MARYLAND

Veterans Full Employment Act: Michelle Obama praises Md. bill for veterans

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - First lady Michelle Obama praised a Maryland bill that helps veterans and their spouses find jobs, describing it Wednesday as one of the best laws in the country aimed at helping military personnel and their families.

The Veterans Full Employment Act, signed Wednesday by Gov. Martin O'Malley at a ceremony attended by the first lady, makes it easier for veterans and military spouses to transfer their professional licenses for occupations like nursing or teaching when they move to Maryland.

The legislation requires Maryland's public colleges and universities to develop policies to award academic credit for relevant military training and education. It also ensures that veterans who apply for occupational and professional licenses get credit for their military training.

"It's about strengthening our hospitals and our schools and making our businesses more productive and dynamic," Obama said.

Service members and veterans in some states face the burden of repeating their military education or training in order to receive industry certifications and state occupational licenses. Frequent moves also can be a significant problem for military spouses who have to get new licenses in each state for professions like education and health care.

The Maryland law aims to remedy that problem and ensure skilled workers aren't without jobs or underemployed.

"It's about strengthening our hospitals and our schools and making our businesses more productive and dynamic," Obama said.

The first lady has made military families one of her top priorities. Her Joining Forces initiative, co-sponsored by Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, connects service members, veterans and military spouses with resources to find jobs.

In February, Michelle Obama and Jill Biden addressed the National Governors Association and urged the nation's governors to find ways to make it easier for veterans to transition to civilian careers.

Since then, 13 states have passed legislation that streamlines the process for service members and veterans to earn civilian credentials and licenses, and eight states have passed legislation that expedites professional licenses or certifications for military spouses when they move to a new state.

"We're here for a very important reason and that is to do right by our veterans and our military families who have done so very, very much for us," O'Malley said.

Jennifer Pilcher, a speech therapist who is married to a lieutenant commander in the Navy, praised the legislation. After six moves, she has faced the hurdles of getting a professional license in a different state. She ended up starting a company called MilitaryOneClick to help military families.

"I love the fact that our state is taking the lead, like the first lady said, with all three issues," said Pilcher, who lives in Davidsonville. "It's like they're finally getting it right. If the rest of the states can follow the lead, then this will be a great thing for our whole country."

Before the bill signing, Obama met with service members at the U.S. Naval Academy. The first lady spoke with three sailors in the health care industry about the new measure and how it will help them in their transition.

Obama also addressed a large group of midshipmen in the academy's dining hall before joining Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, Commandant of Midshipmen Robert Clark and other midshipmen at a table.

"It's important that you know that you have a president and a first lady that will keep working to ensure that the country serves you as you serve us," Obama said.

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