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Stars and Stripes Europe reached out to military spouses to get their thoughts about several topics impacting military life. We received 100 responses from the spouses of six military branches, active duty and reserve, who have been dependents from just a few months to more than 20 years.

These spouses are currently stationed at locations all over the world, with 40 percent being OCONUS (outside the continental U.S.). This month we are talking about a hot topic in the military spouse community: employment. It was such a complicated topic that we broke the discussion into two parts. Click here to see last week’s article which covered job applications and job satisfaction.

This week we are talking about circumstances and decisions related to military spouse employment and working OCONUS.

Military Life Impact on Work

Whether it’s an OCONUS or rural location, the decision to work can be out of your hands. Air Force spouse Liz E. found herself unemployed after having their first child: “I was fully employed before military life where I used my two bachelor’s degrees. Since leaving our home, I worked at our first station and was underemployed. Then I got pregnant and haven’t been able to work since, but even being underemployed.”

Sometimes the non-military parent stays home by choice. Air Force spouse Amanda B. wrote about her privilege in staying home with the kids: “My kids need to know someone is always there for them since the military member can’t always be, not by choice but by requirement to their service. I am that constant in my children’s lives. I have sacrificed my own career and job ambitions for them and I’m lucky I had that option because lots of military families cannot afford to have a parent stay home.”

Some spouses choose not to let the military life impact their career. Army spouse Kelly W. just makes it work; she has a career that can move with them. “I had my career before we got married and we both agreed neither career would be put above the other and we’ve made it work ever since.” Navy spouse Ryan D. noted how they kept their career. “I stopped moving 14 years ago in order to build a career. The stress and other factors that come with that decision make the life harder, but at the same time I wouldn’t give up my career.”

Working OCONUS

Working outside of the continental United States can add more issues to the already complicated issue of military spouse employment. Transferring professional licenses across states is difficult; transferring professional licenses across countries can be nearly impossible. Army spouse Michelle G. faced difficulties with their move to Australia: “It would have been very expensive and time-consuming to get my professional license transferred to Australia. We are also in a remote area with very little job prospects. It has been hard losing that part of my identity during this move.”

Other issues include childcare, having only one vehicle and SOFA compliance. Finding childcare within a system that is already overbooked and overwhelmed is challenging. Many spouses cannot bring remote jobs from the States with them due to SOFA (Status of Forces Agreements) in various locations. While some places such as the U.K. make it fairly easy for spouses to work off of the installation, some locations make it nearly impossible to work off-post. Stars and Stripes recently released an article about the struggles of OCONUS spouses, “Overseas and under the poverty line: The system that keeps so many military spouses abroad unemployed.

However, all hope is not lost for military spouses hoping to work overseas. While they are fewer than in the States, there can be opportunities for spouses to work on-installation through GS and NAF positions. Italy has just announced that military spouses will be allowed to telework with U.S. employers. There has also been some headway in the world of military spouses bringing their federal government remote positions with them when they move overseas. These civil service workers can potentially become “DETOs.” According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management,

A DETO [Domestic Employees Teleworking Overseas] is a U.S. Government Civil Service or Foreign Service employee assigned to a domestic position who is approved to telework from an overseas location for a limited period of time. Although the domestic employee is not assigned or detailed to the overseas location, the DETO’s duty station will be temporarily changed to reflect the overseas alternate worksite for the duration of the DETO arrangement. A DETO arrangement is a limited-duration workplace flexibility option that an agency may consider to allow U.S. Government employees who are assigned to domestic positions to accomplish the duties of their position from a foreign country. DETOs may be Foreign Service or Civil Service employees….

Section 6202 of the Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (Public Law 117–81, December 27, 2021) requires all Federal agencies to “establish a policy enumerating the circumstances under which employees may be permitted to temporarily perform work requirements and duties from approved overseas locations where there is a related Foreign Service assignment pursuant to an approved Domestically Employed Teleworking Overseas (DETO) agreement.” The language “related Foreign Service assignment” refers to the overseas assignment of an employee’s spouse by U.S. Government orders.

While the establishment of DETOs does not eradicate the issues of spouses working overseas, it does have the potential to become very beneficial. Also, the Institute for Veterans and Military Families produced a helpful SOFA “Portability Roadmap” to help spouses navigate working overseas.

Military spouse employment is a complicated issue in the military community. Military life in many ways still attempts to reflect the military way of life of the 20th century, according to many spouses. It will be interesting to see how military spouse employment changes in the upcoming years. Come back next month when we talk about the joys and fears of military life.

The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of the employees of Stars and Stripes.

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