Karen Pence Wants to Improve Spouse Employment Opportunities
Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, says she is working to elevate the status of military spouses and to making a difference with spouse employment opportunities.
“Employment is the issue that we focus on the most in our office,” Pence said in an interview during the AUSA Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to make actual change that’s going to help you get a job, but I do know that I can elevate the status of the military spouse just by speaking about them all the time everywhere I go.” One of the issues she is tackling is the bureaucracy spouses face when they move to another state with their soldier and find the license they hold in their career field is not reciprocated. Each state establishes its own licensing rules, and there are individual occupational boards and regulatory agencies that make it difficult to move around.
Pence said she became aware of the issue when she was first lady of Indiana because it was an initiative that had been promoted by the Obama administration. But she was “surprised that it wasn’t as far along as I thought it was.” She acknowledged that it’s a “constantly changing issue,” that sometimes comes down to the level of knowledge of the front-line staff in the state DoD liaison office.
In February, when the National Governors Association holds its annual meeting in Washington, D.C., Pence said she will meet with several governors to “let them know this is still an issue in a lot of your states. A lot of us think that it’s been solved, but it’s an ongoing thing. I want to remind them that a lot of times it’s the people who are answering the phone,” Pence said. “More than anything, we just want them to know we want to come alongside the military families in their state.”
Pence pointed to other Trump administration initiatives aimed at helping military spouses in earlier remarks at the annual meeting during a military family forum on spouse employment and financial readiness initiatives. She noted that the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act requires DoD to reimburse service members for relicensing and recertification costs up to $500 incurred by a spouse when their soldier has a permanent change of station.
She explained that an executive order signed by President Donald Trump in May directs federal agencies to recommend ways to improve license portability and remove barriers to the employment of military spouses. Further, she said, DoD has teamed with private companies that can help with employment opportunities, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring our Heroes program aims to hire 100,000 military spouses in a three-year national call to action for U.S. companies and businesses.
As the mother of a Marine officer, daughter of a former Air Force airman and daughter-in-law of a former soldier who served in the Korean War, Pence said she is familiar with the challenges of military life.
“I want you all to know that the Trump administration values our soldiers and their families,” Pence said in her closing remarks. “We know that spouses are the backbone of military readiness. We know that if military spouses aren’t happy, then the military service member is probably going to get out of the service sooner and we don’t want that to happen. So it’s important to take care of our spouses and their children so that our service members can stay focused on their mission and remain ready to fight and protect our freedoms. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”
-Gina Cavallaro, Senior Staff Writer, AUSA