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Research Questions

  1. What were the most-common types of problems and needs Army spouses faced and prioritized?
  2. What were the resources most used by spouses, and were they satisfactory?
  3. What barriers or facilitators were most prevalent that might explain the resource use?
  4. Were there differences in responses among sociodemographic subgroups of Army spouses?
  5. Did any sociodemographic characteristics of spouses or their soldiers affect how they interacted with resources, either within or outside the military?
  6. Are differences in problem-solving experiences — specifically, having unmet needs — related to important indicators of spousal well-being and satisfaction with the Army, including favoring their soldiers staying in the Army?

U.S. Army families face not only challenges affecting all families but also those related to military service; the latter challenges may create new problems or exacerbate existing problems. The Army has recognized these unique challenges and implemented programs and services to help Army families and Army spouses, in particular. The authors of this report describe the results of the unique survey approach to understanding Army family program use through the lens of a problem-solving process.

In the survey, completed by more than 8,500 Army spouses, participants received a list of specific challenges within nine problem domains, and spouses were asked to prioritize which two top problem domains contained the most significant problems they faced in the past year; what their top needs were for each problem; which resources, if any, they had contacted to meet the needs; and whether using those resources met their needs. Finally, respondents were asked about three specific outcomes — experience of stress, general attitudes toward the Army, and support for the soldier spouse remaining in the Army — and the authors analyzed the association between the problem-solving process and these three outcomes.

Key Findings

Spouses most frequently chose work-life balance, military practices and culture, and own well-being as their top problem domains

  • Feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or tired — both the spouse and the soldier — was spouses' most frequently selected issue, followed by feelings of loneliness or boredom.

Among spouses who had needs for help, the most frequently prioritized type of help was emotional or social support

  • Spouses of junior enlisted soldiers were more likely to indicate a need for general information, particularly for problems with military practices and culture.

The most commonly contacted types of resources were spouses' personal networks outside the military, other military spouses they knew in person, a military-covered medical provider, and civilian and military internet resources or social media

  • The most commonly reported reason for not using resources to help with needs was that respondents did not know whom to contact for help.

If spouses used resources to help with their needs, most had their needs met

  • However, among all spouses, some indicated having one or more unmet needs.
  • The two problem domains with higher rates of unmet needs were military practices and culture and health care system problems.
  • The two domains with lowest rates of unmet needs were own well-being and household management.

For each outcome — perceived stress, general attitudes toward the military, and support for their soldiers staying in the military — those who had their needs unmet reported the most stress and the least-positive attitudes

  • Spouses who were unemployed and looking for work, lived farther from their soldiers' posts, or were married to junior enlisted soldiers were particularly vulnerable.

Recommendations

  • To improve communication with spouses and provide additional opportunities for social support and information sharing between spouses, the Army should consider ways to boost the effectiveness of Army Family Readiness Groups and increase participation in them, especially by spouses of junior enlisted soldiers and those who live far from their soldiers' military posts. This will likely require a complete rethinking or reboot of Army Family Readiness Groups as a family support resource.
  • The Army should explore outreach to spouses through systematic collection or provision of email addresses for spouses.
  • A "no wrong door" policy would help spouses find the resources they need — any program or service that a spouse goes to for help should be able offer direction to the best resource to address a problem, even if the resource is in another program office.
  • The Army should encourage spouses to use helplines (e.g., Military OneSource) as a tool for negotiating resources.
  • The Army should build systematically solicited "customer" feedback into ongoing program evaluation and monitoring systems.
  • The Army should consider targeting vulnerable groups of spouses for outreach, perhaps through existing well-used resources.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Survey Content and Method

  • Chapter Three

    Respondents' Problems and Needs

  • Chapter Four

    Respondents' Use of Resources to Address Needs

  • Chapter Five

    Unmet Needs and Interrelations Among Problems, Needs, Resources, and Attitudes

  • Chapter Six

    Conclusions and Recommendations

  • Appendix A

    Survey Instrument

  • Appendix B

    Additional Analyses

  • Appendix C

    Detailed Sociodemographic Subgroup Tables

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored sponsored by the Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management, U.S. Army and conducted by the Personnel, Training, and Health Program within the RAND Arroyo Center.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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