By Amy Miller, AFC®
Earlier this month, the Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN) released its 2021 Military Family Support Programming Survey. Many of you may have read through it by now. AMBA has shared links to its findings, and I will also share one below in case you missed it and want to check the survey out in its entirety but also thought I would give a brief overview of the results and MFAN’s recommendations.
Military Family Advisory Network
MFAN has been in existence since 2013 and works to understand the military community and connect them with needed resources. According to their website, their goal is to shorten the amount of time between identifying an issue and the delivery of solutions for military families.
The biennial survey is the foundation of MFAN’s research and is designed to gain insight into the support needs of our service members, their families, and veterans. This is the survey’s 4th iteration and focused on topics that are all related to overall family well-being: Health Care Satisfaction, Family Relationships, Financial Well-being, Housing, Food Insecurity, and the Community.
Who was surveyed?
The 2021 survey’s goal was to attempt to measure military families’ overall well-being and had 8638 people participate from all 50 states, Washington D.C., 22 other countries, and 2 U.S. territories. This year the survey included, for the first time, data on race and ethnicity as well.
Here’s a breakdown of the respondents –
*43.8% of respondents were active-duty military spouses
*13.9 were active-duty service members
*11.6% were veterans
*40.3% are affiliated with the Army
*21.7% Air Force
*13.9% Marine Corps
*3.6% Coast Guard
*73.1% are enlisted
*2.6% Warrant Officers
*9.6% Black or African American
*1.8% American Indian or Alaskan Native
*1.5% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
Topic 1 – Healthcare Insights
Healthcare remained a top priority for respondents.
The survey found that military retiree and veteran families were more satisfied with healthcare than active-duty families. Access to appointments ranked as the area where they are most dissatisfied – 33% rated their experiences as “negative” or “very negative”. Poor quality of care came in second as a top pain point for active-duty families.
Topic 2 – Family Relationships
We all know that military life and culture can put a strain on relationships, which was confirmed by the survey. Frequent deployments and separation prove to be difficult and can have negative effects on spouse and family relationships as well as mental health.
According to the survey, 15.6% of families reported struggling due to frequent moves, 34.4% with being away from family and 23.3% reported having strained relationships with extended family.
Another source of strain on military family life is the lack of available childcare. 78.3% of respondents reported finding childcare as being very difficult in recent years.
However, on a better note, 18.1% report military life has improved their or their spouse’s sense of purpose and structure. Additionally, the lack of feeling supported as an LGBTQ family came in at 26%, an improvement from the 2019 survey report that showed almost half (45%) felt unsupported.
For the first time, this year’s survey asked the respondents to share their income in addition to financial readiness questions. 40.6% of respondents reported income between $25,000 – $75,000.
The survey found that the spouse typically handles the family’s budget, day-to-day funds, and financial decision-making in active-duty households but that the responsibility switches in veteran and retiree households.
Once again, savings came in as a top concern, with a little more than half (51.2%) reporting experiencing issues saving money and cited insufficient pay, cost of living, housing cost, recurring bills and lack of financial knowledge and planning as barriers. 22.4% of currently serving families reported having less than $500 in an emergency fund or no fund at all. Retiree families were at 16.5% and veteran families were at 38.4%.
Debt was another concern with 75.8% reporting that they are carrying debt and 80.7% reporting that their finances have caused some stress over the past 12 months. Mortgage/housing costs and trouble affording the monthly bills topped the list of the main burdens/stressors.
The survey set out to understand and highlight military family housing experiences and introduced a housing burden scale that asked respondents the percentage of their monthly mortgage payment made up of their household income.
The housing burden scale used specified a burden exists when expenses are 30% or more of household income. Spending more than 50% indicates a severe burden and more than 50% is considered a severe housing burden.
Over 60% of military and veteran families are paying more than they can afford. Almost half (44.9%) of active-duty families report a severe housing burden, meaning their housing expenses alone are more than 50% of their income. That number is a little better for veteran and retiree families and sits around 20%.
The survey also covered questions around military housing with 39% of respondents reporting living in military housing and found that the majority of individuals that were pleased, were with privatized housing companies.
This one always shocks me, 1 in 6 (16.6%) military and veteran families experienced food insecurity or hunger in 2021. This number was 1 in 8 in 2019 and 1 in 5 during the Covid 19 Pandemic.
The survey shows that there is a significant relationship between enlisted rank, geography, race, ethnicity, and food insecurity. American Indian and Alaskan native respondents ranked the highest with more than 20% identifying as hungry. Hispanic or Latino was second with 13.2% experiencing hunger or food insecurity.
Military Community & Transition
This year’s survey showed that around 63% would recommend military life to others. This is down from 74.5% in 2019. The respondents noted the reasons they would recommend military life include job and financial stability, retirement benefits, healthcare, travel, and pride in protecting the country.
Reasons to not recommend military life included low pay, high stress, leadership, frequent PCS, and deployments along with the quality of family life.
The survey also posed various questions about transitioning and found that most responses indicate a negative experience when it comes to support. When asked what could be changed for the better, improving the TAP program, one on one guidance, and dedicated spouse and family member support topped the list.
MFAN feels the survey results affirm that family well-being is related to each of these topics and hopes to use these findings to create actionable solutions. Their recommendations are as follows:
- Conduct Additional Research on military family well-being
- Increase the availability of healthcare & mental health appointments
- Increase the availability of childcare
- Right-size BAH to decrease housing burdens
- Reduce the barriers to saving
The findings and recommendations from this survey shape MFAN’s programming and how it supports the needs of our military, veterans, and their families. For more details, you can read the entire survey by visiting MFAN’s website at: https://www.mfan.org/research-reports/2021-military-family-support-programming-survey-results-2/