The Blue Star Families Military Family Lifestyle Survey gives a voice to military families, said Vivian Greentree, a Navy wife and the director of the research and policy department of BSF.
She pointed out that having a voice is especially important as federal budget cuts are considered. Family members who want to participate have until midnight on Monday to complete the survey.
Vivian said the organization aims to have 5,000 responses to this year’s online survey, and they are nearing that goal.
It’s an opportunity, she said, for military spouses and families to speak out on issues ranging from education for military kids and volunteerism to post-traumatic stress and suicide prevention programs. The evidence is that some powerful people are listening to the results.
Michelle Obama, for example, used the results of past BSF surveys, particularly regarding spouse employment issues, to inform her Joining Forces initiative.
The organization reaches out to other influential people and organizations as well, using the survey results as a tool.
“When we meet with elected officials, policy makers and military leadership, we can say, this is not only anecdotal evidence but a national survey of military families,” Vivian said.
“It’s important to pinpoint where intervention of resources or programing are most effective, given the impending budget cuts,” she said.
The survey assesses the strengths and contributions as well as the needs of military families. Last year’s survey found that 81% of respondents had volunteered in the past 12 months.
As the war winds down and many troops leave active duty, Blue Star Families intends to identify the skills and contributions veterans and their families bring back to their civilian communities.
“We know the big challenges we face, but we also want to talk about the positive effects of military life, like voting behavior, investing back in the community,” she said. “We still need to quantify and address problems, but also to find the social capital and the social connections we have."
So the survey covers many areas of information, including financial literacy, relationships with family and friends, educational programs, effects of deployment on children, community support and health care.
New to this year’s survey are more questions about civic interaction and volunteerism and new questions about the use of social media to connect to friends and to access military information.
There are also questions about informal support networks and relationships.
“There’s finally starting to be an awareness of the importance of those intangibles, the benefits of being connected to one another” in military life, Vivian said.
I took the survey this week. With so much to cover the survey is long, but straightforward. There are point and click answers and opportunities to give longer answers in text blocks.
My advice: Grab a cup of coffee and maybe a sandwich, relax and take the 20 to 25 minutes to complete the survey. It is tailored to the responses of those surveyed, so the length can vary depending on the answers of respondents.
Vivian said that in spite of the length, participation has been good this year. She said military families have shown they want to “pay it forward.”
“They want to share what’s happened to them so it can be better for the next family. They want to have their voices heard, or they’ve had a great experience and want to give that feedback.
“We appreciate and understand the time people take to take it. It’s a sacred trust,” she said.
“We will take this information and put it to immediate use by presenting the results. In the long term we hope it will affect our community even more as we share with other stakeholders to improve military life.”
Vivian described Blue Star Families as military family support organization.
“Everything we do revolves around supporting, connecting and empowering military families,” she said. The survey outcome is one of the organization's tools.
BSF works alongside a long list of charitable organizations, like the USO, The American Red Cross and Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors that also benefit military families.