The Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN) released results of its fourth Military Family Support Programming Survey earlier this year meant to comprehensively show honest experiences of U.S. military families around the globe, and to serve as an early warning sign of issues these communities face.
The survey covered all facets of military life that affect families’ well-being, touching on health care, housing, food insecurity and finances.
Long waits for appointments contribute to frustrations
Dr. Gabby L’Esperance, director of research and program evaluation for MFAN, said families are “struggling.”
Out of more than 8,500 survey responses, one-third of active-duty family respondents ranked their ability to access general health care appointments as very negative or negative. Respondents also listed lack of available appointments and provider availability as their top health care obstacle in the past two years. Poor quality of care closely followed.
“Of those respondents who reported obstacles to securing health care, more than half (53.7%) said wait times for appointments and providers have become so excessive as to render some requests for care irrelevant,” MFAN stated in its report.
The spouse of an active-duty soldier anonymously responded to the MFAN survey with a heartfelt plea.
“It shouldn’t be this way,” the spouse wrote. “It is exhausting and sad – it is breaking military families. We really don’t want to beg for basic health care needs that we have been promised, but we need to in order to survive.”
Echoing these sentiments in their own anonymous response, the spouse of an active-duty airman indicated their difficulties in obtaining continuous health care drove them toward using civilian doctors and medical practices.
“Absolutely fine,” the spouse indicated of their health care interactions. “As long as we stay away from military providers.”
Telehealth becomes more prevalent
Even among active-duty family respondents, the MFAN survey data shows less than half (47.3%) of active-duty family respondents ranked their satisfaction with care received as positive.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, military telehealth services increased and military families are utilizing them.
According to the survey data, in 2019 only 11.3% of respondents indicated they used telehealth services – by 2021, more than 62.6% of respondents had used telehealth services that year.
But one key finding was that nearly half (48.1%) of respondents indicated they would not continue using telehealth appointments if copays were re-instated post-COVID.
Next steps: Increasing health care access
MFAN works to make its survey data actionable, L’Esperance said. Out of five key recommendations for action on overall factors that would increase the well-being of military families, increasing the availability of health care and mental health appointments was listed as No. 2.
MFAN’s research indicates that increasing appointment availability “would, in turn, improve both provider accessibility and possibly reduce wait times,” though there are a host of logistical factors to consider in making that possible.
To that end, MFAN hosted a Solutions Summit in mid-July with key stakeholders from the military, government and health care, whose recommendations are forthcoming on how to best address these issues. Survey sponsors included CVS Health and Humana Military, among others.
“Our troops love their families with all that they are,” said Dr. Jill Biden in a recorded message of support for the comprehensive challenges military families face and the role of the Solutions Summit in identifying ways to resolve them. “We can’t expect to keep our best and brightest if our service members are forced to choose between their love of country and their love of family. That’s why giving our military community the support they need to thrive is a matter of national security.”
The Solutions Summit is only the first step in putting MFAN’s survey results to work improving health care for military families, along with taking action to solve the other identified issues. MFAN plans to delve deeper into the themes uncovered by its research through white papers, briefs and additional reports with further recommendations for action and change.
“The fact that families don’t have access … really is alarming, and something that everyone should be concerned about,” L’Esperance said.