The Sideline Dilemma

Nancy Cook Christian               

While we choose our lives as military spouses and understand the challenges that we face in the constant upheaval of our house and families, many of us do not choose to sit quietly on the sidelines simply supporting our spouses’ careers.  We choose to be professionals, academics, parents, and so much more, yet we face an often insurmountable dilemma: how will we succeed in our career when we are living this military life?  Even though I have been living through obstacles in my quest for a mental health position, I am still surprised at how daunting it all can be.

Recently, a report from the 2014 Military Officers Association of America noted that the unemployment rate of active duty military wives is at a staggering 90%, far exceeding the unemployment rate of the civilian population.  Constant career changes, lack of academic stability and having to restart new employment in a new location with no network have created a workforce that struggles to reach their fullest potential.  Even within the military complex, the military spouse is looked at as transient and therefore not hirable. 

Within the mental health field, things get even more discouraging. The need for clinical hours, changes in state licensure requirements and the lack of support within the military mental health field create a gloomy picture for the military spouse to achieve his or her professional goals.  My reality is one that I share with many of my fellow military spouses. We have many obstacles that impede our ability to work and become licensed in the field.  This is the crux of the sideline dilemma.

I went into my master’s program with the desire to help military families deal with the real life stressors of constant deployments and the impact of over a decade of war.  This need has grown during my 19 years as a military spouse of a flyer and my 8 years of volunteering at the Joint Base Andrews Fisher House.  My experience makes me a natural fit in any military environment since I understand and share the same customs, language and day to day stressors of the population I am willing to serve.  I entered  into the mental health field with a fire to help my neighbors and family; my school seemed a perfect fit for my mobile lifestyle. It was affordable and accessible. I was able to receive my MA in Professional Counseling. This was wonderful. But then the reality hit: it was not CACREP accredited. This is something I found prohibits me from entering into an LPC position in the VA and many other military medical centers.  When I began trying to get an internship, this became an even bigger obstacle - no programs on the base that we were stationed at would even call me back for an interview. Not one.  Not once did I ever believe that they would turn down free work from someone that has an intimate knowledge of the population but they did. 

Still, I went on and found an amazing internship within the County mental health department and was able to graduate from my program.  I was excited to finally join the ranks of professionals in the field instead of being a student. Upon completion of my internship, I quickly started applying for my license and future jobs.  Once again, the bureaucratic wheels ran slow and the paper process was stalled with technical glitches that delayed my board exams for nine months.  I went into the test nervous yet excited.  I passed.

In retrospect, the constant “no’s” and “unqualified” were getting to me and making me and my husband doubt my path towards being a mental health therapist. The bad news is that I find myself unqualified for many jobs due to my degree and lack of CACREP accreditation.  I keep telling myself that this is temporary, but the 90% unemployment rate rings like a death knell to my dreams to help the military families that so desperately need to heal. 

My one saving grace has been online support and network groups like the Military Spouse Behavioral Health Clinicians (MSBHC) that share their struggles and accomplishments on their Facebook page.  Spouses stationed in every corner of the world can help guide and support each other through networking and news within our field.  The Founder, Dr. Ingrid Yee, is spearheading many initiatives to help military spouses have better transitions in the mental health professions.  Licensure reciprocity, accreditation and supervision assistance are some of the many things that she is lobbying congress to change for our spouses.  We see the desperate need for mental health therapists in the military and we want to be in the forefront to heal those wounds.   

For me, I share her fight and do not wish to sit quietly while others struggle for those changes.  I too, want to help spearhead the changes that are needed both within the profession and for military families.  For me, the stress comes from internal as well as external sources: I see the suicide and divorce rates skyrocket within my ranks and I am even more convinced that I’m on the right path.  Even if the sidelines have a huge trench in front of me, I know I and my fellow spouses will keep trudging up that hill towards our dreams.   

Military Spouse Employment: The Buzz Topic!

