Michelle Obama got a boost Tuesday from her home state of Illinois in her campaign to make it easier for military spouses to advance their own careers amid the frequent moves that come with life in a military family.
The first lady attended a bill signing ceremony at an Illinois National Guard armory in Chicago during which Gov. Pat Quinn made the state the 23rd in the nation to have legislation supporting Obama's efforts. The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, makes it easier for veterans and their spouses to transfer out-of-state occupational licenses so they can stay on the job in professions like nursing and teaching after relocating.
Speaking to a few hundred uniformed service members and their families at Tuesday's ceremony, Obama said she was moved to act after hearing the stories of military wives and husbands "who simply want to provide for their families and get back to the careers they love."
"The story of the teacher who has moved 12 times, taking odd jobs to pay the bills," she said. "The story of the social worker whose skills go unused as she waits months for paperwork to clear. The accountants, the psychologists, the real-estate agents, child care providers and so many others."
"But far too often they're stuck in a web of bureaucracy," she said.
Nationally, there are 100,000 military spouses who work in jobs that require state licenses or certification, according to the first lady's office. The issue affects people in dozens of professions, including teachers, nurses, speech pathologists, dental hygienists, physical therapists and emergency medical technicians. In Illinois, there are more than 16,000 military families, according to the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs.
"I cannot tell you the number of months I've spent waiting around for licensing paperwork to catch up so that I can continue with my own nursing career," said Courtney Sensenig of Chicago, who has moved eight times because of her husband's Navy career.
Sensenig, who is licensed in three states and specializes in obstetrics, said many of her friends have similar stories.
"Some find the process so cumbersome and difficult that they give up and decide not to work in their profession," she said. "This adds so much hardship to our lives. It's also a loss ... to our community."
The first lady and Vice President Joe Biden's wife, Jill Biden, have been pushing since February for more states to enact legislation to make it easier for military families that move frequently. When they started, 11 states had such laws. Now, 23 do and seven more have legislation pending.
Obama challenged other states to take action.
"I ask you to help us to finish this job," she said.
In the audience, Petty Officer 1st Class Augustine Kanu, 28, based at Naval Station Great Lakes, applauded the effort but hoped something similar could be done to help those like him who are struggling to finish college amid frequent moves and an inability to transfer all of their course credits.
"Every time I move, I have to almost start all over," he said of his business management studies, which he now expects to finish by October.