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Study Measures Financial, Emotional Stresses on Military Families

A recent survey from the group Blue Star Families indicates that while military families aren’t exactly in crisis, much more work remains to be done to help them learn financial responsibility, help military families through the stress of deployment, and to assist them in dealing with severe emotional problems.

Financial Issues

Active-duty military families typically aren’t getting rich. Unlike the private sector, which has unlimited potential upside for successful individuals, the upside of military service is limited. And military spouses have historically had difficulties penetrating the job market, thanks to their frequent relocation. Unemployment among active-duty military spouses is stubbornly above 25 percent.

In return, though, military families do have some significant advantages over civilian counterparts: Base pay is supplemented by basic allowance for housing (BAH), which can amount to hundreds and even thousands per month, depending on the servicemembers’ location and whether he has dependents.

Military families also have more job security than private sector workers, most of whom can expect to be fired or laid off at any time – often through no fault of their own, and on very short or no notice. Military families also enjoy deeply discounted health insurance through TRICARE – which can save a family hundreds of dollars every month.

Despite these advantages, though, fewer than half of all military families interviewed say they have an emergency fund in place big enough to support their needs for a three-month period. Additionally, more than two-thirds, or 68 percent, report feeling “stressed out” about their financial condition, with debt being one of the leading factors.

A look inside the numbers is illuminating.

Spousal Unemployment

Only one military spouse in four is working full time, according to the survey. Another 16 percent are working part-time, or 35 hours per week or less. 60 percent of military spouses are not working outside of the home.

The most overwhelming reason that spouses reported they were not working, by far, was poor alignment for the available job market where they were stationed. 92 percent reported that they were either underqualified, overqualified, or reported a lack of opportunities in their field.

Two-thirds of spouses also reported child care issues – they were unable to find quality child care at an affordable price. This suggests that base commanders need to look at improving on-base child care options.

45 percent reported PCS move or deployment issues interfering with plans to work outside the home. And 17 percent mention problems with transferring a certification or license to another state to be eligible to work there.

Although nationwide unemployment is 8.3 percent as of this writing, only 7 percent of military spouses state that the reason they are not working outside the home is due to a job loss unrelated to the military in the past year.

Deployment Effects on Children

The Blue Star Families study also surveyed military families on the impact deployments had on children. 11 percent of families reported that deployments had a significant negative effect on children, while 19 reported that children were negatively affected, but not significantly. 52 percent reported that the parent’s deployment actually affected children positively.

4 out of 10 respondents who had children affected by deployments reported that their communities did not embrace opportunities to help military children. 11 percent of respondents reported a severe problem in this regard. 5 percent of parents reported a very positive community experience, and another 26 percent viewed their communities favorably in this regard as well.

PTSD Issues

11 percent of military families overall report that their spouses were diagnosed with PTSD. However, fully 26 percent of military spouses reported that regardless of diagnosis, their spouses were exhibiting symptoms of PTSD.

Of those who reported that their family members were exhibiting PTSD symptoms, 62 percent of them reported that their spouses did not seek treatment. Blue Star Families asked these spouses why their spouse didn’t seek treatment. Their findings:

  • 41 percent cited lack of confidentiality.
  • 28 percent said the servicemember denied needing help or refused counseling.
  • 22 percent said that good services were not available in their area.
  • 19 percent stated they could not afford private counseling.
  • 7 percent feared a negative career impact if they sought help.

Troublingly, three percent of spouses surveyed who reported that their sponsor suffered from PTSD reported they had been hurt “often” or “sometimes” by their spouses. 25 percent of these spouses reported that they were verbally hurt or harassed by their spouses “often” or “sometimes, compared with 11 percent of military spouses after all.


Nearly one in ten spouses surveyed had actually considered suicide – a number that closely parallels the percentage of uniformed servicemembers who have considered taking their own lives.


4,234 military family members started the survey, and 79 percent of them completed the entire survey. The questionnaire was available between 4 November and 2 December 2011. The vast majority of those responding were women, and 64 percent of them had children. 23 percent self-identified as minorities. 87 percent of them had at least an associate’s degree themselves or had completed some college.

17 of them were married to junior enlisted members, while 48 percent of them were married to NCOs, E-5 or above. 12 percent were married to company-grade officers, and 18 percent were married to officers between pay grades O-4 to O-6. 38 percent of them were Army, 21 percent were Navy, 15 percent Air Force, 11 percent Marine Corps, and 10 percent were Army National Guard. 3 percent were Coast Guard, and 2 percent were Air National Guard families.

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