Paycheck Chronicles

Military Families Report Financial Challenges and Key Issues

Military Families Report Financial Issues amongst their key concerns

Blue Star Families (BSF) and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) released the results of the 2017 Military Lifestyle Survey Wednesday. I was able to attend the “unveiling” and panel discussion of the results and other issues that affect military families. Both the survey and the conversation contained a lot to contemplate. I’m going to stick to the ones that are related to finances, since that’s what this blog is about, and leave analysis of the other issues to articles, like Absence from Home Is New Top Issue Among Troops, Families by Amy Bushatz.

Snapshot Figures:

  • 51% of those eligible for the Blended Retirement System (BRS) don’t understand it
  • 49% have less than $5,000 in savings
  • 42% of service members and 40% of military spouses identify military pay and benefits as one of their top 5 areas of concern
  • 28% of military spouses are unemployed and actively seeking work
  • 55% of military spouses identify as “underemployed”
  • 51% of employed military spouses earned less than $20,000 in 2016

The Panel Discussion

While the facts are interesting and useful, what’s really valuable is how the Department of Defense, individual services, non-profits, military families, and communities can use the information to direct their efforts to make positive change. The panel discussion that followed the survey release had some fascinating points of discussion and really got me thinking.

There were three panelists, moderated by Michael O’Hanlon, Senior Fellow and Director of Research, Foreign Policy, The Brookings Institute:

Cristin Orr Shiffer, Senior Advisor for Research and Policy, BSF

Rosalinda Vasquez Maury, Director of Applied Research and Analytics, IVMF

Anthony Kurta, Performing the Duties of Under Secretary of Defense, Personnel & Readiness, Department of Defense

Also contributing to the conversation was Kathy Roth-Douquet, Chief Executive Officer, BSF

There was an overwhelming amount of experience, brain power, and passion in the room! The panelists spoke for over an hour about the survey results and their importance to current military families and the evolution of the military in the future.

Key Takeaways From The Panel Discussion

The panel discussion and subsequent questions and answer session brought up a lot of relevant and interesting issues.

  • Families are negatively impacted by not only high personnel tempo, but also the demands of shorter lead times for training, deployments, and Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves.
  • The challenges of spousal employment have long-term consequences. Spouse unemployment and underemployment during military service may impact spouse employment opportunities after military service. Importantly, military spouse employment eases the transition from the military.
  • Another issue that eases transition is involvement in the civilian community while in the service. (My note: it makes sense that it is harder to be involved in your civilian community if you are frequently gone, working long hours, and moving a lot.)
  • According to data collected by the IVMF, 17% of veterans report it took them take over a year to find a job.
  • Twenty-five percent of veterans are reporting that they wish they had access to transition assistance programs up to several years after separating from the military.
  • Military spouse employment is partially impacted by issues that the military can control, such as the regulations about running a small business in housing and the availability and actual access to childcare on base.

I found the comments made by Mr. Kurta very interesting and hopeful. His comments were focused on not only improving outcomes for current military families, but helping shape policies that will ensure that our country is able to maintain an all-volunteer force in the future.  As families, it can seem like no one in the Department of Defense is thinking about us.  Mr. Kurta’s contributions to the discussion made it clear that the DoD is definitely thinking about these issues.

The full, 36 page report can be found at  The summary video, and the video of the panel, can be found at the BSF webpage.

I’m sure you have a lot of opinions and experience on these subjects!  I’d love to hear what you think!

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