Families List Retirement, Pay as Top Issues
By Lisa Daniel
WASHINGTON, May 9, 2012 - Military families regard the possible change of military retirement benefits as their top concern, according to the results of a major survey released today.
The 2012 Military Family Lifestyle Survey also shows that pay and benefits, the impact of deployments on children, operational tempo, spouse employment and education and combat stress and brain injuries are most on the minds of military family members.
Blue Star Families, a nonprofit military family support organization, released the findings of its third annual survey before a Capitol Hill audience of Congress members, military family members and support organizations, and media.
"That data in this survey is the story of our lives," said Kathy Roth-Douquet, the chief executive officer of Blue Star Families. The survey, she said, is conducted by professional researchers who also are military family members.
More than 4,000 family members responded to the survey, representing each of the services -- active, National Guard and reserve, and Coast Guard -- and all areas of the country. Nearly half of the survey respondents have a service member in the senior enlisted ranks, and 64 percent of respondents are between the ages of 25 and 44.
Among the findings:
-- Thirty-one percent of respondents listed possible changes to retirement benefits as their biggest concern, followed by 20 percent who cited pay and benefits as their top concern;
-- Veterans said their biggest concerns related to separating from the military were employment opportunities, followed by access to health care;
-- Seven percent of respondents listed operational tempo as their top concern, and support for staying in the military dropped from 52 percent for families who were separated 13 to 24 months, to 15 percent for those who spent more than 37 months apart;
-- Sixty percent of spouse respondents are not currently employed, and of those, 53 percent wanted to be; 57 percent said being a military spouse has a negative impact on their ability to work; 27 percent had problems getting professional licenses to transfer to different states;
-- Six percent of respondents listed post-traumatic stress, combat stress and traumatic brain injuries as their top issue; 26 percent said their service member had signs of post-traumatic stress and 3 percent said they had a diagnosis.
Robert L. Gordon III, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy, said the department and the nation are challenged by economic problems today, but that both must take care of military families.
Things changed after the Vietnam War, Gordon said.
"We got out of Vietnam and into the all-volunteer force," he said. "Because of that, our force became a married force."
Also, Gordon said, the military now is structured so that "the entire military goes to war." Indeed, the survey found that National Guard and Reserve members have spent as much time away from home in the past decade as active duty members.
"We're challenged today, and I would say we are up to that challenge," Gordon said. "We have a supportive Congress and a supportive administration, where the first lady and Dr. [Jill] Biden are out pitching for the military" through their "Joining Forces" campaign.
"That's why this survey is so important," he said. "We need to know how these families feel. We have to have a better integration of [combat veterans] when they come home -- and they are coming home."
Other findings of the survey show:
-- Ninety-two percent of respondents said they could help their children make positive school decisions during a spouse's deployment, but 64 percent said deployment hampered their children's abilities to participate in extracurricular activities;
-- Ten percent of family members responded that they had considered suicide, compared to 9 percent for service members.
-- Fifty-seven percent said prevention should be aimed at training frontline supervisors and commanders;
-- Eighty-one percent volunteered in the past year;
-- Eighty-nine percent are registered to vote;
-- Eighty-two percent believe the all-volunteer force works well;
-- Seventy percent were satisfied with the military lifestyle, and 60 percent would recommend the military for young people; and
-- Seventy-two percent said changing the law to allow gays to serve openly has had no impact on their service members' ability to serve.
Robert L. Gordon III