The U.S. military has been continuously engaged in foreign conflicts for almost two decades. The strains of these deployments, the associated increases in operational tempo, and the general challenges of military life affect not only service members but also the people who depend on them and support them as they support the nation—their families. Supporting the well-being of military families is essential to ensuring the readiness of military personnel. Family members provide support to service members while they serve or have difficulties, and they are central influences on whether members continue to serve.

Recognizing the importance of supporting service members and their families to promote readiness and resilience, the Department of Defense (DoD) asked the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to appoint a committee to study the challenges and opportunities facing military families and what is known about effective strategies for supporting them.


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Military families can be adversely affected by some aspects of military life.

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Military family experiences are not all equivalent.

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DoD policies and programs do not reflect an understanding of military families that is current with the breadth and diversity of military families.

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The DoD and the Service Branches do not have a coordinated and comprehensive approach to matching the unique needs of individual families to available programs.


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  • DoD should develop standardized military-specific definitions of family well-being, family resilience, and family readiness.
  • DoD should take immediate steps to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the diversity of today’s military families and their needs, well-being, and readiness.
  • DoD should more fully identify, analyze, and integrate existing data to track child risk and adversity.
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  • DoD should review current policies, programs, services, resources, and practices to ensure that they recognize the wide diversity of today’s military families and address special circumstances of military life, especially with regard to major transitions.
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  • DoD should provide guidance for military leaders and service providers on how to readily and reliably access and use demographic information from surrounding communities in which their personnel live in order to identify family needs.
  • DoD should build its capacity to support service members and families and promote better civilian understanding of strengths and needs of military-connected individuals.
  • DoD should enable military family support providers and consumers to access effective, evidence-based and evidence-informed family strengthening programs, resources, and services.
  • DoD should adopt and sustain a dynamic learning system as part of its Military Family Readiness System.
  • DoD should continually assess the availability and effectiveness of specialized family centered policies, programs, services, resources, and practices to support needs of families facing exceptionally high stressors.
  • DoD should investigate innovations in big data and predictive analytics to improve the accessibility, engagement, personalization, and effectiveness of policies, programs, practices, and services for military families.

to rapidly develop and deliver interdisciplinary family-centered services for emerging threats to military family well-being within a Military Family Readiness System that is flexible, adaptive, and responsive to the needs of families as they exist.