- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 17, 2013

First lady Michelle Obama visited the Naval Academy and the State House in Annapolis Wednesday to bring national attention to a Maryland law aimed at helping veterans gain professional credentials.

Mrs. Obama was on hand when Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the bill, which passed the Maryland General Assembly unanimously earlier this month. The measure attempts to help veterans and their spouses transition from military life to civilian jobs by easing licensing and procedural requirements for more than 70 jobs.

As part of their Joining Forces initiative, the first lady and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joseph R. Biden, have called on governors to help reduce licensing hurdles for veterans and their spouses as a way to curb veteran unemployment, which is higher than the national average.

“I want to say a huge thank you to Gov. O’Malley for his leadership on this effort and to all of the legislators who have made our military families a priority,” she said at the bill-signing ceremony at the Maryland State House. “You all didn’t just ask yourselves, can we do this? You asked yourselves, how can we do it right? how can we serve our men and women in uniform as well as they’ve served us?”

Mrs. Obama stressed that the new state law is not just an effort to repay a debt to servicemen and women, but will provide highly trained and dedicated workers to the state businesses.

“This is about putting highly skilled individuals to work in communities all across Maryland and throughout the country,” she said. “It’s about strengthening our hospitals and our schools and making our businesses more productive and dynamic.”

Maryland is one of 13 states that have passed laws cutting the time it takes for a veteran to to meet licensing and credentialing requirements. Eight of those states included provisions to extend the benefit to military spouses, according to the White House.

Maryland’s law is the most expansive because it also applies to universities, setting up guidelines to exchange military education an training for college credits.

Earlier in the day, Mrs. Obama visited the Naval Academy and met with a number of health care professionals, who spent years taking classes and mastering highly technical skills at military facilities. Before Maryland passed the bill, she noted these same professionals wouldn’t be considered for entry-level civilian jobs in their fields because they don’t have the right civilian credentials.

“All of this is happening after we have already asked so much of our troops. We have asked them to risk their lives in combat, manage dozens of peers, operate complicated machinery, oversee millions of dollars of assets, and save lives on the battlefield,” she said.

“And then, when they come home, we’re also asking them to repeat months of training for skills they’ve already mastered. So we have to ask ourselves: How does this make sense?” 

The same scenario, she said, is true for military spouses who have juggled full-time jobs and their family’s needs and finances while their spouse was deployed oversees.

Mrs. Obama also highlighted efforts at the federal level to help veterans find work and transition to civilian life.

Last summer, President Obama signed the Veterans Skills to Jobs Act, a bill that eases requirements for federally issued licenses, making it easier for manufacturing companies to hire thousands of returning servicemen.

The federal government controls occupational licenses in areas including aerospace, communications, energy and maritime sectors. States, meanwhile, control occupational licensing in many other fields.

In 2011, the president signed another bill providing businesses that hire unemployed veterans a tax credit of $5,600 per veteran and businesses that hire veterans with service-connected disabilities a credit of $9,600 per veteran.

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