As the services struggle to find money in their budgets to increase lethality, they often resort to slashing pay and benefits for existing servicemembers - even as they are missing recruiting goals. A new survey validates MOAA's concerns about the effects of short-sighted compensation cuts on recruiting and retention efforts.
Blue Star Families released the results of its annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey on Feb. 6. Survey respondents zeroed in on the practical consequences of sequestration cuts: They have concerns about their care in the military health care system, financial stress for active duty families, and complications related to abrupt and frequent moves.
With more than 10,000 respondents, the Military Family Lifestyle Survey is the largest annual survey of active duty servicemembers and their family. It offers a valuable overview of the challenges and views of servicemembers and veterans and their families today.
Health care benefits were cited by two-thirds of respondents as one of their top reasons for remaining with the military. While respondents are generally satisfied with their health care costs and the quality of providers and care, they are not as satisfied with their ability to access care in a timely manner. Families reported long waits and rushed care. (With the services weighing the elimination of 17,000 billets for medical providers, there's no sign this logjam in the military health care system will improve any time soon.)
Servicemembers also cited better access to alternative health care and improvements to mental health care as ways to improve their health care experience.
For the first time, survey respondents cited finances as the greatest source of stress for active duty families, with 62 percent of active duty families saying they experience financial stress and 37 percent reporting feeling “moderately or very insecure about their financial future.”
And it's no wonder why: Only 10 percent of families say they could subsist on their servicemember's salary alone. According to the survey, 30 percent of active duty spouses were unemployed and 56 percent were underemployed, with the likelihood of unemployment and underemployment increasing for spouses with each subsequent relocation.
Relocation also brought other stresses: 31 percent of respondents said they spent over $1,000 on relocation expenses that could not be reimbursed, and 78 percent need childcare, but identified difficulty finding childcare as a major concern, especially when changing duty stations. And when families PCS, their overall wellbeing is affected by housing allowances whether they live on- or off-base.
When asked how to improve quality of life for servicemembers, families recommended reducing the operations tempo that necessitates frequent moves or providing better housing options and an increase in their housing allowance to make it easier for families to find adequate housing during rapid moves.
- Ensure any TRICARE reform sustains access to top-quality care
- Sustain military pay comparability with the private sector
- Stop erosion of compensation and non-pay quality-of-life benefits
- Protect military and veteran family support programs and policies
Access the full results of the Military Family Lifestyle Survey at bluestarfam.org/survey.