July 19, 2019

Military Families Require More Coordinated Support, Says New Report

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Defense’s Military Family Readiness System (MFRS) — a network of agencies, programs, services, and individuals that promotes the well-being and quality of life of military service members and their families — lacks a comprehensive, coordinated framework to support well-being, resilience, and readiness, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The report, Strengthening the Military Family Readiness System for a Changing American Society, recommends that DOD programs for military families account for the degree to which family structures within the military community have changed in recent years as a result of changes in American society.

Family well-being is essential to the effectiveness of the military services and DOD for multiple reasons. Among other things, family members provide support to service members while they serve or when they are injured or have other difficulties; family problems can interfere with the ability of service members to deploy or remain in theater; and family members are central influences on whether members continue to serve. In addition, service members’ psychological or physical difficulties can reverberate within families, potentially generating significant costs for DOD support programs.

While there is no universal definition of family well-being in the research literature or across national or global organizations, the report identifies the following as key components of well-being:

In many ways, the life course of military families can be similar to the life course of nonmilitary families. However, a number of experiences are specific to military life or are experienced differently because of the military context in which they occur. Such experiences include deployments, combat exposure, service-related mental and physical injuries and death, lack of or disruption of career progression, and transition to civilian life. These experiences may lead to stressors and challenges that can undermine healthy processes in families, resulting in discord and reducing well-being and functional abilities.

“Military families encompass a broad spectrum of American society and have widely diverse needs that have materially changed in recent years as a result of broad changes in society at large,” said Kenneth W. Kizer, chair of the committee that wrote the report and chief healthcare transformation officer for Atlas Research. “While most military-connected children and families are doing well, there are subgroups who would benefit from greater support.”

The committee found that DOD’s MFRS has many good features and offers support not usually available in the private sector; however, it could be strengthened in a number of ways. For example, the MFRS would benefit from having more complete information about the diverse nature of today’s military families. The committee found that current data on military families is insufficient with respect to information on long-term non-marital partners, ex-spouses and ex-partners, sexual orientation, and citizenship status, which results in some types of families being underserved. Purposefully measuring these kinds of characteristics will help the MFRS meet variation in military family needs, well-being, and readiness.

In order to provide access to effective services, the DOD should strengthen the Military Family Readiness System so that it:

The report also recommends that the DOD promote better civilian understanding, both within military community and the broader community, of the strengths and needs of military-connected individuals, addressing misinformation, negative stereotypes, and lack of knowledge commonly found in the civilian sector about military life and service members.

The DOD should continuously assess the availability and effectiveness of specialized family-centered policies, programs, services, resources, and practices to support the evolving and unexpected needs of families facing exceptionally high stressors. In particular, the DOD should seek to serve highly affected families through interdisciplinary, collaborative models in which community service providers, health care providers, and other professionals, both within and outside the military health system, are prepared to rapidly develop and deliver family-centered services that address emerging, high-stress family challenges. Policies, programs, and services should be systematically evaluated and prepared to respond to evolving high stress situations within the recommended Military Family Readiness System.

The study – undertaken by the Committee on the Well-Being of Military Families – was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense. The National Academies are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln. For more information, visit nationalacademies.org.

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Kacey Templin, Media Relations Officer

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