Every four years, we have the opportunity and responsibility to make our voices heard. While elections are always important, this year feels particularly critical: A global pandemic, heightened racial tensions, upholding or repealing Supreme Court decisions, new and old military adversaries, economic impact… the list goes on. While military families are concerned with the macro-issues facing the country, they’re also incredibly concerned about the “micro -” those issues that many Americans can’t understand because they don’t live it — things like military spouse employment, PCSing and base housing. In just a few weeks, Americans will determine our next commander in chief.
To better understand the issues paramount to our military families, WATM spoke with Military Family Advisory Network’s Executive Director, Shannon Razsadin, to talk about the results of MFAN’s 2019 Military Family Support Programming Survey.
Here are 6 of the top issues facing military families this election:
1. Mental health care
The need for and reliance on mental health care was a common thread throughout the 2019 Military Family Support Programming Survey. However, the greatest obstacle to accessing mental health care was the ability to get appointments. Those who left military service within the past 10 years were more likely to have accessed mental health care for themselves or members of their families. The more recently they left service, the more likely they were to have accessed mental health care. About 14.6% of respondents said they had accessed mental health crisis resources for themselves or their families. They expressed a need for emergency mental health care for the following reasons: specific mental health diagnoses; suicidal ideations and attempts; and feelings of stress, grief and hopelessness. They also described difficulty receiving care, such as long wait times and less attentive medical personnel. When asked if participants themselves had thoughts of suicide in the past two years, one in eight respondents to this question responded affirmatively.
Most respondents, 77%, said they have debt. The amount of emergency savings varied significantly depending on demographics: 27.4% of currently serving military family respondents said they have less than $500 in emergency savings, while 49.2% of veteran family respondents (those without a military pension) and 22.2% of military retiree family respondents (those with a military pension) reported having less than $500. Nearly a quarter (23.5%) said they do not have a practical or viable plan for seeking assistance in a financial emergency.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. N.W. Huertas/Released)
Moves are expensive for military families, and they are causing long-term financial strain for some. On average, families are losing about $5,000 per move in out-of-pocket costs and losses and damage to their household goods. The average unreimbursed out-of-pocket expense during a move was $1,913, and the average financial loss over and above claims for lost and damaged items during the move was $2,920. The majority of respondents, 68.2%, said they experienced loss or damage during their most recent moves. Respondents said the moving support they need the most is financial.
Choosing a place to live is an essential process during a move, and the choice can affect families’ lives for the course of their tours. Exploring military families’ housing choices and experiences have been a perennial topic in MFAN’s support programming surveys. Between the 2017 survey and the 2019 survey, MFAN fielded a study on the state of privatized housing that was a catalyst to an overhaul of the system, a budget increase, and the Tenant Bill of Rights. The current research showed that concerns about privatized housing still linger, making it the number one reason families choose to live on the economy. Those who choose military housing do so for financial reasons and because of base amenities. Among the respondents living in military housing, those in lower enlisted ranks were more likely to have negative satisfaction rates, and the least satisfied respondents were those ranked E4 to E6. There was a very clearly statistically significant relationship with those ranked E4 to E6 — they were more likely than any other group to rate their experiences as very negative across all areas of satisfaction rates measured.
5. Employment and entrepreneurship
MFAN has explored military family employment needs and transition experiences in every support programming survey. Many of the responses have not changed. For example, in 2013, military spouses said they needed more assistance, specifically for spouses trying to build and maintain careers. In 2017, respondents said their job search experiences were generally negative, and they said they had difficulties with employer bias, location obstacles, child care, and unsuccessful searching. These themes emerged again this year.
Active duty military spouses are still struggling to find employment. Respondents said that the demands of military life, being the primary caretaker to children and needing flexible schedules, are obstacles to finding gainful employment. They are looking for remote and portable work that will help them build lasting careers. They were more likely than any other demographic group to have given up trying to find work. Meanwhile, those who had transitioned from service told a very different story. Veterans and retirees said their greatest obstacle is an employer who is willing to hire them. They would like assistance preparing for interviews and marketing themselves effectively with polished resumes.
Both groups placed a priority on assistance that would help them find open positions, and they have not been able to receive support. Nearly one-third of respondents said they can’t find effective support, and an additional 22.8% said they needed more information about available resources. Active duty military spouses were statistically more likely than other demographics to consider entrepreneurship. Of those who do not currently have a business, 33% said they would consider starting one. However, entrepreneurial spouses of active duty service members reported low earnings, with 70.5% earning $15,000 or less and 53.2% making $5,000 or less. The most common reasons entrepreneurs chose for building their own businesses were flexible hours and to balance work and family life.
6. Child care and education
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff. Sgt. Austen Adriaens/Released)
Child care and school-related support are the top two supports that military families with children wish they had. Child care priorities change based on the age of children; however, respondents with children ages 0 to 12 agreed that hourly care, both in-home and outside of the home, was a top priority. Those with children younger than 5 years old prioritized full-time child care, while after-school care was a priority for those with children between the ages of 6 to 12.
In alignment with their top priority for care they seek, almost two-thirds (64.1%) of actively serving military family respondents said they had to forego a medical appointment due to lack of child care in the past two years. When asked to identify helpful educational support programming for military children, 40.5% of respondents could not think of any that they were aware of or used. The top missing educational supports included special needs support; learning support, such as tutoring and personalized support to fill learning gaps; and transition support to aid military-related adjustment.
In the 2019 Military Family Support Programming Survey, military families shared with us the issues that are the greatest challenges to them. They told us that they have difficulty accessing health care appointments. That they need additional assistance as caregivers. That mental health care is critical, but difficult to access. They shared that many of them experience food insecurity. And that many feel lonely and disconnected from their communities. They disclosed that military moves are expensive and cause long-term financial strain. And that putting aside emergency savings is difficult. They talked to us about difficulties finding child care. And how hard it can be to secure (and keep) employment.
In many different areas, military families trusted us with their struggles and shared what makes military life difficult sometimes. And MFAN is committed to moving the needle on those critical areas they’ve identified. But Election Day is an opportunity for all military families to directly use their voices to address the issues that are most important to them. To speak up about what matters to them. And to vote so their voices are counted.
The people and issues military families vote for are up to them. That military families vote means our election results reflect the beautiful diversity of our force.
To learn more about President Trump’s stance on military issues, visit: https://veterans.donaldjtrump.com/issues
To learn more about Vice President Biden’s stance on military issues, visit: https://joebiden.com/militaryfamilies/#