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The sacrifices of military spouses can sometimes go unnoticed

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The sacrifice of our military personnel is acknowledged and appreciated by virtually all Americans. For example, I cannot recall the last time I attended a ball game where a member of the armed forces was not brought onto the field and rightfully met with a standing ovation.

Most of the time, however, the military spouse is left on the sidelines, unrecognized for his or her sacrifice, courage, and commitment to the nation.

{mosads}Military spouses are truly the unsung hero, often willingly or unwillingly putting their own careers on hold to the detriment of their families’ financial well-being. As Americans, we should right this wrong, and we can.

While U.S. unemployment is at a remarkable low, hitting 4.3 percent in July, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for military spouses, the unemployment rate is a staggering 74 percent. Most of them are women (90 percent), and, of those that are employed, as many as 90 percent  have settled for jobs that they are roundly overqualified for — and for which they are underpaid, according to the Military Spouse JD Network (MSJDN), a non-profit dedicated to supporting military spouse attorneys.

These numbers should shock us, but, unfortunately, they do not, as our country has too often not stood up enough for veterans or those currently serving. Military families are among those who deserve our utmost support. They are notorious nomads, moving to new states every 2-3 years, as mandatory orders are received.

For the spouses, keeping existing jobs or finding new ones is difficult. Despite the rise in telecommuting and remote work, I understand that most jobs simply do not accommodate the military life. It is especially challenging for spouses whose profession requires licensure, such as medicine and the law.

In the legal arena, attorneys need to be admitted to practice in each state they desire to work in. According to the MSJDN, this requirement forced military spouse lawyers to take bar examinations and submit extensive applications for every new state of residence: a costly and time consuming obstacle.

For this reason, nearly 90 percent of military spousal lawyers in the U.S. say that the military lifestyle has impacted their careers, forcing them into a heartbreaking choice between foregoing their chosen career, or forging a life away from their spouse.

In Connecticut, for example, the Connecticut Bar Examining Committee handles the process to admit lawyers to practice. However, until recently, if a member of the armed services from another state received mandatory orders to move to Connecticut, if his or her spouse was a lawyer and moved with the spouse, he or she could not practice law until completing the lengthy process to gain admission to the Connecticut bar.

The financial impact of military nomadism can also be substantial. On average, military spouses and their families relinquish an annual $35,000 in income compared to other lawyers, as discovered by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families. That wage gap could pay for a year or two of college, contribute substantially to the down payment on a house, or be used to pay down law school loans. It is this reality that negatively impacts some of our troops, as they not only have to deal with the stresses of military service, but also are faced with potential financial instability.

Fortunately, since 2012, the MSJDN has been working to solve some of these issues. It has successfully worked state by state to change licensing requirements to establish exceptions to the typical bar admission process for military spouses who are lawyers in good standing.

I am proud that Connecticut became the most recent state to amend its rules to allow military spouse attorneys in good standing to waive in, if their husband or wife in the service receives orders to come to Connecticut. There are 26 other states that have a similar rule, which is significant, but there is no reason it should not be the law in every state. MSJDN is working on it.

But, that is not the end of this great story. The MSJDN recently partnered with Bliss Lawyers, a network connecting Fortune 500 companies with over 20,000 lawyers to help place qualified and experienced military spouse attorneys in temporary and virtual engagements. Companies looking for project-based or remote counsel now have a ready-made new talent pool, which benefits from flexible workspaces, remote work, and freelancers.

Clearly, there are many ways that we can support our troops. The important work of the MSJDN, together with partners like the Connecticut Bar Association and Bliss Lawyers, represent just one example of how simple changes and strategic alliances are making a difference for military families.

Monte Frank is a former president of the Connecticut and the New England Bar Association. He is also a Connecticut delegate to the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates. The opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Twitter @montefrank1.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.


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