Military spouse feedback critical to DOD’s family support programming

Defense Department officials are sending a new spouse survey to select active-duty families to assist in determining programs that best suit their needs.
During an interview with the Pentagon Channel, Cathy Flynn, a program analyst with the Pentagon’s military community and family policy office, discussed how these surveys affect future programs serving military families. “The Active Duty Spouse Survey is a survey that’s sent out to a representative sample of active-duty spouses every two years,” she said. “It’s really a chance for spouses to give their feedback, their input and their experiences … back to us here in the Department of Defense.” The department’s first spouse survey was in 2006, and the first active-duty spouse survey was in 2008. The department now surveys active-duty spouses in even-numbered years and reserve-component spouses in odd-numbered years. The new active-duty spouse survey that launched  Nov. 19 will be in the field for about three months — “as long as we get enough response,” Flynn said. “The questions cover all areas of military life — things that we hope are important to the spouses,” Flynn said. “Things like [permanent change-of-station] moves, your experiences with deployment, your experiences with your children, your experiences with military programs.” Flynn said these results are analyzed and used to make decisions on policies and programs to continue to better serve military families. “In 2010, we learned that 85 percent of spouses want or need to work,” she said. “Of our population of spouses, 57 percent are in the labor force; however, 26 percent of those spouses were unemployed. So using that data really helped us to boost employment and education support programs for spouses. It was really critical to have that feedback to have the facts to use with our leaders.”
Flynn said the survey will help to guide decisions about family programs in an era of budget challenges. “The government is trying to make decisions about what programs to keep,” she said. “It’s really important that we have the facts about what [their] experiences are like, what spouses lives are like, and what programs they’re using and what programs they’re benefitting from.” DOD leaders want to make “really good choices” about what programs to keep and which programs to beef up to continue supporting military families, Flynn added, and responses to the survey will inform those decisions. Each demographic is surveyed for all service branches, Flynn said, to provide officials with an understanding of spouses’ experiences in all services. “In this survey, it’s all brought together so we can understand across the board what’s happening — where services might look different and where they look the same,” Flynn said. Flynn emphasized the importance of spouses participating in these surveys to improve or sustain support programs. “It’s a random sample, … and about one in 10 — 65,000 spouses — will be invited to take this survey,” she said. “What’s really important about that is if you’re selected to participate in this survey, you’re representing, essentially, 10 spouses who have similar backgrounds as you do.” Flynn explained selected families will be invited by mail to take the survey or can participate online. The survey takes 20 to 30 minutes to complete, she added. “It takes a little bit of time, because there are a lot of areas to cover,” she explained. “We’re trying to cover the entire breadth of experiences of military life. “It is really important that people take this survey seriously, and give us their feedback,” she continued. “The Active Duty Spouse Survey is really your opportunity to get your feedback all the way up to the leaders in the Department of Defense.”