WASHINGTON — The Air Force will reimburse spouses up to $500 who must get new certification for professional licenses when their active-duty husband or wife is transferred to a military base in another state, officials said.

The announcement comes two weeks after a WUSA-TV, Washington, investigation revealed that no military branches had repaid spouses a year and a half after Congress told them they should. The program is being put in place immediately.

Among the civilian occupations that must have licensed personnel are certified public accountants, cosmetologists, nurses, real-estate agents and teachers. Some professionals, such as lawyers, have to pay to take another bar exam with no guarantee of passing.

"It’s really frustrating to us. It’s frustrating to the families because they know that this affects their bottom line," said Jen Davis, a government relations deputy director with National Military Family Association, an Air Force veteran herself and a military spouse.

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The husbands and wives are forced to move and find new jobs every two to three years when the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Navy or Marines relocates their spouses. 

"Besides paying for the classes, for the test, and then for my license, I'd also have to join a brokerage," said Amse Heck, who was a real-estate agent in the Philadelphia suburbs before moving to Northern Virginia with her husband. "By the time John and I looked at it, it was several thousand dollars."

Heck's transition was so difficult and expensive that she decided to get out of the business.

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More than 3 in 10 military spouses work in fields that require a license or certification, according to the National Military Family Association.

The Air Force payments will be retroactive to December 2017 when the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2018 was passed, officials said Wednesday. 

Army officials have said money for their spouses is coming. Navy officials previously said they will be rolling out programs by June.

The Marines are still finalizing their policy, and the Coast Guard hasn't responded to inquiries about the law.

Not only are spouses frustrated at the lack of action in most branches of service, but they also are facing a deadline: The law says these reimbursements won't be given after 2022. 

Congress is considering extending the program in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2020. The bill is schedule to go up for debate in June.

Service branch flags at the National Military Family Association offices
Congress promised military spouses reimbursements for re-licensing costs. A year and a half later, the service branches have not paid out any money.
WUSA9