Soldiers and their spouses

Col. Eric Edwards, left, commander of Evans Army Community Hospital, and Command Sgt. Maj. Art Jason Santos, his senior enlisted advisor, pose with their spouses Dec. 6 at Fort Carson, Colo. They are among the families who could benefit from an increased reimbursement authorization for professional re-licensing or recertification when spouses move to a new duty location within the U.S. The change was authorized in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

FORT MEADE, Md. – Last summer, Army spouse Kamyar Haghayeghi left his job as an internal medicine physician to follow his wife to San Antonio, Texas.

There, he required relicensing to practice medicine at the University of Texas-San Antonio. The costs for the exam and administrative fees totaled more than $1,200, which would be a pretty tough blow considering his wife also learned she was pregnant with their first child shortly before the relocation.

The couple learned about the Army’s Spouse Licensure Reimbursement Program and quickly filled out the necessary paperwork to receive the $500 maximum allowance at that time. The extra cash softened the blow and helped ease the family’s stress, which is greatly appreciated by Kamyar’s wife, Capt. Jennifer Loftsgaarden, a physical medicine rehabilitation physician now serving at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston.

“I know a lot of dual professional couples in civilian-military marriages who must incur some pretty surprising costs for their re-licensure during a move,” she said. “With that in mind, I think it’s a really awesome gesture to help those families. It really shows the Army does care about its people.”

Nowadays, the news is even better. Under the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, civilian spouses can receive up to $1,000 in reimbursements for relicensing costs during permanent change-of-station relocations. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy signed the directive Jan.16.

According to recent DOD statistics, 34 percent of spouses work in occupations that require licensure. Nineteen percent are in health-related services; 10 percent in education; 2 percent in crafts and trades (from cosmetologists to construction welders); and those remaining specialize in things like real estate and accounting.

When faced with shouldering recertification or relicensing costs themselves, many give up on continuing a profession they had hoped to turn into a career, often meaning they took lower-paying jobs just to generate income or opted out of working altogether. The unemployment rate among active duty spouses is currently hovering around 24 percent, far greater than their counterparts in the civilian sector.

“Army life can be kind of tough,” observed Christine Traugott, assistant deputy for Child, Youth and School Services and Education, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. “You get moved every couple of years, and if you have a working spouse (who) requires a license to do his or her job, (they frequently have to) re-license in the state where they’re seeking employment or practicing their profession. Those costs can add up significantly over time, and they’re a barrier to spouses being able to find quick employment.”

The NDAA authorization reflects the Army’s “people-first” priority – one that was set into motion by Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville when he took office in August. Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston emphasizes the importance of that focus during his many talks to the force throughout the year.

“It’s critically important for (spouses) to be able to get to work as quickly as possible after a PCS move,” Grinston recently said. “The increase in available funds for reimbursement in this year’s NDAA will go a long way to help.”

As part of the new measure, the Army also has widened eligibility options. Spouses who held a professional license at one duty station but choose not to renew it at a new one also may be eligible for some level of reimbursement. Soldiers who PCS overseas with spouses relocating to a designated state also may be eligible for help from the program.

“In short, we are giving military families, and the commanders responsible for them, greater flexibility in receiving assistance with the additional expenses they incur,” said Larry Lock, military compensation chief for the Army.

In addition, Army Emergency Relief launched a reimbursement program for licensure expenses in June. To read more about that program, visit www.army.mil/article/223131/aer_offers_2500_relicensing_aid_for_spouses.