Survey: Pay, Benefits Top Mil Family Concerns

DoD Budget Cuts may Spare Family Programs

Pay and benefits are foremost on military families’ minds according to the soon to be released results of the 2013 Military Family Lifestyle Survey.

The survey, conducted by the nonprofit military support organization Blue Star Families, queried more than 5,000 military family members in November 2012. Military pay and benefits and potential changes in retirement benefits ranked as the first and second most important issues to respondents.

Thirty-five percent said that military pay and benefits are the number one issue while 21 percent chose changes in retirement benefits. Spouse employment opportunities ranked as a close third with 19 percent of respondents identifying it as the most important issue.

“All three of these issues can be considered key to making a smooth financial transition out of the military,” the reports’ authors noted in the executive summary. “This is particularly noteworthy as estimates point to over one million servicemembers transitioning off of active duty over the next five years.”

The survey results were expected to be released at a press conference Thursday.

With financial issues topping military families’ list of concerns, it shows family members tend to view military benefits as a complete package for the family -- not as something just for the servicemember, said Debbie Bradbard, deputy director of research and policy for Blue Star Families.

One example, Bradbard said, is how families view the Post-9/11 GI Bill. While 47 percent either have or plan to transfer it to a family member, only 23 percent plan to use or have it used it for themselves, she said.

“Military families kind of think of that benefit holistically. While the [Veteran’s Affairs Department] or the [Department of Defense] may think of it as a benefit to the servicemember, the military family thinks of it as a benefit to the family,” Bradbard said. “We obviously don't know all the reasons why they said they want to transfer it, but we suspect that people are concerned that it might go away.”

The survey also examined other issues, including the impact of operational tempo and deployment frequency on families. That issue ranked seven out of 10, dropping from the top five for the first time since the annual survey’s 2009 inception.

Bradbard said deployments have fallen to a lower level of concern thanks to a combination of sequestration and the drawdown in Afghanistan.

“The drawdown is happening, sequestration is happening, and I think there a little bit of insecurity about what’s happening with pay and benefits,” she said. “At the same time ... a lot of the families that were deploying are now reintegrating or leaving the service all together. So I think you’re seeing two things converge.”

Officials with Blue Star Families plan to use the survey data to fuel discussion and encourage military family-friendly policies from Congress, the Defense Department and the White House, Bradbard said.

“I think people sometimes look at it and think ‘oh you did the survey, that’s great, but what happens afterwards?’” she said. “But really this is just the beginning … we try to really get the word out, let people know about it, make sure people read it and let people ask questions.”

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