FORT MEADE, Md. -- Last summer, Army spouse Kamyar Haghayeghi left his job as an internal medicine physician in Maryland to follow his wife to San Antonio, Texas.
Haghayeghi needed to relicense to practice medicine at the University of Texas-San Antonio. The licensing costs for an exam and administrative fees totaled more than $1,200.
To add to the couple's stress, Haghayeghi's wife, Capt. Jennifer Loftsgaarden, learned she was pregnant with their first child shortly before the relocation from Bethesda to Brooke Army Medical Center. After beginning the permanent-change-of-station process in July, she heard about the Army's Spouse Licensure Reimbursement Program and quickly filed the necessary paperwork to receive $500 in reimbursements.
"I know a lot of dual professional couples in civilian-military marriages that do have to incur some pretty surprising costs for their relicensure during a move," said Loftsgaarden, a physical medicine rehabilitation physician at Brooke Army Medical Center. "And I think that it's a really awesome benefit to help those families and it really shows that the Army really does care about their people."
Under the National Defense Authorization Act 2020, civilian spouses can now receive up to $1,000 in reimbursements for relicensing costs during permanent change-of-station relocations. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy signed the new Army directive Jan.16, which increases the reimbursable amount from the $500 Loftsgaarden and Haghayeghi received.
The 2018 NDAA required each military branch to reimburse spouses up to $500 for licensure and certification costs. Congress increased that number to $1,000 in the 2020 authorization.
Before the program's inception, Army spouses previously had to shoulder licensure costs themselves.
"Army life can be kind of tough. You get moved every couple of years and if you have a working spouse and that spouse requires a license to do his or her job, then every time you move, you frequently have to relicense," said Christine Traugott, assistant deputy for child and youth school services and education for the assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs. "You have to get licensed in the state in which you're practicing … Those costs can add up over time, and they're a barrier to spouses being able to find quick employment."
Civilian military spouses like Haghayeghi require a professional recertification or relicensure when moving to another state, as each state has different requirements and certifications. The added costs can be an additional burden to military families on frequent PCS moves. Those expenses could add up over the course of a career.
The Army has also widened the eligibility options. Spouses who held a professional license at a previous duty station but chose not to renew their license at succeeding duty station are also eligible now for reimbursement.
"We are giving commanders and members greater flexibility to support these required additional expenses they incur," said Larry Lock, military compensation chief for the Army.
Angie Rodriguez-Torres, branch chief for pay and allowances, said that couples who have filed for the program average about $142 in reimbursable expenses with fewer than a dozen who have incurred expenses greater than $500.
Lock said the program is currently in a two-year pilot and will later determine the appropriate reimbursable amount.
Soldiers that PCS outside of the continental United States with spouses relocating to a designated state are also eligible for the program. In addition, the Army Emergency Relief program, or AER, may also be able to assist with funding for some licensing expenses, officials said.
The changes coincide with the Army's focus on prioritizing its people, especially its spouses and military families. Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville implemented that focus which has been echoed by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston.
"It's critically important for (spouses) to be able to get to work as quickly as possible after a PCS move," Grinston said. "The increase in available funds for reimbursement in this year's NDAA will go a long way to help."