Senior National Editor
One percent of Americans serve in the U.S. military. The families of that 1 percent face pressures similar to the rest of us and others that are different. Many in those families feel that the challenges they cope with and the sacrifices they make are neither understood nor appreciated by the 99 percent of the population not in uniform.
“Today’s military families have experienced a decade of war. There is a new generation of military children who have grown up in this “new normal,” while service members and their families have adapted new communication technologies like Skype and Facebook to adjust to the increased time spent apart. At their core, these same military families are central to mission readiness and for the first time ever have even been referred to in relation to national security, a reflection of their key role in sustaining a functioning military. Perhaps this is because there is a growing awareness that military families are directly affected by national security and defense polices to an extent much greater than non-military families.”
That’s one conclusion from a report released Wednesday by the military family group Blue Star Families. There is much to read in this survey, much that policymakers should take into account, including a troubling numbers about military personnel not getting treated for traumatic stress symptoms.
More than 4,200 families responded to the online survey in November 2011 by Blue Star Families. More than three-quarters answering the survey were affiliated with active duty personnel. Eight-five percent were female and 64 percent had minor-age children living at home. Two thirds were ages 25-44. Thirty-eight percent listed affiliation with the Army, 21 percent with the Navy, 15 percent with the Air Force, 11 percent with the Marines and the remainder split among National Guard, Reserves and Coast Guard.
Their concerns start with economic issues. Thirty-one percent of respondents worry about possible changes to retirement benefits, an issue not included in the previous year’s survey. This would seem to reflect concerns for the tens of thousands of troops returning from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom may be transitioning out of the military. “When veterans were asked about concerns related to separating from the military, twenty-five percent cited employment opportunities as their top concern, nineteen percent cited changes to health care access, and six percent cited issues with civilian licensing or certification,” the report states.
Next came the 20 percent whose primary concerns were current pay and benefits, up a couple of percentage points from a year earlier.
Third, at 7.4 percent (down about half from the 2010 survey) was the effect of deployments on the children of military personnel. “When asked a separate question about overall concerns for their military children, twenty-three percent of parents mentioned “deployment” in their responses. Fifty-two percent said there were some negative effects to deployment, but some positive effects too. Forty-one percent felt like their community did not embrace opportunities to help their military children,” the report says.
The next issue, mentioned by 6.5 percent, was “optempo” (operational tempo), namely the frequency of those very deployments. Its decline from twice that percentage a year earlier may reflect the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and a slowdown of deployments to Afghanistan. These deployments affect a continued willingness to serve, according to the Blue Star Families survey. “Fifty-two percent of respondents who had experienced thirteen to twenty-four months of deployment separation supported continued military service whereas support dropped to fifteen percent for those who had experienced thirty-seven months or more of separation,” the report observes.
At 6 percent, down slightly from the previous poll, were concerns about educational and employment opportunities for military spouses.
Also at 6 percent was a topic not on the previous year’s survey – combat stress, post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries, issues that advocates for returning troops have urged receive more attention. On this subject, the report sounds a worrying note: “Three percent of respondents reported that their service member had been diagnosed with TBI while eleven percent reported that their service member was diagnosed with PTS. However, twenty-six percent reported that, regardless of diagnosis, their service member had exhibited symptoms of PTS. Of those who reported that their service member had exhibited symptoms of PTS, sixty-two percent had not sought treatment.”
Another thing that makes these military families different: 89 percent of the respondents were registered to vote and 82 percent said they voted in the 2008 presidential election. That’s almost 20 percentage points higher than the national average