Military Spouse License Portability Report Outlines Shortfalls

December 21, 2017

In the summer of 2016, the Joining Forces initiative (launched by the Obama administration and spearheaded by first lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden) announced it had reached a milestone in military spouse licensure: All 50 states had some legislation supporting the portability of licenses and certificates held by military spouses who moved to their state. 

However, advocates, DoD, the Department of Labor, and leaders across the nation continued to hear from military spouses that it didn't feel like all that much had changed. MOAA heard that military spouses continued to face confusion, bureaucracy, and delays in getting back to work after a PCS. Leaders listened, and the DoD State Liaison Office (DSLO) commissioned a report, conducted by the University of Minnesota and released in November 2017, examining each state's efforts to support six portable career fields (selected based on military spouse applicability, market potential, and lack of separate initiatives/legislation affecting portability).

DoD chose to study cosmetology, dental hygiene, massage therapy, mental health counseling, occupational therapy ,and real estate commission. The researchers evaluated legislation and websites and called the boards for each of the career fields studied. MOAA also was contacted as part of the research for this report, and we shared what we heard from you. Some findings were not surprising: Words matter, and some legislation was more impactful for military spouses simply based on the word “shall” versus “may.” “Substantially equivalent” is used broadly in legislation and makes eligibility for license endorsement ambiguous, at best. 

The full report reaches some helpful conclusions and makes recommendations on how each state can improve the utility of its legislation and its positive impact on military spouse employment. For instance, “a majority of the websites did not contain information about processes of transfer specific to military spouses. Further, most applications for license and credential transfers did not contain questions that allowed spouses to indicate their military status.” These issues resolve with a relatively small commitment from the boards that oversee each career field and would have an immediate positive impact. 

Some of the recommendations include:


  • increase prominence of information on websites about accommodations for military spouses;
  • improve education of occupational board staff regarding state legislation, and identify a staff member who can act as the point of contact for military spouses;
  • include an opportunity for military spouses to self-identify on applications for transfer of a license;
  • increase portability and accommodations for continuing education requirements for active licenses in other states;
  • develop trainings for professionals who work with military families on best practices for license portability for military spouses; and
  • collect data on the number of military spouses using accommodation in each state for transfer of licenses and certificates.


If you are in one of these career fields, there is now a comprehensive report about how each state responds to your license/certificate transfer. If you are not in one of these career fields, be reassured that what is in this report will improve responsiveness in transferability for your career field, too. MOAA already has started discussions with leaders who can help influence these changes at the local level and continues to support Interstate Compacts for professions where legislation is insufficient. We continue to rely on your input about your experience and share what we hear from you with DSLO and other leaders working on this important issue. Please share your story with us at


Rate this content