The American Legion's Washington Conference, held annually in our nation's capital gives our organization's leadership a chance to meet with elected officials to discuss legislative initiatives and priorities important to Legion members and their families.
On Feb. 25, state licensing and credentialing of veterans and servicemembers was a hot topic of discussion in Washington, D.C.
On the north end of town, Legionnaires and veterans advocates from the public and private sectors gathered during The American Legion's Washington Conference to discuss progress in their state-by-state and industry-by-industry campaign to streamline the award of essential work credentials to veterans, reservists and Guard members with appropriate military experience and training.
Meanwhile, downtown, National Governors Association Winter Meeting attendees heard from First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Jill Biden, on the very same issue. Obama mentioned the Legion's efforts in licensing and credentialing.
Participants at The American Legion Licensing & Credentialing Roundtable briefed one another and an audience of Legion members on progress made in persuading state legislatures and private credentialing agencies to recognize military training and experience. According to data provided by the Department of Defense, more half of the nation’s 50 states are now debating bills that, if enacted, would ease the way for veterans and some servicemembers to obtain the professional papers they need by translating their military skills into those needed in the civilian workplace. Some states are also considering granting academic credits for military occupational experience and training.
The campaign, which began with a handful of states two years ago, has gained considerable momentum in the past year due, in no small measure say observers, to the grass-roots lobbying efforts of Legionnaires and fellow veterans’ advocates. For its part, the Department of Defense has deployed a team of “educators” to talk with lawmakers and other interested parties about the issue and encourage legislative action.
Though simple in concept, the crediting of military training and experience toward civilian licenses and credentials is a complicated matter. As was pointed out at the meeting, each state may be responsible for upwards of 100 different licenses. Licenses can be defined as official written permissions to operate or practice. Credentials, which attest to the qualifications and competence of a person to pursue a certain vocation, number around 5,000 nationwide. The relevance of military experience to each one, in full or in part, must be determined and the “gaps” between partial and complete fulfillment of civilian employment qualifications by the servicemember or veteran must be filled.
At the NGA meeting, Obama and Biden addressed the licensing and credentialing issue as a component of their highly publicized Joining Forces initiative on behalf of military families. The First and Second ladies talked of the plight of military spouses, whose work and professional papers can be lost due to the changing deployment venues of their military partners. They reported progress on this front, too, with Obama noting that 28 states had now passed pro-spouse legislation to rectify this inequity. Last year at this time, said the First Lady, only 11 states had done so.
Obama announced a goal to the governors. “By the end of 2015,” she said, “we want all 50 states to have taken legislative action to help our troops get the credentials they need. And that means that our troops will be taken care of no matter what state they decide to call home, which is why our spousal legislation is so important…”
Toward the end of her remarks, Obama noted briefly the considerable energies the Legion has expended on the issue, having – among other things – convened a first-ever government/private sector licensing and credentialing summit a year ago. “We have members of The American Legion here today,” she said, “because they’re behind this effort 100 percent. And we are so grateful they’ll be spreading the word about all of this throughout their state and local chapters around the country.”
In fact, The American Legion has been lobbying for civilian license and credential reform since the late 1990's and was influential in last year's passage of legislation mandating study by federal agencies of how they can effect the recognition of military training and experience in their own issuance of licenses.
The First Lady and Biden's remarks may be viewed here.