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Benefits, mental health top family concerns

May. 21, 2012 - 11:41AM   |   Last Updated: May. 21, 2012 - 11:41AM  |  
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More military families are concerned about pay, benefits and retirement, but fewer report worries about operational tempo and effects of deployments on their children, according to a survey released by Blue Star Families.

For the first time, post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury surfaced among the top six issues in 2012, with 6 percent of participants reporting it as their top concern.

The survey was fielded online in November, with 4,234 respondents. Of those, 2,891 completed the survey; the majority of the questions were optional. About 68 percent of those who participated in the survey were spouses.

The most common concern was the possibility of changes in retirement benefits, cited by 31 percent of respondents. As the researchers note, the survey was fielded at a time when the spotlight was on proposed changes in the military retirement system, so the issue was included in the survey for the first time.

Pay and benefits ranked second, with 20 percent listing it as a top issue.

"The Blue Star Families survey will serve as an informative guide on what we can do as a nation to ensure that our troops, veterans and their families have the support they need," said Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., in an announcement about the results.

Of those who participated, 75 percent were affiliated with active-duty members and 65 percent were in enlisted families. Eighty-five percent were female.

The survey's reach was broad, ranging from children's education and spouse employment, to issues related to post-traumatic stress and TBI.

Seven percent of respondents listed effects of deployment on military children as their top concern, down from 15 percent in 2010. Yet in a separate question, 11 percent said deployment had had a significant negative effect on their children.

Thirty percent of respondents said they had been deployed for more than 24 months since September 2001.

Possibly reflecting the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, only 7 percent cited operational tempo as their top concern, down from 15 percent two years ago.

But time apart takes its toll: Among those who had experienced 37 months or more of deployment separation in the previous 10 years, only 15 percent supported the idea of their service member staying in the military. Among those who had experienced 13 to 24 months of deployment separation, 52 percent supported their service member staying in uniform.

The overall easing of concerns about deployment effects on children and about operational tempo are no surprise, said Kelly Hruska, government relations deputy director for the National Military Family Association.

"At the time the survey was taken, the discussion was about the budget, retirement, and health care, and pulling out of Iraq," she said. "And although we're still at war, spouses are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel."

Six percent of respondents listed PTSD and TBI as their top military family concern.

Some related findings:

• Three percent reported that their service member had been diagnosed with TBI.

• Eleven percent reported their service member had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress.

• More than one-fourth — 26 percent — of respondents said their service member had exhibited signs of PTSD. Of those, 62 percent had not sought treatment. When asked why not, 86 percent cited lack of confidentiality, while 15 percent listed concerns about a negative impact on their career.

Among other findings:

• Fifty-seven percent of military spouses said the military has had a negative impact on their careers. Of the 60 percent of spouses who are not working, 53 percent said they would like to be. The most common problems are lack of job alignment — such as being overqualified or underqualified for jobs in their geographic area — and lack of available or affordable child care.

• Sixty-eight percent are experiencing stress from their current financial condition.

• Sixty-five percent said the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" had no effect on a variety of job and morale-related issues.

• Eighty-nine percent are registered to vote.

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