Regulations are hurting veterans’ ability to transition into civilian life in North Carolina, a study by the General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division says. 

The division recommended reforming occupational licensing barriers that prevent veterans from working. It proposed draft legislation that would help veterans and military spouses qualify for an occupational license with military training or out-of-state licenses. 

The draft bill would create a 30-day expedited process for veterans and military spouses who applied for a license. It would also require licensing boards to report the number of military applicants accepted and rejected. 

The chairs of the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee didn’t say whether they would sponsor the draft bill in the General Assembly, but co-chair Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, said he strongly supports the reform. 

North Carolina boasts the seventh-largest number of veterans in the nation. Some 707,000 veterans and 86,000 active duty military spouses live in N.C. The state is home to six military bases, including the world’s largest, Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, with some 52,000 active-duty troops.

“North Carolina prides itself on being a military friendly state,” said Horn. “Military training … in most cases has a civilian application. Especially given the labor shortage we now have, we should do everything we can as a state to enhance the transition from the military environment to the civilian environment.”

That transition isn’t always smooth, and occupational licensure can make it harder, veterans’ advocates say. Applicants can’t work while waiting for their application to be processed, so they lose potential income. 

“It can be time-consuming and costly to have a license recognized in a new state,” the report says. “For military spouses, frequent moves between states often mean reapplying for licensure every few years. With every move, the reapplication process results in lost income for the family and lost tax revenue.”

It can also harm veterans’ careers. Some 37% of employed veterans considered themselves underemployed, according to a 2017 survey conducted by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. And military spouses earn an estimated $12,374 less than their civilian counterparts each year, costing them nearly $190,000 over a 20-year military career. 

“Military veterans and their spouses face unique challenges in obtaining occupational licensure,” says the study. “These barriers come at a cost to both transitioning service members and to taxpayers.”

Advocates hope to free veterans from those regulatory barriers by creating an expedited application process.

“Entrepreneurship is an alternative to employment. A lot of veterans won’t end up being employed correctly, or underemployed. Or they don’t transition well to corporate America,” said Kyle Winder, N.C. Veteran’s Business Association president. “Entrepreneurship is a big support tool we can offer to veterans. So, anything we can do to reduce the barriers to entry for veterans in N.C. would be a positive step.”

Creating an expedited application process would tackle the last recommended “best practice” from the U.S. Department of Defense. North Carolina already provides temporary or provisional licensure for military spouses, and it allows licensure by endorsement. But it hasn’t addressed the third best practice recommendation — yet. 

“Those are all reasons that we should consider this bill, and reasons we should pass this bill,” Horn said. “Sometimes it takes legislation to change the law, and allow this to happen. … We need to ensure that this can happen in N.C.”