By Buddy Blouin
Every so many years, a survey is presented to the backbone of those serving our country, military spouses. This is part of an ongoing effort by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to best understand the military experience for the families involved. The data from the latest rendition, the 2021 Survey of Active Duty Spouses is in and there are multiple areas in which mil spouses find military life is lacking. This round of data points took place during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and shows glaring stress points for our military families.

2021 Survey of Active Duty Spouses: Life During COVID Lacking in These Regions

When it comes to determining morale, the military experience, and the general sentiment of military spouses, the 2021 Survey of Active Duty Spouses stands alone. Conducted by the Office of People Analytics (OPA), a division of the DoD created in 2016, there are six places military spouses are struggling with in military life:
  1. Employment
  2. Child care
  3. Moving
  4. The rising cost of living
  5. Maintaining relationships
  6. Receiving mental healthcare
Each of these areas is complex, often connected, and not limited to the military. However, being a part of the military presents unique experiences and challenges involving such topics. By analyzing the OPA Survey of Active Duty Spouses, the DoD can create the support necessary to help our nation’s warriors and their families enjoy a higher quality of life. Explore each issue further below:

Military Spouse Jobs

There is an overall feeling of a lack of support from the DoD in terms of gaining meaningful employment among military spouses. This could be because it can take 19 weeks on average for mil spouses to find jobs when on the job market. Many of the following issues found in the survey are connected to unemployment. For example, military spouse unemployment due to PCS affects a notable amount of the community alone, affects child care, and can lead to adverse effects like food insecurity.

Military Child Care

45% of the active duty military spouses didn’t work because their children weren’t in daycare or school at the time. Not only does the lack of childcare affect employment, which subsequentially affects household income, but there have also been negative mental health effects stemming from the issue for military families.

Military Spouse PCS

The pandemic made an already stressful task even harder: moving. PCSing is a part of military life but when you have limited expenses, healthcare options, resources, childcare, etc., it becomes a behemoth. PCSing is a stressful event for all of those reasons, but it’s also connected to the employment issues found within military families. As many as 9% of those surveyed as unemployed for the Survey of Active Duty Spouses didn’t have a job because they either were getting ready to or had just moved.

Financial Stress in the Military

It’s hard to find anyone that hasn’t felt the extra financial burden that has been placed on Americans in the last few years, but for military spouses of junior enlisted, it hits harder. There have been pay increases for the military but with 25% of mil spouses facing food insecurity,

Military Relationships

When you’re dealing with added stress from financial pressures, balancing raising children, and suffering from a lack of mental health resources, your relationships are going to suffer as a result. Sadly, this perfect storm is showcased within the survey’s findings as the sentiment with military spouses.

Mental Health for Military Spouses

Military spouses mental health took a hit during COVID-19 due to the lack of child care we’ve mentioned above, but there’s more to it than that. It’s easy to see how the strain of financial hardships, relationship issues, and other factors also contributed to negative mental health effects. A feeling that there are lacking military spouse mental health services at particular military installations may be the biggest disappointment here. Awareness is great, but the DoD must commit to helping provide necessary mental health resources to all those who serve and their families if a change is truly going to continue.

Behind the Office of People Analytics’ Periodic Survey

The Survey of Active Duty Spouses is a DoD survey delivering data on the well-being of military spouses, conducted by its Office of People Analytics. The group works within the Defense Personnel Analytics Center as a part of the DoD’s Military Community and Family Policy. When issued, the survey helps capture a snapshot of military life, the feelings of those within the community, and the problems they face. As Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy, Patricia Montes Barron stated: “The Survey of Active Duty Spouses is an invaluable source of data and insights into the well-being of military spouses and their families. We are committed to taking care of our military families. The results of the latest survey allow us to prioritize solutions that meet their most pressing needs. I am truly grateful to the spouses who share their experiences and opinions through our surveys. Their voices serve as a guide as we continue the progress we have made on delivering on the DoD’s priority to help military families thrive.”

The 2021 Survey of Active Duty Spouses an Opportunity for Improvement

What was found in the OPA Survey of Active Duty Spouses is unfortunate, and while no organization is perfect, it’s important to highlight these issues to improve the lives of the families that sacrifice to keep the United States free. We can’t go back into the past, but we can use the past to improve our future. It’s difficult to say that the full effects of COVID-19 were to be expected, prepared for, or prevented. Nevertheless, we can work towards preparing better for the future in the event of another pandemic. Even more so, we can use the information to apply outside of public health emergencies to improve these areas of concern regardless. The 2021 Survey of Active Duty Spouses is a great wake-up call for improved healthcare access focusing on mental health, better employment assistance for military spouses, affordable, accessible child care, improved assistance for PCSing, and so forth.




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