America should always appreciate military spouses --they serve, too

There are holidays, events, and even corporate discounts designed to honor members of the military and veterans – but the spouses and families quietly loving and supporting them are deserving of fanfare as well.

That’s why on the Friday before Mother’s Day every year we observe National Military Spouse Appreciation Day – to celebrate the inestimable contributions of those who stand behind and support service men and women bravely defending our nation.

Those who serve in the military are deserving of our respect and admiration for a multitude of reasons. It is not an easy job.

Defenders of our country know that in addition to the professional challenges they face, there are also many unique challenges that military families experience in their personal lives as well. The strain on family life comes from missing out on important events, frequent relocations, and long deployments that can levy stress on even the strongest of marriages.

Further, financial struggles – the culprit of significant relationship disruption – are a big problem for military families. Even with the backdrop of low national unemployment and one of the longest economic expansions on record, money problems for military families persist.

As first lady Barbara Bush reminded us, the family is critical to the survival of society. Her remarks on the importance of the family unit are especially relevant to military families today.

In recent years, surveys leading up to National Military Appreciation Month have provided insights on the economic well-being of military families. The research remains compelling.

The top concerns of family members surveyed this year include the fact that few feel prepared to face an unexpected financial emergency (nearly 82 percent). This dominating worry is supported by lack of long- term savings, and an increase in credit card debt (up 23 percent from 2017) and difficulty finding work.

Despite the growing demand for employees, military spouses (who are likely going to relocate and have a less consistent employment history) have greater difficulty finding work – thus missing out on the income that can make an adverse financial event more tolerable.

These financial concerns can impact the strongest of marriages and careers – reducing readiness and our national security as well.

Congress and the Trump administration must realize that along with the contributions made by veterans, active duty personnel and support staff, their families are on the front lines of their personal finances.

With the growing employment rates, military families deserve job and financial security too (or at least a better prospect to build up savings.)  Surprisingly, nearly half of family member respondents do not expect their spouse to be serving in two years, a dramatic change from prior results.

Savings are critical for those emergencies that always seem to pop up when least expected – such as broken appliances or home or car repairs. Without savings for emergencies, these surprise expenses create debt and undue stress.

Short- term financial need should not cause a crisis, endless cycle of debt, or long-term instability – but all too often that can happen to military families. When a financial need arises, soldiers and their families, are left with few good options – and it’s up to all of us to recognize these issues and establish a remedy.

Understanding these concerns and some of the root causes as outlined in the 2018 Military Family Survey by Pioneer Services and the Military Family Association can also suggest solutions.

In fact, educational scholarships by the survey sponsors are already making a difference in the lives of real people represented in the survey. But more can be done to help members of the armed forces deal with the financial uncertainty they see in the future. Our servicemen and women have earned a level or respect and dignity that should be reflected in the financial services available to them.

No one ever claimed that military service is easy. The associated financial stress, unlike the other more predictable challenges of frequent relocations and deployments, doesn’t make things any easier.

So, on Military Spouse Appreciation Day and throughout Military Appreciation Month, we should remain mindful of the service spouses as much as those who are on front lines defending our freedom.

Constantly shifting lives lead to a series of new challenges. But with a solid foundation, education, and support network, we can tackle these issues directly and generate more stability for military units and family units as well.

Allen Usry retired in 2012 as a chief master sergeant in 2012, the highest enlisted rank in the U.S. Air Force, after a 30-year military career. He is a consultant and contributor to Pioneer Services/MidCountry Bank’s award-winning financial education program.