National survey, designed by Blue Star Families in collaboration with IVMF identifies key aspects of military life to better support the sustainability of military families and service members
Military families are much like their civilian neighbors. Many need dual incomes to meet their financial goals; are concerned about pay and benefits; worry about childcare and education; and want to establish roots and contribute to their community’s well-being. However, the unique demands of military service result in exceptional issues and challenges for our All-Volunteer Force. Today Blue Star Families (BSF) released its 2015 Annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey (AMFLS) and identified contemporary issues facing military families, including new findings and trends related to military pay and benefits, changes in retirement benefits, military spouse employment, veteran employment, and service member and veteran suicide.
This is the sixth iteration of the BSF Annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey, which has been conducted annually since 2009. The 2015 survey, designed by Blue Star Families in collaboration with Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) and analyzed by the Department of Research and Policy at Blue Star Families, was fielded in April and May of this year. More than 6,200 military families, including active duty service members and veterans provided valuable insight regarding the true cost of sustaining the
“Uncertainly is a dominant theme in this year’s Survey findings,” explained Cristin Orr Shiffer, Senior Advisor for Policy and Survey at Blue Star Families. “This uncertainty causes great concern for military families and is manifested in nervousness about job security, retirement benefits, financial security, and future employment prospects for all our respondents – active duty service members, spouses, and veterans. However, by increasing civilian and military collaboration in local communities through greater interaction, shared service, and communication, we can help mitigate many of these factors for our military families. “
This year’s survey results suggest additional support is needed in the following areas: the employment military spouses; financial and retirement savings education; military child care, education and wellness; local civilian community engagement; access to mental health resources; and veteran employment.
“Family wellness and the health of the All-Volunteer Force go hand in hand,” said Dr. Nick Armstrong, IVMF Senior Director of Research and Policy. “Given current budget pressures and persistent conflict abroad, this survey remains a critical tool to identify opportunities that reduce family strain and build resilience to today’s uncertain environment.”
Additionally, Shiffer offered that promoting a positive military lifestyle is important to civilian communities as well. “Healthy and resilient military families improve our local communities and help our country to achieve many current national priorities including viable defense personnel costs, improved recruitment, retention and readiness, and a sustainable All-Volunteer Force.”
Blue Star Families’ Annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey Summary
TOP ISSUES OF CONCERN
1. Military Pay and Benefits
2. Changes in Retirement Benefits
3. Spouse Employment
4. Veteran Employment
5. Service Member and Veteran Suicide
Military Pay and Benefits: For the second year in a row, Military Pay and Benefits is a top issue for military spouses, service members, and veterans. Despite additional challenges, 40% of active duty service members and their spouses reported feeling financially insecure. The highest levels of financial stress were found in those closest to military retirement age, post-9/11 service members, and unemployed military spouse respondents.
The top three obstacles to financial security for active duty family members were: uncertainty in military life, challenges to military spouse employment, and saving for retirement. Factors associated with increased financial uncertainty included: separation from the military; downsizing and sequestration; and confidence in receiving retirement and disability benefits.
Changes in Retirement Benefits: Changes to military retirement and ability to plan for retirement is another recurring trend for concern and is further complicated by uncertainty surrounding future benefits and the perception among families that they cannot afford to save; but strengthened by spouse employment and contributions to civilian spouses’ retirement accounts. Retirement benefits and disability payment uncertainty was associated with financial insecurity. Respondents were least confident they would receive post-retirement healthcare and disability benefits. Forty-four percent of post-9/11 veteran respondents indicated the benefit component of transition was difficult or very difficult.
Spouse Employment: Military spouse employment remains a top concern for active duty military spouse respondents for the fourth consecutive year. Military spouse employment is unique in that it impacts multiple issues military families are concerned about including:
1. the ability to successfully plan for transition out of the military;
2. saving for retirement;
3. mental health and wellbeing;
4. and financial stability during changes to military pay, benefits, and personnel policies like downsizing and involuntary separation.
