Survey: Health care, pay issues aside, airmen happy with Air Force life
Stars and Stripes June 11, 2003
ARLINGTON, Va. — Airmen say they are much more likely to make the Air Force a career in 2002 than they indicated in 1999, and 90 percent agree the service is a good place to work, according to a new Air Force survey.
But enthusiasm is much lower when it comes to issues such as health care — only about half of all airmen are happy with it — and payroll issues: 40 percent report having problems with their pay under the new Personnel Data System.
And while average work hours are down, 50 percent of airmen report working harder, which could be an indication of fatigue, according to the 2002 “Quality of Life” survey.
The poll was conducted by the Air Force Survey Branch at the Air Force Personnel Center at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. The Web-based 2002 survey was administered in the fall of 2002 to a randomly selected sample of 89,584 officers and enlisted personnel and 18,397 civilians. A total of 39,938 Air Force military personnel and 9,384 civilians responded, for an overall return rate of 45 percent.
The extensive survey included questions that cover life in the Air Force, including job satisfaction, service experiences, work environment, compensation and benefits, deployment tempos, health care, housing, community and family programs and educational opportunities.
About 90 percent of all airmen, including pilots, said the Air Force is a good place to work. In 1999, those same numbers ranged from 66 percent for first-term enlistees to around 80 percent for officers.
Air Force officials concluded that servicemembers are happier now for several reasons, including pay raises that started in 1999, higher promotion rates, improvements in the retirement system and the soft economy, which makes civilian employment less attractive.
“But we [also] should not discount the impact of patriotic fervor in the midst of the ongoing global war on terrorism,” the report said.
Pay and benefits
The pay raises have boosted reported satisfaction with overall compensation, although more than half of all enlisted airmen remain less than enchanted with the total pay package.
Forty-three percent of career enlisted airmen said they were satisfied with their compensation package in the 2002 survey, compared with just 25 who responded positively in 1999 and 34 percent in 2000.
And the Air Force’s payroll system apparently needs some tweaking: Forty percent of enlisted airmen surveyed said they had problems with payroll in 2001 because of missing or incorrect information in the personnel data system, such as information on promotions, re-enlistment, and special pays and bonuses.
The survey also uncovered an incredible well of confusion regarding the military retirement system, which currently includes three different plans (Final Pay, High-3 and Career Status Bonus/REDUX).
Asked which system applied to them, many airmen simply said they “don’t know,” including 88 percent of first-term airmen, 69 percent of 2nd term airmen, 57 percent of company grade officers, who are not pilots, and 74 percent of all company grade pilots.
“This finding suggests there is a critical need to inform and advise Air Force members about the Air Force retirement systems and which applies to whom,” the survey said.
Health care was another area that revealed a glass half-full situation.
Among career enlisted airmen, 59 percent said they are satisfied with their own health care, and 51 percent are happy with their family health care. But only 42 percent reported satisfaction with the level of reimbursement they receive for health expenses.
Of all airmen, pilots and other officers were happiest with their own health care, with those groups averaging about 71 percent. But even those groups dropped precipitously when reporting satisfaction for their family’s heath care, dipping into the 50 percent range.
Housing is also a concern, with about half the single enlisted personnel assigned to dorms stating that they are dissatisfied with their quarters, mainly because the rooms are too small and lack storage.
Meanwhile, for the 64 percent of all Air Force members who lived in nonmilitary housing off base in 2002, “there are more dissatisfied people than there are satisfied people,” the report said, calling that tabulation “an interesting finding.”
The only exception was single, nonpilot officers, of whom 54 percent said they were satisfied with their housing on the economy.
Out-of-pocket costs are a particular issue for airmen who live off post. Sixty percent of married officers who live in nonmilitary housing reported they spend more than $300 a month in excess of basic housing allowance for housing, utilities and insurance. For married enlisted members, 32 percent said they are spending more than $300 over their BAH.
The Air Force began quality of life surveys more than 30 years ago, at first polling randomly selected groups about every three years. In 1995, the survey went electronic, and data is now pulled together into a report that is issued every two years.
To see previous Quality of Life surveys, including the newly released 2002 report, go to:www.afpc.randolph.af.mil/surveys/Pages/Reports.asp