New survey results underline several issues that were brought to the forefront last year for troops and families: some dissatisfaction with housing, stressful relocations, and problems with access to health care.

More than 10,000 family members, service members and veterans responded to the 2018 annual Blue Star Families’ Military Family Lifestyle Survey. Among the results:

  • One of the top three recommendations troops and families made for improving quality of life was to offer better housing and increase the Basic Allowance for Housing. Two-thirds of the families who responded to the survey said they lived in on-base housing during their military service, and one-third of those said they were dissatisfied with their on-base housing experience. Families expressed frustration with privatized housing management and aging properties, and environmental health hazards. For those living off base, the issues were inadequate housing allowances and housing shortages. The timelines for when the families experienced the issues are not specified in the survey, but a number of issues have been reported in privatized housing this past year. 
  • For the first time in the 10 years the survey has been conducted, relocation was the top stressor for service members. And nearly a third of the military family member respondents reported spending more than $1,000 in unreimbursed expenses for their last move. Military families complained last year about problems with late deliveries and damaged household goods.
  • The vast majority of military families were satisfied with the cost, quality of providers and quality of health care, but they were least satisfied — at 65 percent — with the ease of access and timeliness of care. There have been problems with lack of access to health care as Tricare made a number of changes last year, including changes in contractors. 

This year’s top issues reported in the survey for active-duty military spouses were: the amount of time service members are away from family; military spouse employment; military child education; impact of deployment on children and military pay and benefits.

This annual survey “is another piece of what we absolutely rely on every year" in helping determine where resources are needed, said Anthony Kurta, acting under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, during a Feb. 6 panel discussion about the survey results.

In order to retain service members, he said, “We have to know what they’re thinking. It’s not only important to know what the service members are thinking, but also what those spouses and families are thinking.”

DoD uses a variety of surveys of service members and spouses, as well as the Blue Star survey, for a “comprehensive picture," he said. This year, more than one in three spouses and service members indicated that military pay and benefits are a concern. Yet in one of DoD’s recent surveys, Kurta said, service members reported the top reason they stay is for the pay and benefits.

“Overall, we‘re doing pretty well in attracting and retaining talent with respect to military pay and benefits, but there are some gaps there and we need to understand them, if the [Blue Star survey] is telling us it’s a significant concern. So we still have work to do in that area,” Kurta said.

The Blue Star survey, conducted by Blue Star Families in collaboration with Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families, isn’t a scientific sample-based survey. It was available online from April to June 2018, and 10,192 people responded. The largest group was spouses of active-duty members, at 64 percent; and 6 percent were active-duty service members.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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