Army Adjusts to Meet Families’ Changing Needs

Army Adjusts to Meet Families’ Changing Needs

Family homecoming
Photo by: U.S. Army/Mike Strasser

A new report reveals a changing Army family and the need for increased assessment and data collection to ensure the service is properly supporting and caring for soldiers’ families.

There are more than 2.5 million military family members across DoD, according to the Military OneSource 2020 demographics profile. More than 640,000 are family members of active-duty soldiers.  

As the Army family continues to change and diversify, the “Health of the Army Family,” the first such report released by the Army Public Health Center, calls for DoD policies to capture military families and their unique needs. 

“The Army of today is not only comprised of single and married Soldiers and their dependents, it is also comprised of Soldiers in committed long-term relationships, those who co-parent with former spouses or partners, and same-sex couples,” the report found. “It is essential to recognize the evolution of family structures and to identify means by which the Army can achieve an inclusive definition of family.” 

The report includes data and research mostly from 2019 and earlier, though it also highlights the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Army families. 

The pandemic “highlights the need for Army family supportive services during the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the report. It found that just over half of soldiers reported a financial impact from the pandemic, more than 64% reported their spouse or partner was having difficulty coping with the impact of the pandemic, and almost 60% of soldiers with children said their children’s daycare or school was closed or operating at reduced hours. 

While the report confirms previous findings that spousal support is key to soldier retention, it also identified spouse employment as a key issue for Army families. 

Nearly one in four active-duty spouses reported being unemployed, and even employed spouses reported experiencing lower pay, feeling overqualified and working fewer hours than desired, according to studies cited in the report. 

“Military spouses are the backbone of the Armed Forces. They keep the home front strong when their service member is away for training, deployment, or attending professional schools,” the report found. “Spouse employment is an important Army Family issue, and therefore an important Army issue. For this reason, the DoD has made resources available to help military spouses achieve professional goals.” 

Moving forward, the report found that more demographic and program data is necessary to ensure that Army families’ needs are met. 

“Gaps remain in knowledge and in the ability to report information on key demographics such as family member age, gender, and location. Numerous gaps also exist in the ability to make direct comparisons between Army Family member health and comparable civilian populations,” the report found. “… There is limited information on which of the many programs, services, and resources available to support the health and quality of life of the Army Family are able to demonstrate effectiveness in improving outcomes or affecting positive change—not that they are ineffective; rather, the information largely does not exist.” 

Laura Mitvalsky, director of the health promotion and wellness directorate at the Army Public Health Center, described the report as “an important first step” to “understanding, monitoring and optimizing the health, quality of life and readiness of Army families,” according to an Army news article. 

She added, “The health and satisfaction of Army families today directly impacts the future fighting force of our nation.”

Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. R. Scott Dingle said the report is essential to understanding today’s Army family and their needs. 

“Today’s Army family experiences unique challenges, stressors and systems,” he said, according to the Army news article. “It is important to understand the health status of the Army family so that we can ensure their needs are being met and address any gaps.”

The full report is available here.