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Most military families don’t recommend serving, survey shows

Soldiers of 91st Military Police Battalion, 16th MP Brigade, welcomed home after a 5 month deployment to the U.S. European Command area of responsibility during a July 2022 ceremony. (Fort Drum/Released)
March 20, 2024

A new survey shows that less than one-third of U.S. military families would recommend a person pursue military service, revealing a significant drop since 2016.

The survey, which was conducted by Blue Star Families in partnership with Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families, received over 7,400 responses between May and July of last year. The survey, which is described as the “most comprehensive” of its kind, involves responses from current service members, veterans, National Guard members, Reserve members, and military families.

The Blue Star Families 2023 survey showed that only 32% of military family respondents would recommend serving in the U.S. military. Survey respondents cited quality-of-life issues, such as poor job opportunities for military spouses, housing concerns, and poor physical and mental health care services, as some of the current issues facing military families.

“Likelihood to recommend military service is declining,” Blue Star Families noted. “The proportion of active-duty family respondents who were likely to recommend military service has dropped by nearly half from 2016, when it was 55% to just 32% in 2023.”

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The Blue Star Families survey showed that the top issue for active-duty service members is the amount of time they are required to spend away from their families. The survey also highlighted the impact of inflation on military families, as many respondents cited low military pay as a major issue that has led to food and housing insecurity.

“We are still in credit card debt from our PCS,” one active-duty Army spouse stated. “Cost of living is rising. My children are young and need balanced meals. I spend my entire civilian paycheck on child care. We buy cheap food and skip where we can.”

According to the survey, 73% of active-duty-affiliated respondents said they had to pay over $200 per month out-of-pocket for civilian housing, while 48% of active-duty military families admitted to having financial stress caused by the cost of housing.

Both military veterans and veteran spouses indicated that their top concern is access to Veterans Affairs health care systems, while civilian understanding of veteran issues and employment difficulties were also cited as top concerns by U.S. veterans.

“This data shows that persistent quality-of-life issues such as spouse unemployment, limited child care, housing costs, and health care barriers impact military families’ desire to continue their family tradition of service,” Jessica Strong, the senior director of applied research at Blue Star Families, said. “But military families are the most critical untapped potential to solve the national recruiting crisis. To save the All-Volunteer Force, we have to address military families’ concerns and stories they shared with us through this research.”