Here’s What the NDAA Does for Military Spouse Employment


Like most Americans, military families often rely on two incomes to make ends meet. But military spouses face humbling challenges when it comes to employment: like PCSs that move military families over state lines, overseas, or to remote places, leading to careers that can’t progress. Trying to finish an education, find a job, or build a career through all of that is difficult — and expensive. It’s no wonder military spouses experience a staggering 24% unemployment rate and even higher rates of underemployment.

The Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (FY20 NDAA) made significant changes to address these issues.

Expansion of Re-licensure Reimbursement Pilot Program

More than 30% of employed military spouses work in fields that require licensing or certification — nurses, teachers, mental health professionals, even doctors and lawyers. Recertification is expensive — often more than $500 each time — and for military families moving every few years, those costs add up.

NMFA has been pushing Congress for years to help military families defray these costs when they’re the result of a military-mandated move. The FY18 NDAA established a pilot program to authorize reimbursement of re-licensure expenses up to $500 to military spouses following a PCS. The pilot was designed to operate for five years, but implementation was delayed by 18 months and, once implemented, the program still didn’t cover the full cost of many licenses.

The FY20 NDAA fixes that with an expansion of the re-licensure reimbursement pilot program. The program will increase reimbursements up to a total of $1,000 per move and it will be extended through 2024, offsetting the delay in rolling out the program and giving the Department of Defense (DoD) the opportunity to build a more comprehensive assessment of the need for this reimbursement. The program has also been expanded  to include spouses of all uniformed services, including the Commissioned Corps of the United States Public Health Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Expansion of My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA)

The MyCareer Advancement Account (MyCAA) is a DoD scholarship program that offers eligible spouses up to $4,000 in tuition assistance. Currently, MyCAA is limited to spouses of service members of certain ranks (E-1 to E-5, W-1 and W-2, and O-1 and O-2) who serve in the Army, Air Force, Navy, or Marine Corps, and can only be used for certain associate’s programs, professional credentials, licenses, and certifications.

The FY20 NDAA expands coverage to all associate’s degrees, extends eligibility to Coast Guard spouses, and ensures continued coverage for spouses already enrolled in a program and using MyCAA when their spouse promotes out of eligibility rank.

NMFA will continue to push for expansion of MyCAA to include eligibility for ranks up to E-6 and 0-3, as well as coverage for the supervision hours required for licenses and certifications.

Support for Occupational Interstate Compacts

The FY20 NDAA includes large portions of the PCS Act, improving occupational license portability for military spouses through interstate compacts.

Currently, there are five occupational interstate compacts — for nurses, psychologists, physicians, EMS workers, and physical therapists. Military spouses working in these fields are able to designate a “home state” for their license and then use the “privilege to practice” provision provided by the compact to work in any other compact-member state without having to get a new license. Not only does this defray the cost of paying for new licenses with each PCS, it also helps in the job search — military spouses can start looking for work even before a  PCS, knowing confidently that there won’t be barriers to getting relicensed in the next location.

Improved Residency Rules for Business Owners

There’s good news for military spouse business owners.

Military spouses who own businesses have been forced to re-register their business in a new state every time they PCS — a long and expensive process. Now, they’ll be able to claim one state as the home of their business, supporting seamless transitions through military-mandated moves.

The Veterans Benefits and Transition Act of 2018 amended the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) to allow military spouses to claim the state of residency of their service member regardless of the date of the marriage — for tax and voting purposes.

The FY20 NDAA amends residency laws so military spouses can now claim the same state of residency as their service member for any purpose, to include their businesses.

The unique demands of military life make it hard for military spouses to pursue their educational goals and professional aspirations. While NMFA advocates on the Hill for military spouses, we also provide funding for school, certifications, licenses, supervision hours, and business costs through our scholarship program. Funding isn’t limited to tuition, and we accept applications year-round. Learn more and apply here.


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