Earn Them, Use Them: Updating Licensing and Credentialing for Veterans

 It’s no secret that it can be tough for transitioning service members and veterans to convert the skills they learned in the military into civilian credentials. From newspaper editorials to late night comedians, the nation has looked at the challenge facing an Army medic who wants to become a civilian paramedic and said, “This is wrong!  Something must be done!”

What’s more, it’s also tough for veterans and military spouses to use the civilian credentials they’ve earned in one state when they move to another. In the 21st century, such parochial challenges are aggravating and cry out for resolution.

So why aren’t they solved already? Here’s the reality: occupational licensing, credentialing and certifications have long been the jurisdiction of the states and their various licensing, credentialing, and certification boards.  These boards oversee professions in a self-regulating manner, and between states there is little uniformity in the qualifications and in how they are divided between boards.  One state may have 30 boards, while another may have 300.

This is where we come in. The Labor Department, using the authority granted to us by Congress in the 2011 VOW Act, has been working with states to recognize skills gained during military service, and also to harmonize qualifications among states to assist military and veteran families as they move to other states.

Specifically, the VOW Act of 2011 required us to carry out a demonstration project on credentialing to help service members transition seamlessly from active duty to civilian employment. Our project, carried out through a contract with the National Governors’ Association, is designed to the engage governors of six states in accelerating credentialing and licensing for veterans, and to reduce or eliminate barriers to credentials, certifications or licenses for veterans in those states. It also involves exploring accelerated career pathways for service members and veterans in certain high-demand civilian occupations. We hope that other states will be able to apply the lessons learned and best practices that are developed through this project.

Additionally, under the VOW Act, we funded a study of the equivalencies between the skills of 68 military occupational specialties that covered 57 percent of all enlisted service members and the qualifications required for related civilian jobs. As a result, we were able to create a more robust military-to-civilian skills crosswalk for those 68 occupations.

The Labor Department will continue to do our part to identify and lift up best practices for states and to promote better understanding military training by civilian employers.  And it is even more important for states − who ultimately hold the power to create their licensing, credentialing and certification boards − to push those boards to adopt these best practices so that no veteran, transitioning service member or military spouse is left in a position where a missing piece of paper is keeping them from using their skills to earn a living and to contribute to the nation’s economy.

As Secretary Perez has said, “America works best when we field a full team.” Our veterans have the skills and the desire to play; it’s up to the rest of us to make sure they are in the game.

Terry Gerton is the deputy assistant secretary for policy at the Labor Department’s  Veterans’ Employment and Training Service.