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Professional license reciprocity for military in Missouri, Illinois helps, but barriers remain

Soldiers at Fort Leonard Wood graduating Basic Combat Training in May 2021. Missouri and Illinois each have laws that offer military members and their spouses faster ways to get professional licenses, but that doesn't always mean a faster way to employment.
Dawn Arden
Fort Leonard Wood
Soldiers at Fort Leonard Wood graduating Basic Combat Training in May. Missouri and Illinois each have laws that offer military members and their spouses faster ways to get professional licenses, but that doesn't always mean a faster way to employment.

Legislation in Illinois and Missouri cuts down the time it takes for a member of the military or their spouse to obtain a professional license, but only removes one of the barriers they face in finding jobs.

Illinois joined a growing number of states in 2019, when Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a law to help military members and their spouses get professional licenses and jobs more quickly. Missouri passed a similar law in 2020.

The original Illinois law required the state’s Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to review and grant license applications to a military member or spouse within 60 days of receiving the application. An update in 2021 cut that timeframe to 30 days.

“This really prioritized military service people and their spouses, ensuring they get licenses quickly,” said Mario Treto, the department’s secretary.

The law also established a military liaison at the department, whose sole job is to help service members and their partners through the licensing process in Illinois. In the two years since the law took effect, more than 1,000 military members and their spouses have received assistance with a professional license application in the state.

Jessica Manfre, whose husband is a member of the Coast Guard stationed in the Metro East, found the newly created military liaison helpful when she applied for a social work license in 2020.

“The liaison was wonderful,” she said. “He responded the same day, every time I emailed with questions, concerns even if he couldn’t fix the issue.”

But Manfre said she wound up frustrated with her experience in getting a professional license in Illinois. Nearing her graduation in May 2020 from her master’s program in social work, Manfre said she compiled the materials she needed for a professional license in both Illinois and Missouri

“As soon as I graduated, I went to Missouri and had my license in hand in five days,” she said. “I didn’t get my Illinois license probably for another month and a half after that.”

While both laws cut months off the application process, Manfre said, they only alleviate one of the barriers military spouses like her face when finding employment, something that is harder for military families because they move across the country every few years.

While Manfre was eventually able to find a job, unemployment and underemployment remain a persistent issue for military spouses. A 2020 Hiring our Heroes report found 32% of military spouses are unemployed, which increased to 45% in 2020, Manfre said.

“When we are compared side-by-side with our peers, education wise, we are above,” she said. “We have master's [degrees], we are certified in things but we’re just sitting, and yes underemployed as well.”

Manfre said she appreciates the steps states are taking to help military members and their spouses. But she laments how the license reciprocity laws across the country fall short of their main goal of getting people like her into solid jobs.

“It’s misleading,” she said. “No matter where we move, we’re going to be treated the same. It’s wonderful what Illinois has done, but there isn’t a military liaison in Missouri.”

Treto acknowledged his department can do more to connect service members and their spouses to job opportunities.

“As an agency, we’re looking to assist people with the licensure component,” he said. “But we’re also able to refer individuals to other state agencies that might be able to assist with job placement.”

Treto points to Illinois’ Department of Public Health as an example. The most popular license applications are for nursing, dentists, surgeons and physicians, and his department could do more to connect those applicants with opportunities the health department is aware of, he said.

“The agency is committed to ensuring that military families transition into the state with ease,” Treto said. “That’s something that’s a high priority.”

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program: Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. 

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.

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