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When I married my husband, I didn’t know he was going to become a combat veteran. I didn’t know wars would come and he would deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan. I didn’t know he would carry out many other risky missions — such as delivering medical and aid supplies to earthquake-ravaged lands or evacuating civilians from civil wars. Because I was not from a military family, I didn’t understand that we would move, and move, and move again. I didn’t understand that I would lose my job, be unemployed, and have to change my career with each move. I didn’t know that my 10th-grader would attend 10 different schools. But we rose to the occasion because that’s what military families do. We took some hits, but gained some rewards, and now 2015 is our first year as a veteran family.

I celebrate this Veterans Day with gratitude that our family made it safely to the other side, with appreciation for other veterans who are thriving. However I remain concerned for the active-duty servicemembers and their families. I also hold a concern for the future of our all-volunteer force and who will serve in the future. How will we continue to convince talented young men and women that volunteering to wear the mantle of their country is a noble and rewarding life choice?

Data from the newly released Blue Star Families Annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey clearly illuminate the challenges faced not only by veterans, but by all servicemembers and their families. Findings touch on the eminent struggle with raising an all-volunteer force. Today’s force is proud of their service, with 95 percent of respondents stating they developed sound leadership skills as a result of their time in the military. However, they are uncertain about the future. Military families report often feeling isolated in their communities. Though they sometimes feel appreciated by larger society, they feel their sacrifices aren’t truly valued.

Military families face serious and unexpected challenges not seen by their civilian neighbors. Whereas most American families have two income earners, military families are disadvantaged by moves and remote locations. The AMFLS indicates only 45 percent of military families are able to support their needs with dual income earnings. The majority of military nonworking spouses want to work. The majority of military spouses with college degrees are working below their potential and/or outside of their qualified career field. Importantly, the data also show that employed military spouses have improved satisfaction with the military lifestyle. A military spouse’s quality of life affects his or her own willingness to “stay military,” and also shapes his or her servicemember’s satisfaction with military life and proclivity to remain in service.

In addition, an employed spouse significantly improves his or her servicemember’s chance of making a successful transition into the civilian workforce. Fifty-three percent of veterans are not working in their preferred career field. Many transitioning veterans take the first job they are offered because they need to support their families when they do not have an employed spouse to financially carry the family while the servicemember looks for civilian employment. An employed military spouse is a bridge during transition that enables a servicemember to take the best job after exiting service, not just the first job.

Overall, financial security is the most prevalent concern of veterans and their families. Nearly 60 percent of military families make do without the salary that one of their members is trained and experienced enough to command. The solution is solving the unemployment and underemployment crisis, and incidentally, it comes at zero cost to taxpayers. The solution to financial security is not just a 1 percent or 1.2 percent pay raise. It’s removing the barriers that prevent these educated and credentialed spouses from being able to work to their potential.

And what of the future force? It is not only how we treat our veterans that determines our future force, but how we understand them. Right now, although current military members are proud of their service, less than half would recommend it to their own children. Since 84 percent of recruits currently come from a military family, this statistic augers a shortfall. The Economist magazine recently flagged this risk.

Why this change in the willingness to recommend service? The Blue Star Families survey suggests a number of reasons. Trust in government is low. The uncertainty fostered by sequestration creates anxiety. The pervasive feeling that civilians don’t fully understand what servicemembers do on a daily basis, or even that 200,000 are deployed in 130 countries today, creates a tangible divide.

I look forward to celebrating Veterans Day this year with my newly minted veteran husband. But I hope that as Americans rightly celebrate those who have left service, they remember the veterans who continue to wear the uniform and those who will. We all have a role in supporting them and their families in their mission to keep us safe.

Kathy Roth Douquet is CEO of Blue Star Families.

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