Survey: Pay and benefits remain an issue for military families

Respondents say long deployments and worries about children and finances are main challenges facing service members.

Pay and benefits, deployments and their effects on children weigh heavily on the minds of military families, according to a new survey.

Eighteen percent of respondents to a May 2010 online survey by the nonprofit Blue Star Families reported pay and benefits as their chief concern, and 41 percent of respondents said it ranked among the top three issues associated with military life. A similar survey in 2009 by the organization found 21 percent of respondents ranked pay and benefits as the top issue that year.

The 2010 survey, which had 3,634 respondents, questioned family members worldwide on stress, relationships, spousal employment, effects of deployment on children and other lifestyle issues.

The majority of respondents -- 73 percent -- were spouses of service members. Almost half of respondents had more than one immediate family member affiliated with the military, according to an executive summary of the survey.

Of the 41 percent who believed pay and benefits ranked among their top three challenges, 84 percent said in an open-ended question they had trouble making ends meet, or believed service members' pay was low.

Contributing to the financial stress could be the fact that 49 percent of spouses felt that being married to a service member had a negative impact on their ability to pursue a career; 53 percent said military moves hurt their careers.

Only 8 percent of respondents believed the status of military spouse had a positive effect on their career. The survey found many spouses with successful careers were allowed to telework.

"This is a wide-screen, big-picture study, and shows the challenges families face with such a small percent of our country serving in the military and bearing the burden of eight years of constant deployments," Vivian Greentree, director of research and policy for Blue Star Families, said in a statement.

Ninety percent of respondents said their stress level was high or much higher while the service member in the family was deployed.

Blue Star Families released the findings late last month during the first-ever joint meeting of the Senate and House Military Family Caucus. Senate caucus Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said, "We need to know … the good and the tough, the bad, the beautiful that you're going through. Because if we know that, information is power -- we can do something about it."

Blue Star Families will post full results of the survey on its website later this month.