National survey of military families details stressors, successes
Effects of deployment on children, military lifestyle uncertainty, and changes to pay and benefits top issues for today’s military families
Blue Star Families, the largest chapter-based military families support organization in the country, today announced the results of its fifth annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey. The key concerns identified by the responding military service members, veterans, and family members were pay/benefits and changes to retirement benefits. Other issues included military spouse employment, the effects of deployment on children, military lifestyle uncertainty, the military civilian divide, and the VA disability backlog. Additionally, this year’s survey also revealed information on financial readiness, caregiving, mental health, transition, and the impact of downsizing on the military community.
The Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University (IVMF) provided research and analysis support to this year’s annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey. Launched in February 2014, the comprehensive survey gathered input from over 6,200 military-connected people around the world, including veterans and service members, and their spouses, parents, and siblings.
“A nuanced understanding of our military community is incredibly important to helping policy makers, and private and non-profit sector leaders support service members and their families. With the data from the Blue Star Families Survey, we can better design programming and craft policies to effectively sustain our military,” said Dr. Debbie Bradbard, Director of Research and Policy for Blue Star Families. “Thank you to the 6,200 veterans, service and family members who participated in the survey. Your feedback is invaluable and will help make a positive difference in programming that directly affects you and your families.”
Pay/Benefits: Changes to military pay and benefits were the top issues for spouses, service members, and veterans. When service members and spouses (both active duty and veteran) were asked about their confidence level in receiving various benefits, 32% reported they were confident they would receive VA home loan benefits and GI Bill benefits. Conversely, pay benefits (i.e., pension), disability pay benefits, and health care post-retirement had the lowest percentages of respondents expressing “very confident” ratings. Over one-third of active duty and spouse respondents (36%) agreed that the cost of rent was higher than their Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH).
Transition: Fifty-three percent of veterans and 55% of spouses described their transition from military service as “difficult,” and noted concerns about family, employment, health care, and education as their top transition concerns.
Financial Readiness: Sixty percent of respondents indicated that their family’s current financial condition caused “some stress” or a “great deal of stress.” The top three obstacles to financial security were: (1) spouse employment (40%), (2) uncertainty in military life (38%), and (3) uncertainty in potential changes in benefits (34%).
Military Spouse Employment: Eighty-four percent of employed spouses indicated that the military lifestyle had a negative impact on their ability to pursue a career. Of the 57% of active duty spouses who were not currently employed, 58% reported they wanted to be. Sixty-seven percent stated that the availability of childcare had impacted their pursuit of employment, education, or both.
Veteran Education and Employment: Approximately 63% of service members indicated they joined the military to learn skills for civilian jobs. Fifty-percent of veteran respondents reported that they were employed; 12% reported they were not employed but looking for work.
Approximately 74% of service members indicated they join the military to receive educational benefits. The majority (53%) of veteran respondents completed their highest level of education at public colleges or universities. Approximately 13% of veterans were currently attending school. The majority of student veterans (57%) felt their military experience was “well received” at school, while 8% reported that it was “poorly received.”
Military Children: Ninety-one percent of respondents had children under age 18 who had lived at home during a deployment or routine separation. Separation anxiety and worry were the predominant negative impacts of deployment, while adaptability and increased independence were the positive impacts reported
Stress, Depression, and Military Suicide: Veterans and veteran spouses reported higher percentages of depression symptoms as compared to their active duty counterparts. Veterans (13%) also reported higher rates of suicidal ideation (in the past year) than either active duty service members (9%) or spouse respondents (8%).
Active duty service members and spouses generally reported they were able to cope with stress, with 39% of spouses and 30% of active duty service members feeling “stressed” either most or all of the time. Top stressors related to the military lifestyle, including deployment and separation, financial stress, and employment related stress. During deployments, top stressors for spouses included isolation, children’s issues, and household responsibilities, while service member top stressors were isolation, household responsibilitites, and personal and emotional issues.
For this survey, Blue Star Families was honored to have the assistance of the following partner organizations: the American Red Cross, the Armed Forces Services Corporation, the Armed Forces YMCA, the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), Hiring Our Heroes, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Military.com, the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC), Military Families Research Institute at Perdue University (MFRI), Military Officer’s Association of America (MOAA), Military Partner and Family Coalition, the Military Spouse Corporate Career Network (MSCCN), Military Spouse Magazine, National Military Family Association (NMFA), Our Military Kids, Points of Light, the Reserve Officers Association (ROA), Service Nation, Student Veterans of America (SVA), United Service Organizations (USO), and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). The wide distribution of this survey through our partners and others in the military community greatly contributes to the high level of response, and will help this survey reach a comprehensive sample of military personnel and their families.
Funding for the Military Family Lifestyle Survey provided through the generosity of our presenting sponsor USAA and Health Net Federal Services, UnitedHealth Care, JPMorgan Chase, and Facebook.
View the executive summary and survey infographic here:
About Blue Star Families
Blue Star Families is a national, nonprofit network by and for military families from all ranks and services, including the National Guard and reserves. Blue Star Families strengthens military families and our nation by connecting communities and fostering leadership. With our partners, Blue Star Families hosts a robust array of morale, empowerment, education and employment programs. Since its inception in 2009, Blue Star Families has engaged tens of thousands of volunteers and served more than a million military family members, including wounded and transitioning service members and their loved ones. Blue Star Families has also activated more than 26 million hours of community service to build leaders within and strength the military community, and to connect Americans with their military. Our worldwide membership includes military spouses, children, parents, and friends, as well as service members, veterans and civilians.
Blue Star Families works directly with the Department of Defense and senior members of local, State and Federal government to bring the most important military family issues to light. In concert with fellow nonprofits, community advocates, and public officials, Blue Star Families raises awareness of the challenges and strengths of military family life and works to make military life more sustainable. Blue Star Families is a four-star rated charity by Charity Navigator, with 94% of total donated revenue going directly to programs and services for military families. To learn more about Blue Star Families, visit http://www.bluestarfam.org. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Media Contact for Blue Star Families