Spouses Rank Retirement as Most Important Benefit

Military retirement is the top benefit concern for most spouses, regardless of how long their service members has been in the military, according to results from a working group at the Military.com Spouse Summit May 6.

Nearly 200 Summit participants, divided into 14 groups by years of their troops’ service, were asked to pick 10 benefits from a pool of 16 and rank them in order of importance. Eleven groups picked military retirement pay as their number one concern. The Post-9/11 GI Bill, annual military pay raise and Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) allotment were picked as the top benefit by the remaining groups.

Tricare coverage was not among the topics given to the groups. Rather than ask groups to rank the many and complicated parts of Tricare (retiree health care, the system as it stands currently, the proposed consolidated system, ECHO coverage, etc.), Military.com conference organizers chose to leave it out. Two groups, however, created their own Tricare option. Both put it at the top of their list with retirement.

The session was observed by representatives from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC), a panel of civilians tasked by Congress with recommending benefit cuts. MCRMC representatives used the meeting as a listening session to hear what spouses consider important – and what they don’t.

The majority of the working groups identified BAH as their second most important benefit, with the remaining four groups split between retirement pay, commissaries, military on-base housing and the GI Bill.

As soon as the attendees were released to start working on their lists, the room at the Sheraton Premier hotel in Tysons Corner, Va. fell in to a muted buzz as spouses tried to navigate the tricky waters of which benefits are worth the money and which aren’t. Each item they were given also included the cost – so participants could see that commissaries annually cost $1.4 billion, while the annual pay raise for troops costs $665 million.

As the spouses worked, they leaned in to their tables. Some tables were home to heated debate over different items. Others got a full education on the nuances of, for example, MWR and Exchange funding. The MCRMC representatives stood over the tables with notepads, scribbling observations as they listened to these spouses sort out what really matters to their military lives – and what doesn’t.

patty-barron-benefits Patty Barron, director of family programs for the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), works with her group to rank military benefits.

Child and youth services spending was the benefit most often left out of the rankings. Since the groups were given 16 benefits, but only asked to identify the top 10 most important ones, six items were given the shaft by each group. Only one group of spouses, whose service members had 16 to 20 years of service, included it on their list at all, and placed it a number eight. Military exchange spending was the second most left-out benefit, with only two groups including it at number four and number 10.

Only three benefits were included on all 14 lists – commissary funding, retirement pay and BAH.

Bottom of the list benefits were diverse across the groups. Military commissary funding was most often ranked as 10, with three groups placing it there. Funding for on-base housing and money for DoD run schools both overseas and stateside had a three-way tie for as second most often ranked as 10.

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