Posted by Wendy Witherell
I am a military spouse whose husband just retired from the United States Navy after 30 years of service. Until April of this year I was also a GS-12 Human Resources (Management) Analyst for a naval command in Naples, Italy. I know the “ins” and “outs” of government employment, held a wonderful job, and am now unemployed and struggling to find meaningful work. I broke into a system that is often hard to enter and was let go as soon as my husband had his retirement orders to return to the United States. Overseas spouses are usually “excepted service” which means our jobs are tied to our spouses’. When the military member’s job ends, so does the spouse’s.
I am not eligible for the Priority Placement Program (Program S) because my husband retired. I can qualify for non-competitive appointment under E.O. 12721, which is good for three years after our return stateside, but I might as well be starting from scratch. My status as a GS-12 with over three years of federal employment does not really get me any upper hand. My personal experience working in HR for the government is that there is a real problem in getting appointing officials to recognize spouses as professional, career-driven candidates for positions outside of the administrative field. In fact, that is how I entered the system in the first place, as a low-paid (the lowest salary I had received since the jobs I held while attending college) administrative assistant at the GS-05 level despite my education and work background. I worked my way up from the inside by networking like crazy.
The command for which I worked wanted to keep me on as a civilian employee under my own contract which would have allowed me to keep my job, and my family to stay in Italy. Because of my “excepted service” status there was no way to make this happen. I was an excellent employee there for over three years, and I lost my job because of my status. E.O. 12721 is only good for spouses returning to the United States after working overseas and cannot be used to apply for jobs outside of the U.S. and its territories. It was extremely discouraging that my work experience did not count for anything. Instead, the command ended up hiring a stateside candidate that would take six months to arrive in Naples and pay the extremely high moving expenses associated with getting that employee, when I was already there.
A military spouse is forced to pick up and move frequently which means that finding a professional job/career that pays you in accordance with your education and work experience, and that challenges you, is rare. It frustrates me to no end that even if you are lucky enough to find the job that meets your requirements there is no guarantee that you will hold it because you are a spouse. I would love to find federal employment again, but I know how hard it is to get your foot in that door. I am fortunate that the state of Washington allows spouses who lose their jobs based on their military spouses being transferred to collect unemployment. In the meantime, I continue to look for a job similar to the one I had, but I fear I am going to have to go backwards in my career (again), and work my way up (again). It is a frustrating and humbling experience.