As a current graduate level social work student, I am devoted to combatting injustice, advocating for change, and helping others. I earned my undergraduate degree in psychology back in 2011 and have spent the past eight years serving people diagnosed with developmental disabilities and mental illness. My insight or connection to the diversity of this country is strong because of the continual change I face every two to three years, which has affected both my professional and personal life. You see, I also wear another hat: military spouse. This means every two or three years, I pack my family, my life, and my social services career in boxes and start my story all over again. A camouflaged life is filled with joy, adventure, and excitement for the new places and people I get to help, but also utter exhaustion. Each move means rediscovering resources, building relationships within the community, and terminating services with clients, at times prematurely. Oh, yes, and once I am officially licensed as a social worker, I have to hope and practically do a rain dance that the state we move to will transfer my license sometime before we move again. I am exaggerating about the dance, but only barely.
As those who work in social services and social work know, accessing resources is a huge part of what we can do to help people in need. Just when I’ve built a solid list of contacts from networking in my community or state, we receive orders to a new place. Although I’ll keep that list in my back pocket for anything that comes up in the future, typically that list is mostly useless wherever I go. So, it begins anew—updating my LinkedIn profile and résumé, and utilizing social media to see what’s out there. Then we arrive, and I am buried in boxes and drinking way too much coffee. Once my house is in order and my kids are situated, then I go to work (if I can find employment). What are the issues affecting the community and state I live in? Where are the resources to tackle those issues and offer assistance? Where is the gap? All of these things run through my mind as I figure out where I can make a difference. This process plays on repeat and will continue to do so until the day my husband stops serving this country. But that’s okay. I am still serving my community as I always intended. It’s just a little harder to do.
Networking and building relationships within the community, as well as throughout the state, is an important piece of social work. This is a huge part of how advocacy for clients can make change in policy, as well as fulfill needs. This goes hand in hand with rebuilding a resource list for me. As soon as I get to wherever we are going to be living, I begin sending out emails and letters, introducing myself. I think it is important that we utilize our voices in our communities to make a positive impact. But getting established and being a voice that is listened to is challenging when you only have a short window of time to build your credibility. From the outside looking in, maybe those leaders wonder how I can be so invested when I am not a lifelong community member and just a short-time sort-of resident. I say “sort-of” because our state of residency has remained the same, despite any moves. So not only is my résumé colorful, but I do not even typically vote wherever we are living.
Now on to a super fun topic—will military spouse social workers be licensed to practice in the new state we move to? Will we have to repeat courses and supervision or jump through a ring of fire? I may be dramatizing it, but it sure feels like a circus.
Even though any social worker transferring to a new state will encounter this challenge, I feel it is a barrier that is specifically unique to military spouses because of the frequency of moves. We will be transferred every two to three years—there’s no preventing that. It’s clear that the previous administration and now current administration know this is a problem. There has, however, been various legislation passed that focuses on the employability of military spouses over the last decade. But we are still not where we need to be as a nation. Although 46 states have enacted some sort of legislation to address this issue, the language is beyond confusing. The University of Minnesota completed an audit that said implementation was uneven. Only 40% of states had information about military spouse licensure on their websites, and most customer service representatives for the states were unaware (Council of Economic Advisers, 2018). It should be noted that the only occupations with true interstate reciprocity agreements are attorneys, EMS personnel, nurses, physical therapists, and physicians. One of the things on my never-ending list is to advocate for social workers to be added to that list. We matter and should have a seat at that table.
The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act was passed in 2017 to assist with the financial burden placed on spouses who have to move and change their licensure. This was a great step, except a year and a half after passage, not one branch of service had implemented a program to reimburse spouses, and zero dollars had been paid out. After mounting pressure from all sides (I may have been in on this with my husband’s own command), each branch began releasing its programs in May of 2019. This was something that military spouse social workers cheered loudly for, as the costs associated with continually updating licensure while moving are burdensome. But getting reimbursed only works if you can get licensed in the first place, so although this was a great step, we need a national licensure reciprocity bill for military spouses to be passed. This will be an issue that I continually advocate loudly for while balancing the rest of the things on my plate.