Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady and Dr. Biden on Military Spouse Licensing at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia

February 15, 2012

DR. BIDEN: Hello. 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.)

* * * * *

MRS. OBAMA: Someone can give an order to be seated. There are plenty of people here who can do that, correct? (Laughter.) But 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.


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 and, God bless, and God bless the United States of America. Thanks, so much. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady and Dr. Biden on Military Spouse Licensing at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320335

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