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Financial Worries Taking Psychological Toll On Servicemembers, First Command Reports

First Command Financial Behaviors Index® reveals elevated physical and mental health issues in middle-class military families

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FORT WORTH, Texas — The financial stress of sequestration and defense budget cuts is taking a psychological toll on America’s career military, underscoring the importance of recent proposals from lawmakers and the financial planning industry to address personal financial problems as part of the larger effort to reduce the rate of suicide among servicemembers.

The First Command Financial Behaviors Index® reveals that 76 percent of middle-class military families (senior NCOs and commissioned officers in pay grades E-6 and above with household incomes of at least $50,000) say that during the past year someone in their household has experienced one or more mental or physical health-related issues commonly associated with financial worries. That’s up significantly from 65 percent in 2013 and 62 percent in 2012.

Mental or physical health problems are particularly prevalent among military families who report high levels of concern over sequestration and the financial impact of anticipated cuts to defense spending. The Index reveals that 89 percent of survey respondents who feel extremely or very anxious about sequestration also report that someone in their family has experienced one or more of these health challenges. That compares to 71 percent of people who say they are either not anxious or only somewhat anxious about sequestration.

Significant differences between the anxious and not-so-anxious groups were identified for several specific health-related concerns, including:

  • Difficulty falling asleep (57 percent versus 31 percent)
  • Unhealthy diet (33 percent versus 10 percent)
  • Increase in habitual behaviors, such as smoking and drug and alcohol use (27 percent versus 5 percent)
  • Lower energy level (27 percent versus 10 percent)
  • Strain in relationships (27 percent versus 14 percent)
  • Nausea (22 percent versus 8 percent)
  • Increased arguments in relationships (22 percent versus 10 percent)
  • Increased sadness or feelings of depression (21 percent versus 8 percent)
  • Post traumatic stress disorder (13 percent versus 3 percent)
  • Weakened immune system (12 percent versus 1 percent)

Notably, several of these concerns are also associated with an increased risk for suicide. The Defense Suicide Prevention Office of the Department of Defense (DPSO) has reported that risk factors such as strain in relationships, legal or financial issues and alcohol or drug usage play a large role in military suicides. The DPSO also reported that less than half of suicide victims have deployed and few were involved in combat.

“he military budget cuts associated with sequestration and defense downsizing are creating new financial stresses for servicemembers and their families,” said Scott Spiker, CEO of First Command Financial Services, Inc. “Roughly seven out of ten career military families say they are feeling anxious about sequestration and almost half say they feel extremely or very financially affected by anticipated cuts to defense spending. These issues have ramifications that reach far beyond personal finance. Financial issues and uncertainties are creating physical and psychological health challenges and stress for servicemembers and their families. Financial stress is broadly recognized as a major contributing factor in military suicides, and a growing number of people are looking to financial planning education and assistance as part of a possible response. We have seen lawmakers sponsor legislation that could help broaden financial planning assistance for troops and veterans in an effort to reduce the rate of military suicide, and a well-known financial industry publication has suggested that financial planners may be able to play a role in efforts to reduce the rate of suicide among servicemembers. We are committed to doing all we can to help at-risk families get their financial lives in order.”

First Command is addressing the issue of military suicide through a partnership with Project Sanctuary, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides therapeutic retreats enabling military families to reconnect and reintegrate into their communities. First Command serves as the organization’s exclusive financial planning partner, delivering financial education workshops led by volunteers (many of whom are former servicemembers) at all retreats. The company also provides follow-up, pro bono coaching to participants who ask for assistance after returning to their homes.

Project Sanctuary has hosted more than 400 military families at 50 retreats over the past seven years. Of the almost 1,500 military members and family members who have attended these retreats, the organization reports that 90 percent are still married, all veterans who want to have a job are working – and zero suicides.

“hese efforts do not focus on promoting the use of financial products and services, but rather on helping participants discover their habits and attitudes towards money,” Spiker said. “Volunteer planners focus on helping participants see how goal setting, budgeting and a balanced financial plan can build confidence and increase their sense of financial security. These efforts represent a key part of our continuing commitment to give something back to our heroes and their family members by supporting them through this uncertain time and helping them to get all aspects of their lives squared away.”

About First Command Financial Behaviors Index®

Compiled by Sentient Decision Science, Inc., the First Command Financial Behaviors Index® assesses trends among the American public’s financial behaviors, attitudes and intentions through a monthly survey of approximately 530 U.S. consumers aged 25 to 70 with annual household incomes of at least $50,000. Results are reported quarterly. The margin of error is +/- 4.3 percent with a 95 percent level of confidence. Financial Behaviors Index

About Sentient Decision Science, Inc.

Sentient Decision Science was commissioned by First Command to compile the Financial Behaviors Index®. SDS is a behavioral science and consumer psychology consulting firm with special vertical expertise within the financial services industry. SDS specializes in advanced research methods and statistical analysis of behavioral and attitudinal data.

About First Command

First Command Financial Services and its subsidiaries, including First Command Bank and First Command Financial Planning, assist American families in their efforts to build wealth, reduce debt and pursue their lifetime financial goals and dreams—focusing on consumer behavior as the first and most powerful determinant of results. Through knowledgeable advice and coaching of the financial behaviors conducive to success, First Command Financial Advisors have built trustworthy, lasting relationships with hundreds of thousands of client families since 1958.


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