BY JENNIFER WOODWORTH, PSY.D.
Many stereotypes about the military and their families exist. Each person’s experience is unique and cannot be put into any one category. Stereotypes about military families are presented in movies, books, reality television shows and biases of civilians; however military families struggle with many of the same things civilian families do. Presented here are some myths about military families and the facts that dispute them.
MYTH: MILITARY FAMILIES DON’T PAY TAXES AND RECEIVE A LOT OF BENEFITS.
FACT: Many military families receive tax breaks due to their low annual income (depending on state of residence and family size) and they might qualify for food stamps or Women Infant Children (WIC) vouchers based on family size and income. Over 35% of families reported that they have difficulty making ends meet, at least occasionally (2014 Military Spouse Employment Report), however for the majority of military families income covers their needs. Yes, many companies and organizations offer discounts for active duty or veterans of the military and there are perks to being a military family (Blue Star Families offers free entrance to some museums around the country from Memorial Day through Labor Day for active duty military and their families.)
MYTH: MILITARY SPOUSES DO NOT HAVE CAREER ASPIRATIONS.
FACT: Even though moving often can create challenges to completing a degree or certification, transferring credits and online learning have been an asset to military spouses. According to the 2014 Military Spouse Employment Report, 38% of military spouses have earned a Bachelor’s degree, 21% a Master’s degree, 8% a professional degree, and almost 3%, a Doctoral degree. Officer’s spouses do tend to have higher percentage of degrees than active duty spouses. The 2014 Demographics Report of the Military reports that 65% of spouses work in a civilian job, are part of the Armed Forces themselves, or are seeking employment. Also, the cost of childcare might deter spouses from seeking employment, especially if the family consists of more than one child that has not reached school age.
MYTH: ALL MILITARY SPOUSES ARE WOMEN.
FACT: Approximately 93% of the armed forces are male, 7% female. According to the 2014 Demographics Report of the Military half of those 7% are married to another active duty military member.
MYTH: CHILDREN FROM MILITARY FAMILIES ARE MISBEHAVED OR “BRATS.”
FACT: Children from military families have many of the same issues as their civilian family counterparts (mental health, physical health, moving due to jobs, family issues etc.). Adjustment to change can be difficult for many children, (a move, time away from a parent, addition of a sibling) and usually time is all that is needed to adjust. Support from the community, school, and family are the most effective tools for adjustment to new situations.
MYTH: BASE HOUSING IS FREE.
FACT: Most base housing is paid for by a housing allowance from the military. The amount is determined by rank, marital status, dependents and location.
MYTH: MILITARY MEMBERS MARRY AND HAVE FAMILIES AT A YOUNG AGE.
FACT: According to 2014 Demographics Report of the Military, 42% of military families include children. Granted 49% of the active duty component are under the age of 25 which does make the chances of having a young family higher than their civilian counterparts, especially when 55% of the active duty military were married or are currently married.
MYTH: SHOPPING AT THE COMMISSARY OR EXCHANGE ON BASE IS CHEAPER THAN SHOPPING “OUT IN TOWN.”
FACT: This is not necessarily true. Shopping sales and couponing can save families money whether they shop on base or out in town. Often prices at commissaries fluctuate based on military paydays; however the exchanges on base now offer price matches with “in town” prices.
MYTH: MILITARY FAMILIES GET FREE HEALTHCARE.
FACT: Payments are taken from the military member’s paycheck to cover the medical bill. Depending on the plan chosen, there can be additional copays and catastrophic caps that need to be met. Also, there are often long waits to see specialists or other professionals that take TriCare insurance. Sometimes, there are limited resources where the family is located or there might be long travel times to see specialists. Also, reserve families only receive TriCare health benefits if the reservist is activated for more than 30 days, otherwise they have to pay for health insurance out of pocket.
MYTH: ALL MILITARY FAMILIES MOVE EVERY 2-3 YEARS.
FACT: Each family’s experience is unique and moving depends on a variety of factors including how much time is left on contract, main job/responsibility, where personnel are needed, and the family’s needs (a family typically will not be moved to a location that does not have the services needed for a family member with special needs). The 2014 Military Spouse Employment Report found that in the previous five years 79 percent of families had made at least one Permanent Change of Station move, which left 21 percent being stationed at the same base for the past five years.
MYTH: FAMILIES LIKE DEPLOYMENTS BECAUSE IT MEANS EXTRA MONEY.
FACT: While there may be a financial benefit to multiple deployments (various types of pay for being in a danger zone and extra pay for time away from family), stress on the family at home increases with the spouse taking on all of the duties that he/she might have shared. Couples are at increased risk for relationship issues as the months of cumulative deployment increase. The deployed service member misses birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, births and milestones of their own children every time they are away. Do military families like deployments? Some do and some don’t but they all come with costs and benefits. Deployments are part of the current military environment and cannot be avoided, therefore “bracing for impact” and finding resources during the deployment are helpful strategies.
MYTH: : “YOU SHOULD HAVE KNOWN WHAT YOU WERE GETTING INTO.”
FACT: As mentioned before, each family has their own military experience, so what exactly were you supposed to know about military life before marrying into the lifestyle? Military life rarely meets up with expectations because it is so rapidly changing.
MYTH: MILITARY MEMBERS ARE ONLY AWAY DURING DEPLOYMENTS.
FACT: Inconsistent schedules, long hours, being “on duty” 24/7, and training at other bases are all examples of how families are separated from loved ones. These separations could last for days or months at a time, and usually do not include extra pay or time off.
MYTH: ACTIVE DUTY MILITARY MEMBERS LEAVE THE MILITARY WITHOUT A SKILL SET OR EDUCATION.
FACT: According to the 2014 Demographics Report of the Military, 20% of the active duty military force have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Characteristics of flexible thinking; quick decision making; ability to prioritize information, organize tasks, take directions from superiors, and lead junior personnel, make military members coveted by employers.
MYTH: “YOU WENT TO WAR, YOU MUST HAVE PTSD.” OR “YOU CAN’T HAVE PTSD, YOU DIDN’T GO TO WAR.”
FACT: According to the National Center on PTSD “about 7 or 8 out of every 100 people (or 7-8% of the population) will have PTSD at some point in their lives.” This compares to about 11-20 of every 100 veterans of Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF) in a given year. Some military members or veterans meet criteria for other mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders, which may have resulted from their experience in the military. Examples of traumatic experiences include an overseas frontline deployment, witnessing a tragic accident during training, or a sexual assault. •
• 2014 Demographics Report of the Military: http://download.militaryonesource.mil/12038/MOS/Reports/2014-Demographics-Report.pdf
• 2014 Military Spouse Employment Report: Vets.syr.edu
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jennifer Woodworth is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Vista, CA. She has worked in the mental health field for seven years. Her husband is retired from the Marine Corps and she has three children ages six, eight, and ten.