Florida is home to about 1.5 million veterans and more than 3,000 military personnel separate every year from regional commands here in Northeast Florida. Veterans, valued for their skills and training, make up an important part of Florida's workforce, and the state hopes they stay to find jobs or start their own business.
Secretary Ken Lawson, who heads up Florida's Department of Business and Professional Regulation, visited Jacksonville for the July 16 Paychecks for Patriots hiring event. He spoke to me about his service in the Marine Corps as a Judge Advocate General (JAG) and his commitment to making Florida a veteran's first choice for employment.
He was very pleased when the governor signed House Bill 7015, which took effect July 1, 2014, and allows the department to waive the initial licensing and application fees for military veterans and their spouses. The waiver is good within 60 months after the veteran has been honorably discharged from any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, including the Florida National Guard. The veteran will be responsible for ongoing renewal fees going forward.
The waiver includes any professional license the department issues, such as for contractors, barbers, real estate agents, certified public accountants, landscape architects and several more. Fees for licenses range from $100 to $1,000, which can represent a significant investment for veterans as they enter the civilian workforce. An online waiver form and documentation of service must be submitted with the license application. In addition to fee waivers, the department offers a $50 discount on licenses for disabled veterans, who must submit their DD-214 form indicating that they are disabled with their renewal application.
Most licensed professions require education and testing, and many veterans qualify for GI Bill assistance to offset these costs. Effective in 2014, Florida also waives out-of-state tuition fees for military veterans, which may cost the state $11.7 million per year. The Veterans Administration will also reimburse eligible applicants for the cost of necessary licensing and certification examinations, up to $2,000 per test.
The Florida Department of Health, which issues licenses for health care occupations, offers many of the same fee waivers for veterans and their families. The VALOR System (Veterans Application for Licensure Online Response) provides an expedited process for honorably discharged veterans with an active license in another state, with most licensing fees waived. It also provides exemptions from license renewal requirements while serving on active duty and temporary license privileges for spouses.
The governor and the cabinet meet quarterly with the admirals of Florida's military bases to listen to their ideas on how to make life easier for Florida veterans and their families. Secretary Lawson says, "We are committed to become the most veteran-friendly state in the nation, and we consider these programs to be an investment in the families who have sacrificed so much to serve their country."