ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – During the month of November, the Department of Defense celebrates the Month of the Military Family. While families are the backbone that sustain our fighting force, recent reports show that some military families are struggling.
The 2021 Health of the Army Family report, published by the Army Public Health Center, cites financial stress as the number 1 stressor for military spouses.
Lt. Col. Melissa Boyd, clinical psychologist in APHC’s Health Promotion and Wellness Directorate, says financial stress has been linked to other health issues, and it’s important for service members to be aware of resources available to help.
“Financial stress has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, migraines, sleep problems, anxiety, depression, and high blood pressure,” said Boyd. “Soldiers and Families who know about and take advantage of financial resources put themselves on a path toward a lifetime of solid financial stability and overall better health.”
Managing finances for service members and their families can be challenging, particularly during times of transition to include PCS season, the loss of a job, the birth of a child, preparing for the holidays, and overall experiencing higher household expenses, said Boyd. She offers some helpful tips to ease stress and anxiety, and obtain control of finances:
- Get organized - Track spending by making daily lists of how money is spent.
- Create a financial plan to include where money is spent and ways to reduce expenses or manage money more efficiently. Within a budget, it’s also important to include expenses for enjoyable activities and outings.
- Recognize spending habits during times of stress. Some people relieve stress by engaging in activities that may temporarily lessen stress but in the long run contribute to financial strain. Activities such as emotional eating, drinking, shopping, and gambling or a few behaviors that are financial risks. Choose alternative social activities that minimize opportunities for impulsive spending.
- Ask for support. Research shows that having a support system can help you reach your goals. Surround yourself with people you trust who will support your financial goals and want to help you succeed.
- Ask for military discounts- Many businesses, especially those around military installations, offer discounts with valid military identification.
Another area of focus for addressing financial readiness is leader engagement.
“We need leaders to be engaged more with their Soldiers,” said Robyn Mroszczyk, Financial Education program manager in the Soldier & Family Readiness Division for the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-9. “Ask those hard questions but be prepared to do reflective listening. In order to say “People First,” we must practice that ourselves.”
Mroszczyk says the Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston often references one of his favorite books, “Upstream” by Dan Heath. The premise of the book is that leaders spend years responding to problems but often forget that they can prevent them. By looking at the systemic factors that influence problems, could we stop problems before they begin? In this specific case, by changing the culture that influences behavior in the Army, could the Army get after harmful behaviors that are directly correlated with financial security?
Command Sergeant Major of the Army Reserve Andrew Lombardo says Upstream leaders do not ask the question, ‘Is someone able to fix this problem?’, instead, they ask the question, ‘Am I able to fix this problem?’ They choose to take ownership of the situation, and they address the dynamics specific to their organization to identify what they need to do to create a climate where Soldiers want to stay or join.
“When Soldiers and Families experience challenges to their financial well-being, those challenges, or financial stressors, may manifest in different ways, both mental and physical, that affect the Soldier’s duty performance and personal or unit safety,” said Mroszczyk. “We can see in the annual Status of Forces survey that Soldiers exhibit higher levels of financial well-being than the U.S. population. However, those who experience financial challenges are more likely to experience stress, are less likely to feel ready to perform their mission and are more likely dissatisfied with their military career.”
Mroszczyk speaks from experience.
“For the last 18 years, I have lived this Army life!” said Mroszczyk. “I have incorporated my experiences as an active-duty Army Spouse and working professionally with Soldiers and Families and living this crazy life through 10 Permanent Change of Stations, or PCS, moves, four deployments, and four commands where I served as the Soldier Family and Readiness Group leader. Add to this two children, countless TDYs, and starting/stopping my career at least eight times. I have been un/under employed while we have located to installations where we would only be there for a short period of time and experienced the financial impacts as a result.”
Mroszczyk says she has worked in the field of personal finance for more than 14 ½ years, and worked with Soldiers, Families, Survivors, and Retirees to improve their overall financial well-being.
“I have the foundational personal finance knowledge, and I have incorporated that into all the curriculum we have developed,” said Mroszczyk. “But I have also incorporated the personal lessons we have learned – like navigating through the PCS process, expenses of having a new child, and increasing retirement contributions after a promotion. I have also been open and honest about the connection between mental health and financial health.”
Mroszczyk says a Soldier’s financial well-being directly relates to the cohesion and success of a unit, and has a direct impact on readiness and retention.
“If you are financially fit, then you are better able to fulfill the duties of your mission,” said Mroszczyk. “As for the many personal benefits, good money management includes reduced stress, more lifestyle choices, building wealth, and peace of mind.
