George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School

Licensing and Easing the Burdens of Transition

Written By Summer 2020 M-VETS Student Advisor Patrick Francescon.

When a military recruiter speaks to a potential recruit one of the benefits the recruiter is likely to highlight is the job skills training that they will be given in the military. Though some Military Occupational Specialties (MOS), military jobs, are difficult to pair with a civilian counterpart skill set, many if not most do translate well. A challenge for transitioning service members, regardless of the years of experience they may have in their specialty, is the varying licensing requirements and processes among states.[1]

This problem is not new and both the federal and various state governments have tried to take steps to minimize the cost and time licensing takes veterans. The Chapter 33 Post 9/11 GI Bill does help with the cost of job training and testing, but it does not create a clear and consistent process across the states, nor does it mitigate the time lost to demonstrating mastery already shown in the military.[2] The federal government is, however, working to see which of the various states are most efficiently transitioning veterans into a profession.

In 2011 the federal government enacted section 237 of Veterans’ Opportunity to Work to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 (the VOW Act) which amended section 4114 title 38 of the United States Code.[3] The intent of section 237 was to find the most efficient process to transition veterans into civilian professions with high growth or high worker demand.[4] The study analyzed the licensing process for six states while focusing on three of six job fields in each state.[5] The study found that veterans typically faced three significant barriers attaining appropriate licensing when they transitioned to the barriers to the civilian world:

Veterans who have military training and experience that is equivalent to that of licensed civilians often find that civilian licensing boards are not accustomed to recognizing the military documentation of their training and experience.

Veterans that experience gaps between their military training and experience and civilian requirements may have to participate in duplicative training to attain relevant licensure or certification.

Administrative rules and processes within civilian licensing and credentialing systems may create hurdles for veterans to obtain licensure or certification unrelated to their ability to competently provide professional services to the public. [6]

The study recommended the following steps to reduce the three noted barriers:

To address equivalency challenges, states can assess the equivalency of military training courses and use official documentation to permit veterans with fully or partially equivalent training and experience to sit for civilian licensure examinations or license veterans by endorsement (officially recognize military training and experience to meet civilian requirements).

To address training gaps, states can work with education institutions to set up accelerated programs for veterans that bridge gaps, provide veterans advanced standing in existing programs, or offer bridge courses that prepare veterans to enter existing programs.

Finally, to address administrative or process challenges, states can assess any non-skill related requirements that might disadvantage veterans, such as fees or length of experience, or take steps to make civilian employment pathways friendlier to veterans through concerted outreach to both veterans and prospective employers.[7]

Finally, a key piece of the study generated several key takeaways for states from the implementation of the recommended changes. Most notably communication and coordination are the most vital elements. The governors need to orient several state agencies on the issue, state need to talk and coordinate with each other at multiple levels, national associations of state licensing boards need to create occupation specific curricula for accelerated courses, and as states in the study struggled with keeping up to date on the MOS’s of transitioning veterans the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs need to help coordinate with states so they can stay up to date on what training a veteran has received.[8]

The Department of Labor has followed the 2015 study with two additional studies in 2018 and 2019 that focused on academic credit and gap analysis in a particular job field.[9] While these efforts are helping to move the ball forward it is not sufficient, and it is not all that can be reasonably done. As a surge of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began transitioning out of the military, Congress developed and passed the Post 9-11 GI Bill, which President Bush signed.[10] The benefit has been adjusted as necessary and when that adjustment required changes by states, the federal government was willing to apply the necessary pressure. This is most clearly demonstrated with the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, which forced states to treat veterans as in state students regardless of their actual status.[11] This level of focus and effort should be made in helping veterans transition into occupations not just in going to school.

I recommend the federal government, in coordination with the states, national associations of state licensing board develop a standard set processes for licensing qualified veterans and then motivate the states to adopt that standard. The leverage for change can be found in making various grants and funding for state veterans programs. The processes can be made sufficiently flexible that unique state requirements can be addressed but some form of regularity should exist so a veteran can generally know what to expect as early as when he gets his MOS. Each occupation’s process will vary and two different tracks for fully qualified and partially qualified service members can be developed. Though this is an aggressive solution, our current status is too wasteful and harmful for veterans.

The benefits of a clear process for the veterans are many. They save time and money proving they know a job they have done for the past several years or decade plus, are able to determine which state best fits their needs not which one makes it easiest for them to qualify for their job, and can better plan their time in the military to set them up for success after the military. The state and federal government will save money in minimizing costly benefits and will receive a qualified professional who can continue to be a contributing member of society.

[1] To simplify the article the term licensing is broadly meant to also cover certificates or any other formal state requirements for a person to work in a job field.


[3] 38 U.S.C. section 4114 (a), as amended by the Veterans’ Opportunity to Work to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 (VOW Act), Section 237; Public Law 110-181; H.R. 674, 112th Congress.

[4] Veterans’ Licensing and Certification Demonstration -A Summary of State Experiences, Preliminary Findings, and Cost Estimates, 2, 2015

[5] Id. at 2.

[6] Id. at 2-3

[7] Id. at 3.

[8] Id. at 4-5.

[9] U.S. Department of Labor Announces Funding for Cooperative Agreements to Assist Veterans and Transitioning Servicemembers Attain Occupational Licenses, Department of Labor, April 12, 2019,