Some disturbing trends related to deployments have emerged from the most recent survey of military spouses, according to military family advocates.
Just 19 percent of spouses indicated they had excellent or very good military support during their service member’s most recent deployment, lower than what spouses reported in 2015. The incidence of problems that spouses experienced during that most recent deployment were significantly higher in 2017 than in 2015, and 23 percent indicated difficult readjustments to their service member’s return from deployment, also higher than 2015.
“What that tells me is that something’s going on in a bad way with the level of support offered families during deployments,” said Joyce Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association.
“When it comes to deployments, these spouses are the canaries in the coal mine,” she said. “We need to put deployment support back in the vocabulary.”
At the height of the wars, it seemed everyone had someone deployed, and there was a lot of support from the military as well as the private sector. As deployments have gotten less common, “I think families get more isolated,” Raezer said. But it helps to connect with others who are going through the same experience, she said. “If everyone is going through the same thing you are, even though it’s rough, it’s a little easier to handle.”
As deployments have decreased, support programs have also diminished, she said.
The survey was a scientific, random sampling of spouses, conducted by the Defense Department, and the results can be generalized to the entire spouse population. It explored topics ranging from spouse employment and child care to finances. Of the 45,077 active-duty spouses selected for the survey, 9,813 spouses completed the survey, or 17 percent.
The survey indicated that loneliness was a problem during their service member’s most recent deployment, with 36 percent saying it was a problem to a large extent, and 44 percent to a small or moderate extent, which is higher than the 2015 spouse survey. That increasing sense of loneliness, and lack of connectedness, is a finding echoed recently in results from the 2018 Blue Star Families’ Military Family Lifestyle Survey.
A.T. Johnston, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy, said it struck her that nearly half of spouses of E1-E4 service members reported loneliness as a common problem during deployments. “And although 39 percent of spouses said they used other spouses as a source of support, 38 percent said they are unlikely to reach out to another military spouse because they either don’t know another spouse or they lack opportunities to connect with other spouses.
“Helping our newest service members learn how to connect is one of the best things we can do to help with resiliency,” she said, during a Pentagon briefing about the survey findings.
“Our challenge is to find new and better ways to connect these spouses to the military community and involve them in the many activities, programs and support services that are available, but they may not know about,” she said, adding that she is seeking ideas for how to do that.
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.