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Survey: Accessing Benefits Really IS Hard

If you've ever tried to use military healthcare, get childcare on base or get employment help you've probably noticed one, overwhelming thing: it's hard. Maybe it's that there are no appointments for a week for your sick kid so you have to go to the ER for an ear infection (again). Maybe you've been offered employment help, but you have a Masters degree and need something that will get you more than just a call center job. Or maybe you've found the ideal job, but the waiting list for on-base, affordable care is six months long.

If this is you, you're not alone. A new survey released Jan. 12 by the Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN) shows that access to services is one of the top concerns for military family members, even while showing that those services are the benefits they value most.

Capt. (Dr.) Robert Bolten works with a young patient, Alina Luna. Bolton is one of three new health care providers at the 377th Medical Group's Pediatric Clinic. (Photo by Ken Moore)

Of the more than 1,500 people who took the survey late last summer (we wrote about it here), 41 percent said base amenities are the most important benefit to them, while 32 percent said healthcare.

You can read more about the overall findings in the report here in my Military.com news story.

Surprising no one, about 22 percent of those who took the survey also said that healthcare is the top area in which they need more support -- both in quality of care and in access. The New York Times has examined this topic exhaustively, and the DoD has acknowledged a pattern of poor care and management within the Military Treatment Facility (MTF) system.

What this survey gives us in responses from real military families with real experiences is even more hard data that these things are real. And that hard data -- not just circulating complaints, but actual numbers -- matters to lawmakers.

Another one of the big things that stuck out to me in this report was the findings regarding the commissary. According to researchers, of those who responded to questions about the commissary, 53 percent use the store once a week and 27 percent use it monthly. Only 4 percent of those who responded said they never use it. The vast majority of those who use it said they do so because of low prices, and the majority of those who don't use it said it was because it was inconvenient.

That finding interested me. We spend a lot of time debating whether or not the commissary saves us money, or just how much of a savings it is. You've seen reports that say it is a 30 percent savings -- I have no doubt that is true within the constraints of that study (comparing products carried at both stores with each other, not comparing the cheapest version of that product at the outside store with the cheapest version at the commissary). But whether or not the commissary is an overall savings? Always up for debate.

So what makes this result for the survey interesting is that it shows that, despite the debate, military family members don't overthink it. They shop at the commissary because, for most of them, it is convenient (within a 10 minute drive for most of those who answered) and offers some savings.

It's also why, the report's authors said, officials should focus on saving the commissary benefit. Because no only do users like the commissary, they also shop elsewhere on post (or use other base services) while they are there.

You can see all the survey's findings over here. 

What do you think about the findings? Do they mesh up with your experiences?

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