The U.S. has a great tradition of honoring our veterans for their sacrifices made in defending our country. But, while we celebrate these brave men and women with parades, sales, awards, and a day off, we also unintentionally burden them with occupational licensing regulations.
Veterans returning to civilian life face unique challenges after their years of service, and more than 70 percent of them report difficulty in returning to civilian life. Far too many service members have to readjust while facing the effects of their experience in combat, sometimes including grappling with PTSD.
Additionally, they have to reenter the labor market. Finding a job is often more difficult for a returning service member than an average civilian, and veterans report it as their top challenge. One reason for this is that veterans often lack social capital, or a network of coworkers, bosses, and friends in their community with jobs. These relationships are an important factor in finding a job, yet one that is often overlooked when designing public policy. But, as any fraternity brother struggling to maintain his 2.5 GPA will tell you, “it’s not the grades you make, but the hands you shake.” Furthermore, while many in the military perform the same tasks as their civilian counterparts, the training they undergo is often different than what is required for many jobs. Finally, the lack of savings or a salary from a previous job can compound these problems.
While occupational licensing laws erect a barrier to entry for all workers, because of the additional difficulties veterans face when reentering the labor market, they pose an even greater hurdle. These laws, that require professionals to attain certain levels of education and experience, pay fees, and take exams, make it more difficult for veterans to find meaningful employment. In a speech last February, Acting Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Maureen Ohlhausen noted that “occupational licensing disproportionally affects… military families and veterans.”
As a part of their military service, members of the armed forces receive training and perform tasks that are applicable to 962 civilian occupations. However, the occupation-specific training that they undergo is not recognized by licensing boards, forcing them to begin their education again to enter their own field. Often, this is enough of a burden to prevent veterans from pursuing a career that they are well-suited to and have experience performing. If a former combat medic’s training is good enough to save the lives of wounded troops on the battlefield, it should be good enough for the general public.
Licensing requirements also place undo hardships on military spouses. Military families frequently move. In fact, they move across state lines 10 times more often than their civilian counterparts. Because most licenses are granted at the state level, moving to a new state usually requires a getting a new license. When states have different educational requirements and require different exams, it means spouses must take time after moving to take more courses and study for exams. Both of these requirements take time and money. For military families, this can be another tremendous sacrifice, especially as many rely on a second income.
Licensing proponents worry about the risk of low-quality professionals. In fact, a recent bill in South Dakota allowing licensing reciprocity for military spouses moving from other states failed to pass. The professional associations that opposed it cited concerns of disgraced professionals being able to escape disciplinary action by moving.
Despite these objections, academic research does not find any discernible impact of licensing on service quality. The substantial differences in licensing requirements across states and the number of occupations licensed in only a few states suggests that these rules are frequently implemented as professions seek to keep new competitors out, rather than genuine concerns about quality. Furthermore, numerous occupations across the country already offer reciprocity for all applicants, without the large-scale problems that some fear will follow from allowing it for military spouses.
The good news is that reforming licensing laws enjoys a level of bipartisan support that baseball and apple pie could only dream of. State lawmakers have recognized this issue for a few years and are actively engaged in reducing the barriers to entry for veterans and military spouses, but there is still much more to be done.
States have the opportunity to adopt a few simple solutions that can greatly help veterans and their families. First, licensing boards can accept relevant military training to satisfy the education requirements. They can also offer reciprocity to military spouses who have licenses in other states. At the very least, states can reduce fees or expedite the application process for both veterans and military spouses. Or they could provide relief for everyone trying to enter these professions by reducing the burdens associated with obtaining an occupational license or simply eliminating them entirely where there is little risk to the public safety.
Currently, some states do have programs and laws in place to help veterans enter the re-enter the workforce and return normal civilian life. Just listing the laws could fill an article, but here are a few: Rhode Island requires that licensing boards accept relevant military training towards their education requirements, Maryland requires that all health boards to issue a license to veteran applicants within 15 days, and states like Florida and Indiana have passed laws waiving license application fees for veterans. Texas ups the ante by doing the same for both active military personnel and military spouses. For military spouses who are forced to relocate, at least 32 states offer some kind of opportunity to obtain a license by getting an endorsement from the relevant authority by which they are already licensed.
As Americans, we do a great job honoring those that serve in our armed forces. But once they return home, we need to ensure that we are not unintentionally and needlessly burdening them by making their return to normalcy more difficult.
Catalyst articles by Conor Norris