Want to be a Blue Star Family hero? You can be by helping to add your one-of-a-kind, valuable perspective in the Blue Star Families annual survey.
What Is Blue Star Families Survey All About?
Blue Star Families (BSF) is a special organization that grew up out of a grassroots effort in 2009 of several military spouses seeking to make a difference for military families. Since that time, the organization has exploded with incredible growth to more than 150,000 members and over 35 communities and chapters around the globe with influence and reach to more than 1.5 million military families a year. The name hearkens back to WWI and WWII when a flag with a blue star on it was displayed by families to indicate the number of members of the family or organization serving in the Armed Forces. That same spirit of patriotism and support for the Armed Forces lives on today where BSF works to support military families in a variety of ways.
One of BSF’s main goals is to inform and lobby Congress and other leadership based on the challenges that military members and their families face. BSF helps by offering crucial insight and data to inform and advise national leaders, local communities, and philanthropic actors on the best ways to increase support for these military families. Perhaps just as importantly, the survey is also an opportunity to increase dialogue between the military community and broader American society, minimizing the civilian-military divide and supporting the health and sustainability of the All-Volunteer Force.
In order to do this effectively, BSF creates an annual survey to gather critically important data. The Military Family Lifestyle Survey’s response rate makes it the largest and most comprehensive survey of active duty, veterans, and their families.
“The goal of Blue Star Families’ research and policy work is to increase understanding and engagement between military and civilian communities. We do this through individual research projects, policy analysis, and our annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey’s Comprehensive Report.
Our research and policy engagement across public, private, and nonprofit sectors enables Blue Star Families to provide unique insights and empirically-driven recommendations in support of improved civilian-military cooperation.”
Blue Star Families needs your help! Add your voice by taking the survey. It only took me about 30 minutes to complete, but its impact is far more valuable than that small amount of time. The BSF survey dives into many specifics that will help illustrate the challenges facing the military today, and it even helped me think more deeply about these issues. Make your voice heard and make a difference for your military family! Survey entrants will also be entered into a random drawing to win one of five $100 gift certificates.
Surprising Insights from Last Year’s Blue Star Families Survey
Last year’s BSF survey revealed some interesting trends that financial issues of military pay, changes to retirement benefits, and military spouse employment are the top concerns among military families. Coming up in close second place were quality of life and wellness concerns especially as they relate to the impact of deployments on children, family stability, and operational tempo.
Financial issues affecting military pay show up regularly throughout the study as major concerns likely stemming from issues like Congress examining cutting BAH to angst about the upcoming transition to Blended Retirement System (BRS) and spousal unemployment. These challenges impact military families in many ways that go beyond the bank balance. Financial stress plays a huge role in family relationships, ability to handle work stress, and even force readiness. The survey specifically revealed that 51% of military families indicated that military spouse unemployment or underemployment was the top obstacle to financial security.
While the olden days where most military spouses stayed at home are not quite the same, the majority (52%) of military families still earn a single income although for many of them that is not by choice. 21% of military spouses reported being unemployed, and a further 79% of military spouses reported they were not hired when they applied for a GS position. Military households were 27% less likely to have dual incomes than married non-military households (66%) with children under 18. Frequent PCS moves, deployments, extended TDYs, and the general uncertainty associated with military life all play a role in hindering military spouse employment.
While benefit changes like BAH cuts seems to surface more regularly now, much of the uncertainty over the Blended Retirement System transition I have encountered usually stems from people not fully understanding the details of BRS. If you have questions about the BRS, I’ve written extensively about it including a few overview posts and getting into some of the nitty gritty specifics. The DoD will soon also be rolling out some major education initiatives to help address financial literacy among servicemembers.
Military Families Feeling the Strain
With more military parents working, the need for flexible and affordable childcare remains a pressing need. An incredible 66% of military families indicated they are not always able to find the childcare they need! When childcare is available on the military installation, many find they are on long waiting lists. The number one theme among self-generated inputs was the DoD needs to “offer accessible and affordable childcare.” The potential for BAH cuts also looms large as a negative impact on access to children’s education for military families that live off base. Housing choices are usually based in large part on the school district so smaller BAH payments will constrict choices here.
One senior leader I listened to recently summed up this philosophy another way by saying that the military recruits individuals, but retains families. This is reflected all throughout last year’s BSF survey results that highlight the stressors that military families face. 72% of active duty and military spouse respondents indicated the current OPTEMPO exerts an unacceptable level of stress for a healthy work-life balance. The continuing strain with no seeming end to deployments will undoubtedly increase this pressure going forward.
The US military is now in its 16th year of nonstop war, yet it seems that financial pressures are more of a negative burden than the constant deployments for military members and veterans encouraging their children and other young people to join. Incredibly, only 19% of military families indicated they would recommend service if the current trend of cutting benefits continues! As servicemembers continue to be drawn from a smaller and smaller subsection of the population, this is reflected in last year’s data as well with 45% of active duty members reporting they had a parent who was also active duty. Other writers have commented on the growing challenges of a potential military caste system so the DoD needs to continue looking at ways to broaden recruiting.
While 81% of Tricare Standard recipients were satisfied with access to and timeliness of care, only 54% of those on Tricare Prime with an MTF felt the same way. Another major issue affects mental health for spouses and the military member themselves. Despite the advances made in reducing the stigma of mental health challenges, 41% of active duty respondents still reported they were uncomfortable seeking mental health care directly from military providers because they feared it could potentially harm their career.
Using all of this data combined with all the past years’ worth of data, BSF can build out effective and actionable results to present to key decision makers. Based on last year’s survey results, BSF recommended to the DoD some specific ways it can best support military families in 3 key ways.
- Improve availability to affordable and accessible childcare
- Advance healthcare initiatives through broader access to care
- Deploy less and increase family stability
How Can You Help Make a Difference?
If results like these haven’t stirred you up yet, then I want you to think of the biggest and most pressing issues affecting you and I want you to share that. Your experiences with the military or military life greatly matter, but only you can truly tell your story. Your voice is needed. Do your part. This survey is the best way to share that story!
Blue Star Families’ continuing efforts directly impact the debates that ultimately affect your military life. They can’t do that without your or my help.
Yes, it will take a bit of time that maybe you don’t have right now. Bookmark it, save the link, do it in stages (as long as from the same computer or device) if you can’t finish it all at once, just do it. How often have you wasted 30 minutes on something that wasn’t that important after all? Spend that time on this instead. Share the survey with others and ask them to do this survey too!
You have until May 19th so only a few more days this month to add your perspective. Take the survey. Blue Star Families will thank you, I will thank you, and your future self will thank you too! Plus, you just might win one of those gift cards too.