Blue Star Families’ 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey

Authors

From the department of Applied Research at Blue Star Families in collaboration with Syracuse University’s Institute of for Veterans and Military Families, Syracuse University (IVMF).

Blue Star Families

Jessica D. Strong, Ph.D. , Co-Director of Applied Research
Jennifer L. Akin, M.P.A. , Co-Director of Applied Research
Kim D. Hunt, Ph.D., Senior Research Manager
Drew S. Brazer, Manager of Government Relations
Kathleen Farace, Social Impact and Outreach Fello

Consultants

Karly Howell, M.A., Applied Research Generalist Consultant
Carrie Carter, Applied Research Generalist Consultant

Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families

Rosalinda V. Maury, M.S., Director of Applied Research and Analytics
Rachel K. Linsner, M.S., Doctoral Research Fellow
Jeanette Yih Harvie, Ph.D., Research Associate

Executive Summary

Blue Star Families’ annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey (aMFLS) has been providing a comprehensive understanding of the experiences and challenges encountered by military families since 2009. It offers crucial insight and data to help inform national leaders, local communities, and philanthropic actors — functions that are even more important as decision makers assess how to support military and veteran families while the nation recovers from a global pandemic. The survey also presents the opportunity to increase dialogue between the military community and broader American society by highlighting areas for improvement and offering solutions to bridge the civil-military divide, strengthen communities, and bolster the health and sustainability of the All-Volunteer Force.

Blue Star Families conducted its 11th annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey from September to October 2020. Capturing experiences of nearly 11,000 respondents worldwide, and generating millions of data points, it remains the largest and most comprehensive survey of active-duty, National Guard, and Reserve service members, veterans, and their families.

The tumultuous events of 2020 intensified some pre-existing concerns common across military families. Military spouses, who already encounter considerable barriers to employment due to the military lifestyle, often found their tenuous connection to the workforce snapped as employment opportunities shrank and responsibilities of managing their children’s education landed on their shoulders. Military children, who already experience educational transitions because of frequent relocation, adjusted to new methods of learning, often shifting between virtual learning, in-person learning, and homeschooling. Service members, who are already concerned with the amount of time their service requires them to be away from family, experienced extended deployments and some saw more activations.

This year’s events underscored the importance of addressing these long-standing concerns, while also shining a spotlight on systemic problems. Civil unrest and national conversations of racial inequity brought more attention to the experiences of people of color, increasing awareness of challenges that have long been overlooked. The global transition to remote work demonstrated how the nation can harness the power of technology to improve outcomes for military families on issues as wide-ranging as military spouse employment (through telework), to concerns about continuity of health and mental health care (through access to telehealth), to easing school transitions (through online enrollment and virtual schooling). Abrupt shifts to virtual schooling shed light on the tremendous support many military families rely on local schools to provide and the issues that are exacerbated when those services become unavailable, from supplemental food assistance to a variety of therapies and services for children with special needs. While the stormy year of 2020 created significant challenges, it also clarified issues and sparked changes, giving stakeholders interested in supporting military and veteran families a clearer view of the path to recovery.

The 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey Comprehensive Report examines these shifts and opportunities through the social determinants of health, exploring the five pillars that set the conditions for individual and family health and well-being: community and social context, health care access, education access and quality, neighborhood and the built environment, and economic stability.1 The community and social context lens examines how relationships can impact well-being positively or negatively, including experiences of discrimination, sense of belonging to the unit, supports during stressful times like a deployment, and the military family lifestyle cultural competence of the local civilian community. Access to and desire for mental health care, as well as access to health care services after a relocation, are examined through the health care access and quality lens. High-quality education access sets the conditions for healthy children and families; military children’s education is a perennial concern that has been worsened by COVID-19-driven instability. Housing and neighborhood quality have received increasing attention in recent years and are indelibly tied to a family’s economic condition. In turn, economic stability, the final social determinant, is connected to affordable, available child care and spouse employment challenges.

2020 Top 5 Issues

Active-Duty Families

Spouse employment

0%

Time away from family

0%

Child Education

0%

Family quality of life

0%

Military pay

0%

Reserve Families

Time away from family

0%

Deployment impact on family

0%

Military pay

0%

Family stability

0%

Family quality of life

0%

National Guard Families

Time away from family

0%

Deployment impact on family

0%

Military pay

0%

Career control

0%

Military benefits

0%

Veteran Families

Time away from family

0%

Military pay

0%

PTSD/combat stress/TBI

0%

Military/VA health care

0%

Military benefits

0%

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