Mroszczyk also says that financial problems can also cause negative outcomes including instability and conflict within your family, not to mention your health.”
Mroszczyk says the Army has always provided exceptional financial education and counseling to the Total Force, and will continue to reinforce their mission of securing the Financial Frontline, which is also the name of the Army’s website that is full of resources to help Soldiers and their Families.
“This website is the Army’s first, official financial readiness website,” said Mroszczyk. “You will find videos, handouts, calculators, a self-assessment tool, resources, and so much more. We have even begun to focus more on the financial well-being of the Total Force; this is defined as when a person can fully meet current and ongoing financial obligations, can feel secure in their financial future, and is able to make choices that allow enjoyment of life.”
Nicole Leth, director of the Armed Forces Wellness Center at Fort Belvoir, says that the Army/Armed Forces Wellness Centers are a great way for military spouses to maintain their wellness - both physical and mental.’ Wellness Centers support family wellness through classes, health coaching and especially biofeedback/stress management. Teaching a family to manage their stress through breathing and meditation can have a profound impact on overall military family wellness.”
Leth said her classes and health coaching sessions can also be used to reduce stigma around seeking help.
“The Wellness Centers can help reduce stigma around financial related stressors by talking about it - in wellness center classes and in one-on-one health coaching sessions,” said Leth. “One of our health educators will bring up the topics first - in class or in session - by discussing that this is a common issue for many and here are some installation resources that can support.”
Mroszczyk says Financial Readiness enables Soldiers and their Families to attain financial stability and flexibility by avoiding the personal and professional stressors of poor money management. Financial Readiness protects Soldiers from predatory and unscrupulous lenders and poor financial decisions. When Soldiers feel confident financial affairs are secure, they can focus on their missions without worrying about things at home.
The Army is also improving career and employment opportunities for military spouses through new programs and existing partnerships.
“Connecting with other military spouses is a big part of feeling comfortable integrating to a new duty station,” said Leth, who also is a military spouse.
Mroszczyk mentioned several initiatives they are putting in place to help military spouses.
We are implementing a holistic approach to helping military spouses find jobs, build careers, and improve their quality of life,” said Mroszczyk.
- The Army has simplified the application process for Soldier spouses to apply for reimbursement of up to $1,000 for professional license/certification in a new state after a permanent change of station. Learn more at The Military Spouse Interstate License Recognition Options,
- The Non-Appropriated (NAF) Civilian Employment Assignment Tool – a tool that enables many current NAF employees to voluntarily request a non-competitive transfer to another Army installation where the same position may be available.
- “Navigating Civilian Employment: Army Reference Guide for Military Spouses & Veterans”. – a comprehensive resource to support these communities with vital information and better understanding of various civilian employment processes and programs.
When Mroszczyk talks to Army leaders about stigma and asking for help, she likes to use the analogy of holding a glass of water:
Imagine I am holding a glass of water almost ¾ of the way full. How much does the glass weigh? 8 oz? 12 oz? 16 oz? The actual weight of the glass does not matter; the true answer is how long am I holding it for. If I hold it for an hour, it becomes slightly uncomfortable. If I hold it for a few hours, it starts to feel heavy. And, if I hold it for several hours, days, months then it becomes unbearably painful. Imagine the water in that glass is a representation of all our financial concerns, mental health concerns, etc. We can hold that glass up for a little bit before it starts to impact us heavily. Yet, if we hold that glass for a long time (and keep adding ‘liquids’ to it with increased debt, deployments, moves, spouse un/under employment, childcare costs, higher cost of living, etc.) then we are at a risk of dropping it…shattering it on the ground. Metaphorically, that glass is us. The water is a representation of everything we face daily. What I am trying to encourage fellow Soldiers and leaders to do is help that Soldier put down the glass before it spills or breaks.
“By creating an environment where the leadership is engaged in that personal or professional milestone, the Soldier may be more receptive for asking for help when a situation arises,” said Mroszczyk. “We need to detect problems early and pioneer new ways of working together-in the best interest of the Soldier and Family.”
Leth also shared few of her favorite resources for military spouse employment and military spouse wellness (in addition to the Army/Armed Forces Wellness Centers):
- USO: Coffee Connection for Military Spouses.
- Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Professional Network
- Military One Source: Military Spouse Employment Partnership
- Blue Star Families: Military Spouse Employment Initiative
- Independent: A positive and inclusive military spouse wellness community
The U.S. Army Public Health Center focuses on promoting healthy people, communities, animals, and workplaces through the prevention of disease, injury, and disability of Soldiers, retirees, family members, veterans, Army civilian employees, and animals through population-based monitoring, investigations, and technical consultations.
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