Questions raised about military spouse law _lowres

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- Nancy Grade, of DeRidder, after receiving permission Friday to practice as a mental health counselor in Louisiana. Her husband, U.S. Air Force Major Erich Grade, was transferred to Fort Polk from Texas and the Licensed Professional Counselors Board of Examiners initially refused to grant her a license in this state. Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David LaCerte, right, helped Mrs. Grade appeal the decision, arguing that she should have been licensed under a recent state law that allows reciprocity for military spouses.

It took five months after her husband transferred to Fort Polk, but Louisiana agreed Friday to issue a license and allow her to work in this state.

“I lost five months of my career,” said Nancy Grade, a mental health counselor who now lives in DeRidder. “I never thought this would happen when I moved to Louisiana.”

She is one of thousands of military spouses whom a new law was supposed to help but have been denied because of the way boards in Louisiana have interpreted the directive, said David LaCerte, secretary for the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs who appeared at Grade’s appeal of the Nov. 21 denial by the Louisiana Licensed Professional Counselors Board of Examiners.

LaCerte argued that Grade was licensed in Texas so she should have been granted a license in Louisiana under a 2012 law that allows reciprocity for military spouses, particularly when licensing requirements are similar.

At the appeal hearing, Gerra Perkins, a member of the board, said Texas and Louisiana use different terminology for their courses and practical experience. The board found that some of the Texas courses and internships were compatible with the standard set in this state.

The board then approved Grade’s license.

“I liked the outcome but not the reasoning,” LaCerte said after the hearing. That Grade had a valid Texas license should have been enough to grant her, as a military spouse, the permit in Louisiana.

Grade was licensed by Texas in October. Her husband, U.S. Air Force Maj. Erich Grade, then was transferred to Fort Polk.

But the interpretations of the new law by licensing boards, not just this one, LaCerte said, is keeping many spouses from obtaining the permissions they need when their spouses are transferred by the military to bases in Louisiana, like NSA New Orleans Navy Base, Fort Polk and Barksdale Air Force Base.

LaCerte said veterans are looking at possibly tightening the law’s language in the upcoming legislative session.

After the appeal hearing, Mary Alice Olsan, the board’s executive director, released a statement on behalf of the appointed members, saying the examiners complied with the state law, known as Act 276.

“Licensure requirements vary significantly from state to state,” the statement said. “Therefore, the Board reviews an individual applicant’s academic background, supervised clinical experience, and passage of a national exam (based on documentation the applicant provides) in an effort to determine substantial equivalency. All applicants have the right to appeal the decision of the Board.”

Grade appealed the November denial on March 3.

Richard O’Brien, of Baton Rouge, is a member of the Military Order of the Purple, a group of veterans wounded in combat that pushed the legislation in 2012 to cover not just members of the military but their spouses too. Transfers in the military are frequent and it’s not fair that a spouse should not have to suspend his or her career when a move is ordered, O’Brien said, adding that he would be at the State Capitol when the Legislature convenes April 13.

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