This year’s survey results indicate that military families with employed spouses experienced greater financial security, better mental health, and higher satisfaction with the military lifestyle. Poor job market alignment (52%) and service member’s job/work obligations (35%) are military spouses’ top obstacles to current workforce participation. Top spouse requests for employment support include improved programs, education access and childcare.
Veteran Employment: Forty-seven percent of employed post-9/11 veterans were not working in their preferred career field. Forty-six percent of Post-9/11 veterans reported that it took them longer than expected to find employment during transition from active duty, versus 31% of pre-9/11 veterans. Top resources veteran respondents indicated they would like to have had when searching for employment were:
1. a network of those who successfully transitioned from the military into the civilian workplace (34%)
2. a career advisor (32%)
3. a job bank focused on military families (29%)
4. a program to develop interviewing and networking skills (26%)
5. knowing someone who successfully transitioned from the military into the civilian workplace (23%)
6. a program to help place military families in paid internships (21%)
Additionally, findings indicated that many veterans and active duty families preparing for transition and civilian employment had little awareness of available resources.
Service Member and Veteran Suicide*: Forty percent post-9/11 veterans found their family reintegration very difficult. Nineteen percent of unemployed veterans reported that they had seriously thought about committing suicide during their time in the military (10% in the past year), compared with 8% of employed veterans (4% in the past year).
Additionally, mental health and psychological wellness were associated with veteran employment status. Twenty-two percent of unemployed veterans reported moderately severe or severe symptoms of depression compared with 6% of full- or part-time employed veterans.
* The Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) was used to measure symptoms of stress. The Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) was used to measure symptoms of depression.
Blue Star Families’ 2015 Annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey was generously funded by our presenting sponsor USAA and from the Lockheed Martin Corporation, United Healthcare Military & Veterans,
Rent-A-Center, Health Net Federal Services, Facebook, and the USO.
The widespread distribution of the AMFLS survey and the remarkable response rate of over 6200 respondents was made possible through collaborative efforts among the following partner organizations: the American Red Cross, Armed Forces Services Corporation, Armed Services YMCA, the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), Hiring our Heroes, Iraq and Veterans of American (IAVA), Military.com, the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC), Military Partner and Family Coalition (MPFC), Military Spouse Magazine, Military Officer’s Association of America (MOAA), Military Spouse Corporate Career Network (MSCCN), National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS), National Military Family Association (NMFA), Our Military Kids, Points of Light, the Reserve Officers Association (ROA), the Student Veterans of American (SVA), United Service Organizations (USO), National Naval Officers Association (NNOA), the American Military Partner Association (AMPA), University of South Carolina, USAA, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Operation Homefront.
To read the complete Comprehensive Report for the 2015 Annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey, visit www.bluestarfam.org/survey.
About Blue Star Families
Blue Star Families is a national, nonprofit network of military families from all ranks and services, including guard and reserve, dedicated to supporting, connecting and empowering military families. With our partners, Blue Star Families hosts a robust array of morale and empowerment programs, including Books on Bases, Blue Star Museums, Operation Honor Corps, Blue Star Careers and Operation Appreciation. Blue Star Families also 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. Working 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. Our worldwide membership includes military spouses, children, parents and friends, as well as service members, veterans and civilians. For more information visit bluestarfamilies.org, facebook/bluestarfamilies or twitter.com/BlueStarFamily.
About the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF)
The IVMF is the first interdisciplinary national institute in higher education focused on the social, economic, education and policy issues impacting veterans and their families post-service. Through our focus on veteran-facing programming, research and policy, employment and employer support, and community engagement, the institute provides in-depth analysis of the challenges facing the veteran community, captures best practices and serves as a forum to facilitate new partnerships and strong relationships between the individuals and organizations committed to making a difference for veterans and military families. Read more at http://vets.syr.edu.