 hours, according to Merit.

About 34% of working military spouses hold a job that requires a professional license, and 19% of those reported hitting roadblocks for maintaining those credentials, according to the Defense Department. About 15% of all military spouses relocate across state lines each year.

All 50 states and Washington, D.C., have passed laws or signed interstate compacts easing licensing requirements for families moving on military orders, but what they allow varies widely.

"For Army spouses trying to balance a professional career with the frequent moves required by the military, the complicated patchwork of state licensing rules is challenging and often a source of financial stress,'' Holly Dailey, who directs family programs for AUSA, said in the Merit release. "Thankfully, some states have reciprocal agreements for certain types of licenses, but there is a lot left to do."

Some states, for example, permit out-of-state licenses for some careers and not others, while other state rules let spouses use their out-of-state license for a few months while working toward a new one.

In their most generous form, rules simply allow military family members to use their valid occupational licenses gained from another state without any additional steps. That's a step only Utah has taken thus far, according to a licensure tracker on the DoD's Military OneSource website.

The Pentagon has long lobbied through its Defense-State Liaison Office to increase license portability across state lines. But even when a state passes a law allowing licenses to transfer, there may be little to no trickle-down to the state employees actually processing applications, and the rules simply might not be understood.

A 2017 law ordered the military services to reimburse spouses up to $1,000 for professional licensure fees incurred during a permanent change of station, or PCS, move. The application process varies by service.

Supporting military spouse employment is seen as a recruiting and retention issue as the services struggle to fill the ranks. But as with many military family benefits, Pentagon officials struggle to get the word out about what's available.

"We really are trying to do everything we possibly can here. You know, we are trying to get the word out about the fact that we will reimburse folks up to $1,000 for professional licensing," Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said Tuesday at the annual AUSA conference in Washington, D.C.

Related: Army to Expand Recruiting Programs, Investment to Fill Ranks

Patricia Kime contributed to this report.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at

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