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Moves, money, mental health: Military families share challenges in nationwide survey

Photo by Airman 1st Class Jacob Thompson / 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs

Blue Star Families, a national nonprofit dedicated to supporting military families, released the findings of its 2021 Military Family Lifestyle Survey Wednesday. It incorporates responses from more than 8,000 individuals worldwide and explores the challenges associated with service.

“One of the things that we've noticed coming out of COVID into this year is that it's time for us to really get back to basics: physical and mental health, economic security, food insecurity, housing insecurity,” said Blue Star Families CEO Kathy-Roth Douquet. “A lot of it is this broken lifestyle of moving over and over again.”

The survey covered a broad range of issues: rising costs associated with relocation, continued spouse unemployment trends, financial insecurity, mental health concerns in children and perceived discrimination. Many respondents shared anecdotes about resilience.

“Many of them talked about their mental health, their stress, having to ‘chin up’ and keep going,” said Kim Hunt, a researcher with Blue Star Families.

She said respondents needed more community support overall, especially those who were deployed on remote assignments.

“They're far away from friends, family, other military families, because they're in a remote area. Access to health care, access to mental health care, and being able to speak to other people who are having the same challenges that they're having… That's missing.”

According to the survey data, the top five challenges families cited were time with children and family, frequency and difficulties of relocation, operational tempo (daily workload, deployment load, and training load), time away, and feeling that the military does not support families whose service member works long hours with an unpredictable schedule.

Families reported that military moves can bring long military housing waitlists, unaffordable civilian housing markets and expensive rental costs, which can further add to their financial burden. Many military spouses are under- or unemployed due to high child care costs — or because they struggle to remain in the workforce in light of frequent moves.

The military lifestyle also extends its influence to children and family-building. More than four in 10 active-duty family respondents reported that military service created challenges to having children, specifically the desired number and/or spacing of their children.

Among those active-duty service members who did have children, most reported that their children’s mental health was “good” or “excellent.” But 43% of members rated at least one child’s mental health as “fair,” “poor” or “very poor.” Concerns about a mental health diagnosis preventing future service led many parents not to seek mental health care for their children, even though they wanted to.

Blue Star Families is calling on all national leaders, philanthropic organizations and civilian communities to recognize these challenges and step up to help.

“Across the multitude of issues facing military families, one theme remains clear: that a stronger and healthier military means a better future for our country,” CEO Kathy Roth-Duquet added.

Copyright 2022 Texas Public Radio. To see more, visit Texas Public Radio.

Carson graduated from the University of Southern Florida in 2011 with a B.A. in English and International Studies, and earned a Master's degree in Journalism from New York University in 2017. Prior to coming to San Antonio, she worked as a reporter for the WMNF 88.5 FM Evening News in 2008. Since then, she's written for Ms. Magazine, Chronogram, Souciant, and Bedford+Bowery, among others. Carson has also done audio work for the podcasts Death, Sex & Money (WNYC) and Memory Motel (Listening Booth Media).