Time away is greatest adversity for active-duty military families

December 1, 2017

A survey of military families conducted last spring among 7,800 households of service members nationwide has found that their greatest concern is the impact of long-term separations on immediate and extended relatives, from children to adults.

The 2017 Blue Star Families annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey found that, for the first time in eight years, separation is the top concern among both spouses (46%) and active duty members (47%)—topping military spouse employment, pay and benefits, military child education, and impact of deployment on children. Even lower on the list were quality of life, retirement benefits, veteran employment, PTSD/combat stress, and service member and veteran suicides.

Indeed, nearly 33%  of military family respondents had experienced at least 25% of the last 16 years away from their families and 40% reported experiencing more than six months of family separation in the last 18 months.

“This survey brings new and critical insight into the challenges facing our armed forces and their families today and will be a valuable tool for government, nonprofits and our communities who want to make a difference,” said Kathy Roth-Douquet, CEO of Blue Star Families.

“The 2017 Military Family Lifestyle Survey results indicate that while the majority of our military members and their spouses are satisfied with military life, those who serve our nation are increasingly concerned regarding the impact of military service on their families,” said Cristin Orr Shiffer, senior advisor for Research and Policy at Blue Star Families.  “Our nation’s unprecedented 16 years of war has fundamentally redefined what it means to serve, for service members and especially for their families.”

The survey, which is a collaboration between Blue Star Families and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), also showed that military families are concerned about community integration, the overall costs of service— and sometimes, lack of support for the diverse, 21st century workforce.

Among the key findings:

  • 60% of military families would not recommend military service to their own child, a decrease of 11% in three years;
  • 51% feel as if they don’t belong in their local, civilian communities;
  • 40% of service members had experienced more than six months of separation from their families during the past 18 months;
  • 28% of spouses indicated that they were unemployed and actively seeking work;
  • 30% of military caregivers indicated they were unemployed and actively seeking work and 43% reported debt reduction was their top financial goal; and
  • 67% of female service members could not find childcare versus only 33% of male service members who reported the same.

On the plus side, 95% of male and 93% of female veteran respondents indicated that military service had made a positive impact on their life. Similarly, 97% and 96% of male and female veteran respondents, respectively, reported feeling pride from their accomplishments during military service.

Fully 88% of both male and female veteran respondents indicated they appreciate the little things in life more now, and male (96%) and female (97%) veteran respondents reported having matured as a result of their service.

However, the caregivers in military families requested more diverse forms of support, with mental health and financial support especially acute needs. Nearly one-third of military caregiver respondents reported being unemployed (seeking work) and 50% reported feeling isolated.

Of those caregiver respondents who reported caring for someone with emotional or mental health problems, the majority (53%) reported that the service member had been diagnosed with anxiety or depression (45%).

As a specific result of family concerns, nearly one-third of the 22% of service member respondents indicated that they planned to transition out of military service in the next two years.

America has the greatest all-volunteer force and our military families make tremendous sacrifices,” said John Bird, VADM (ret.) and senior vice president of Military Affairs at USAA, the presenting sponsor of the survey. “This survey underscores the responsibility we have to better support our military families and caregivers.”

Research contact: survey2017@bluestarfam.org

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