Vicky Hallberg

As military spouses it seems like we are always getting ready for change: change of address, change of schools, change of social support and perhaps, change in employment. It is that last category that I will explore in greater detail. The informed spouse may already be “plugged in” to a variety of resources to ease that transition but my aim is to bring these means to the forefront in hopes that even more spouses will benefit.  Let’s explore how we got here and where the movement is heading.

So how did we get here?

Before the age of Internet, there was no immediate connectivity with like-minded individuals in a particular career field. Spouses accepted a PCS, arrived in a new town and sought job opportunities from the local paper or by word of mouth. Sometimes they landed a job in an area that interested them, other times they took what was available. While the Military Spouse Preference (MSP) program has been in effect for almost thirty years (1986), it is limited in qualifiers and restricted to only a few candidates. Fast forward, however, to the new millennium and we see the explosion of a variety of social media tools that give us access to so much more. This was a game changer in employment opportunities for all people, not just military spouses. Uploading resumes, attending online workshops and creating professional profiles helped society as a whole present their “best qualified” self to the world.

Assessing the climate

Immediate access and instantaneous feedback allowed for widespread use of surveys/questionnaires. Of particular interest to us was the Department of Defense’s (DOD) first Active Duty Spouse Survey (ADSS) in 2006. The recent charts compare data from the 2006, 2008 and 2012 surveys. In addition, the first Blue Star Families Military Family Lifestyle Survey came out in 2009; they currently post the results of their fifth edition while actively seeking completion of 2015’s survey. The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), in collaboration with the Institute of Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University, also implemented a survey to specifically assess employment challenges: the Military Spouse Employment Report. All of these assessments are great climate tools and help shed light on the issues currently felt by military spouses; the goal for each is to recognize challenges and implement change.  

The Movement

It’s not surprising that military families have a lot of stressors; but perhaps now, more than ever, focus on spouse education and employment is crucial. The military is downsizing, benefits are being revisited/reduced and active duty members are facing effects due to both the physical and psychological stress of a 14-year war. Military spouses are sensing a need to be ready and marketable and therefore it’s essential these needs are recognized and addressed. No wonder that education, finances and employment are highlighted concerns on all spouse surveys. Spouses have the desire for education but not the financial readiness, spouses want to work but have concerns with childcare or limited job availability and sometimes, spouses are working but are overqualified for the position. Other concerns include the portability of licenses across state lines (24% of the respondents from the ADSS reported a greater than 10 month wait) and other issues with obtaining training credentials to meet state requirements.


Enter the Department of Defense (DOD) to establish a solution that would enable military spouses to balance their roles as a spouse with their dreams of a career. In 2011 the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) program emerged. As part of the SECO initiative, the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP) began connecting spouses with corporations willing to recognize their diverse talents. Key players of this push included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the White House’s Joining Forces outreach program and the DOD. In fact, as of right now, MSEP holds over 250 partnerships in support of spouse career potentials!

What now?

So there was a shift…a perceptual shift in how spouses were perceived…an acknowledgment that spouses are educated, driven and not to be minimized based on how many times they have moved or based on whom they happened to have married! A quick search online will yield a multitude of hiring fairs and organizations in favor of seeing spouses succeed! Time will tell if these programs will serve their intended purpose. We are still only a few years beyond their inception and there has not been enough feedback from such opportunities to state their effectiveness. Right now we need to raise awareness of these programs, encourage discussion and take the surveys intended to assess our lifestyle. Look to leaders in the movement: SECO, MSEP, Military Spouse Corporate Career Network (MSCCN), Blue Star Families, the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, and MOAA for your next step!

Web pages tagged: The Official Homepage of the United States Army Civilian Personnel:, Military OneSource:, Blue Star Families:, The Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF):, The White House’s Joining Forces:, The Military Spouse Corporate Career Network (MSCCN): and the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA):















Our Shared Experience

Our Shared Experience

"As military spouses, we know all too well that there are so many great things about our life, but there are also the challenges. The beauty of this life is that we are blessed with family wherever we go. From duty station to duty station and even online, we can find family. We meet fellow spouses and service members on base housing, at the commissary, at our local churches, in our communities and even online. Because we move so much and have to adapt so readily, we become adept at making “family” everywhere we go."