March 7, 2019
First published on The NeighborGood.
A few weeks ago, Blue Star Families released the results of its 9th annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey (aMFLS) during a day-long event in Washington, D.C., titled, Change of Command: The Evolution of the Military in America and The #BSFSurvey. Those in attendance got the chance to hear from distinguished speakers and accomplished panelists representing military and civilian communities.
Best of all, BSF live-streamed the event so that anyone could tune in—from wherever in the world they may be. And that’s just what I did all morning, from the drop-off line at school to waiting for my car at Firestone. The results, which were mostly what I expected as a military spouse of 12 years, provide a snapshot of what’s important and what’s concerning to service members, veterans, and their spouses in 2018.
Here are my top 10 takeaways from the event:
1. Military spouses struggle with not just connecting to a community, but also feeling like they belong in it. Given how often we relocate, it’s not surprising that it’s difficult to establish anything beyond casual connections. One of the nuances I found most interesting is that military spouses reported feeling a greater sense of belonging the longer they lived in civilian communities, but a lessened sense of belonging the longer they lived on military installations.
2. Active Duty service members and their spouses cited time away from family as their top concern. Military families certainly feel the fatigue of frequent separations—whether it’s due to a deployment, training, or just a longer daily commute.
3. There’s a notable disconnect between civilian and military communities. To bridge this gap, military families feel open and honest messaging from the DoD is needed regarding the sacrifices and challenges we face. An improvement in this area can help increase civilians’ support of military families’ wellness, education, and employment opportunities.
4. Although each stage of the military life cycle presents unique challenges, resulting in a variety of concerns illustrated in the survey, one area where active duty and veteran respondents’ answers overlapped was health care. Therefore, it’s clear that changes to the system would significantly improve military life, whether that’s by way of increasing availability of mental health appointments, providing appropriate medical care for family members with special needs, or supplying additional resources for caregivers.
5. Military families feel, now more than ever, that two incomes are necessary for improving the family’s well-being. Spouse employment, however, is dependent on a career that can accommodate the demands of military life, such as frequent relocation and, as a result, securing reliable childcare. Both are constant challenges that lead to financial stress for military families. Not to mention, military moves come with out-of-pocket expenses, which further threaten financial stability when those expenses aren’t fully reimbursed.
6. The top concerns cited by active duty service members vary based on the gender of the respondent. Though, all agreed the best ways the DoD can improve military families’ quality of life include adequate manning levels and reducing OPTEMPO, as well as having more control over their military careers.
7. The lack of adequate childcare kept resurfacing as a concern for everyone: from caregivers to dual military families, veterans, military spouses looking for employment, and even spouses hoping for a date night. It’s evident we need reliable care for our children. Though, moving to a new community and trying to get the contact information of the best babysitter is like breaking into Fort Knox. It shouldn’t be that hard.
8. Veteran respondents voiced concerns in the following areas: PTSD/TBI/combat stress and veteran employment, family’s well-being, and pay and benefits. They shared that improvements are needed when it comes to securing employment during the early phases of transition, increasing a sense of belonging within their communities, and improving the standard of living.
9. Military families worry about the impact their service has on their children. While our little ones are supposed to be our “dandelions,” blooming wherever they are planted, there is concern that service members’ time away from family (especially during deployments) and frequent relocation adversely affect their quality of life.
10. Blue Star Families’ aMFLS is imperative for guiding national leaders and local communities on ways to decrease the civilian-military divide and increase the quality of life for military families. Throughout the Change of Command, panelists and speakers praised the survey for showing them what needs to improve and how they can help.
While survey results can seem like just a bunch of numbers, they can also be effective agents of change. Thus, Blue Star Families uses its survey to inform local leaders on how they can better support military families who live in their communities. But as military families, it’s our duty to complete the survey so they can inform the changemakers of our top concerns and desires.
Whatever this year brings your military family, and whatever you have to say, speak it in a meaningful way, in a space where it is valued. We don’t have to merely accept our difficulties and challenges as-is, and we don’t have to just get through them. We can make our lives better, and Blue Star Families’ aMFLS is the first step in the right direction.
And I’ll leave you with this – the aMFLS is a mathematical depiction of military life in 2018. So, tell me, what do you want 2019 to illustrate?
Join here to become a Blue Star Families member, and let your voice be heard when survey fielding opens in May.
To download the comprehensive report of the 2018 Blue Star Families Military Family Lifestyle Survey, click here: https://bluestarfam.org/survey