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Financial Strain Woven Into Military Life, Study Finds

Judit Klein / Flickr

A nonprofit that tries to connect the military community with available resources released its 2017 Support Programming Survey Thursday.  

The Military Family Advisory Network surveyed 5,603 people with military ties, including active duty personnel, reservists, veterans and spouses, and found the financial strain of military life woven throughout the results.

The majority of respondents — 60 percent — do not have enough savings to cover three months’ worth of living expenses in an emergency, with 15 percent having faced food insecurity. According to the study, families often go into debt when they change duty stations, a process that usually occurs every two to three years.

More than 44 percent of respondents said they had experienced financial strain as a result of their service, and that it affected them emotionally or physically.

“It went from feeling low to depression,” said Michele Kimball, director of research with MFAN, “It was affecting things like the ability to work; the ability to succeed; … they couldn't do anything with their families; they couldn't take their kids out; and it made them feel like they were not successful as leaders in their families.”

For some, the strain manifested as stress, anxiety, anger, or trouble concentrating, she added.

Military Spouse Unemployment

Military spouses nationwide are unemployed at a rate of 16 percent — four times the rate of their civilian counterparts. But statistics from the Defense Department show just 12 percent of unemployed military spouses are seeking work.

The MFAN study asked military spouses about their experiences in the civilian workforce, as well as the factors that made it harder to find or keep jobs.

"It's sort of a convergence of issues,” Kimball said. “So, first of all, one thing that makes our population different than our civilian counterparts is the moving. … Constant moving means that every time we move, we have to reset. We have to start again from the bottom very often in our careers and in our jobs.”

A lack of childcare options further complicates the issue, with nearly 20 percent of respondents saying it’s too expensive.

“We can't necessarily find childcare or afford it,” she said. “We've also seen that lack of childcare is an obstacle to finding a job. ...We know that it's all knitted together in that way.”

Factors like financial strain, anti-military bias, and challenges with moves also cropped up in the survey responses.  

Retirement Questions

In January, the military debuted a new retirement system known as Blended Retirement. The system awards a pension of at least 50 percent of base pay to service members immediately when they retire. All new entrants to the military will be enrolled in that system.

But those who joined between January 2006 and January 2018 will have a choice.

Under the traditional legacy retirement system, military personnel earn benefits only after serving for 20 years. But with the new option, they only need to serve for 12 years before becoming eligible.

The MFAN study found that the military's new Blended Retirement system could cause active duty service members to leave the military earlier. Just over 53 percent of respondents said their main consideration for leaving service is retirement eligibility.

“For a great number of our participants, the key reason for leaving was retirement eligibility. We think that's a gateway to leaving service,” Kimball said.

According to the Department of Defense, voluntary separations account for 47 percent of transitions out of the military. Prior military members must choose their retirement plan by the end of 2018, or be grandfathered into the legacy system.

Carson Frame can be reached at carson@tpr.org or on Twitter @carson_frame


Carson Frame can be reached carson@tpr.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame