Last week, three hot shots from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine presented a report titled “Strengthening the Military Family Readiness System for a Changing American Society” at the Military Child Education Coalition’s National Training Seminar in Washington, DC. The 320-page report gave a scholarly scolding to the DoD for “siloing” and fragmenting the many services for military families.
The National Academies undertook the study to examine the state of military family readiness and the DoD’s Military Family Readiness System, a network of agencies, programs, services, and individuals that promotes the well-being and quality of life of military service members and their families.
“The system lacks a comprehensive, coordinated framework to support individual and population well-being, resilience, and readiness among military families,” the National Academies’ Committee on the Well-being of Military Families concluded.
One guiding principal of the study was that military family readiness is directly linked to mission readiness, and the Committee cited four reasons why the well-being of families is essential to the DoD. First, family well-being affects individuals deciding whether to enter or remain in military service. Second, family difficulties force DoD to pay cost for legal, medical, mental health, or financial problems. Third, family stress takes a service member’s focus away from the mission. “Finally, and perhaps most importantly, service members families support the military mission by supporting them while they serve, making it possible for service members to leave home to train and deploy, and providing significant care for service members when they are wounded, ill, or injured.”
There are a variety of challenges that pose a threat to family readiness and resilience, according to the report, including illness, injury, troubles with housing, lack of career progression, financial instability, moving, deployments, temporary duty away from home, and lack of connection to the local community. Combat exposure and family separation were identified as “acute stressors” to military families.
While the DoD recognizes the importance of military family readiness and provides many sources of support and programs; the Committee concluded that the MFRS was flawed because it did not coordinate these sources and programs so that they were easily accessible to families in need. They cited a 13-garrison study in which respondents reported “when a soldier or family member is experiencing a problem … bouncing around could be avoided if there were more communication and coordination among service providers, and unfortunately … if it is not about their program, they really don’t know to tell you where to go.”
The Committee also found an increasing number of military families who are “invisible” to the DoD because their make up does not fit the definition of a military family. “Examples of invisible families may include same-sex-headed households and families as well as co-parenting but unmarried families. … [F]ully understanding military families and their needs may require greater attention to family complexity and diversity.”
Having a military family of my own, I agree that my spouse’s readiness to serve hinged on our family’s support and stability. My husband Francis was able to stand watches, travel, and deploy, because we, his family, were fairly healthy and content, holding down the home fort for him. Now, as the spouse of a recently retired Naval officer with 28 years of active duty service, I see the shortcomings that this new study has identified. Even though I’ve read about new budgets and programs, our health clinic has drastically reduced services for dependents, base housing services are inconsistent, and traditional services have shut down on some bases. I’m worried about losing services that affect military family well-being.
When I find myself grumbling about changes in services that I’d become accustomed to as a military spouse, I wonder to myself, “Am I too set in my military ways? Am I turning into one of those blue-haired spouses who refuse to go through the self-service check out at the commissary? Am I just mad because I’m no longer allowed to see the base clinic podiatrist?”
No. This new study affirms that, despite my bunions, I am not just a grumpy old military spouse.