American Legion licensing and credentialing task force members gather in Houston, Aug. 23. (Photo by Amy C. Elliott)

Civilian credentialing: A Legion concern

The American Legion has long campaigned in favor of industry’s ready recognition of military training and acquired skills as former servicemembers transition into the civilian workplace.  In particular, the Legion has assertively encouraged credentialing bodies to give military trained veterans appropriate credit toward civilian licenses and certifications.

A core group of licensing and credentialing advocates meet under the Legion banner at least twice a year to report progress in their campaign and to discuss ways to overcome remaining obstacles to universal success. The latest such gathering was on Aug. 23 in Houston just prior to the opening of The American Legion’s 95th national convention.

Attendees agreed that progress has been encouraging. To date, all but a handful of states have adopted legislation to aid military to civilian workplace transition. “The leadership of the Legion speaks for itself,” said Lisa Lutz, a policy advisor and consultant who has been intimately involved in the organization’s licensing and credentialing efforts since the 1990’s.

But, challenges remain. "Our research has shown that licensing and certification requirements for civilian employment still – though, admittedly in decreasing numbers – pose a barrier to a smooth transition from military service to civilian employment," said Steve Gonzalez, assistant director of the Legion's national Economic Division in Washington, D.C. "As an incentive to pull down those remaining barriers, we must urge lawmakers to consider the comparative cost of issuing credentials at whatever training, retraining or remedial expenditures might be incurred, against that of paying unemployment benefits to a veteran or spouse who cannot gain appropriate employment due to an unnecessary credentialing obstacle.

“Another concern we identified is about the quality of credentials that are being issued to America's servicemembers and veterans. We must ensure that such credentials are accepted, recognized, and brings true value to the workplace.”

The licensing and credentialing issue was first brought to light in American Legion Magazine articles in the early 1990’s as the Legion recruited colleagues to study the issue. Broad, serious attention was attracted, however, two decades later as the result of a Legion-sponsored National Licensing & Credentialing Summit in February, 2012. It was a landmark session – staged a block away from the White House – that pulled together the intellectual resources of the Pentagon, Congress, state legislatures, private industry, labor groups, credentialing bodies, licensing boards, educational institutions and veterans’ advocates. For two intense days, attendees discussed ways that all parties could help meld the military and civilian workplace worlds.

Almost immediately, the White House began issuing public statements echoing the Legion-led effort to confront the military to civilian licensing and credentialing disconnect, while Legion lobbyists and colleagues buttonholed members of Congress on Capitol Hill. As a result, in late July 2012, President Obama signed into law the “Veteran Skills to Jobs Act,” which directed “the head of each federal department and agency to treat relevant military training as sufficient to satisfy training or certification requirements for federal licenses,” such as those issued by the Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Communications Commission and maritime agencies.

Since the bulk of licensing and credentialing bodies, including states, were not affected by the federal act, the campaign – and the problem – continued. As stated in the introductory paragraphs of a Feb. 2013 White House report titled “The Fast Track to Civilian Employment,” “unique challenges…confront service members, military spouses and veterans in establishing their qualifications for civilian employment. Service members, military families and veterans face unique challenges in the labor market. Frequent moves combined with different requirements for occupational licenses across state lines can make it difficult and costly for spouses of active duty military to find a job. Despite having valuable military experience, veterans frequently find it difficult to obtain formal private sector recognition of their military training, experiences, and skill sets through civilian certification and licensure. This also makes it difficult for the private sector to capitalize on the resources and time spent training and educating service members.”

Then, said the White House in a claim of proprietorship, “Under the leadership of First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, the Obama Administration has responded aggressively to the challenges faced by military spouses, working with the states to ensure that these individuals do not confront unnecessary obstacles when pursuing their chosen professions.” 

By the time of that Administration report, Legion posts and departments – along with Department of Defense (DoD) “Task Force” colleagues – had long since begun lobbying efforts among state legislatures and private industry certification bodies to adopt policies, practices and laws to streamline military to civilian credentialing processes. 

In Dec. 2012, for instance, representatives of the DoD Credentialing and Licensing Task Force addressed the bi-partisan non-governmental National Conference of State Legislators and outlined the Pentagon’s plan. “Within one year,” said DoD, “the Task Force will identify military specialties that readily transfer to high-demand jobs, work with key stakeholders and civilian credentialing and licensing agencies to address gaps between military training programs and credentialing and licensing requirements, (and) provide service members with greater access to necessary certification and licensing exams.”

“White House publicity certainly aided our effort and the hard work of the Department of Defense at our side has been invaluable," Gonzalez said. "But, since the beginning, it has also been Legionnaires’ and fellow advocates’ ‘boots on the ground’ that have given the campaign energy and greatly influenced its success.”