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UCM Researchers Help Compile Information to Aid Servicemembers in Decisions About Life After the Military

By Jeff Murphy, July 23, 2018

WARRENSBURG, MO – Many military service members are preparing to leave the armed forces and the state of Missouri unaware of all the “military-friendly” policies and programs that could benefit them. An independent, non-partisan study conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Central Missouri suggests a strong information campaign is needed to help increase awareness of these programs in order to retain these men and women who can contribute to a robust Missouri workforce.

Results of the 17-week research project are compiled into a 32-page document titled “A Comprehensive Analysis of Missouri’s Efforts to Improve the Quality of Life of Military Servicemembers and their Families.” The study was commissioned by the Office of the Missouri Military Advocate, which is part of the state’s Department of Economic Development, and funding was made possible by the Hawthorn Foundation. Lead researchers were UCM members Jeff Huffman, director of Military and Veterans Affairs; Chris Stockdale, associate dean in the College of Education; and Amy Kiger, director of Campus Community Health.

The research document lists all state agencies and the military-related programs that they provide. It also lists 10 different findings and recommendations that were derived from quantitative research that will help identify and respond to the three top post-military priorities, 1) employment opportunities 2) proximity to family and 3) cost of living.

A U.S. Army veteran, Stockdale said the UCM team was selected for the project based on a request for proposals (RFP) process. The team’s initial charge was to review state policies and programs as they relate to military and veterans and their families and compile this information into one document, which had not been done previously. The lead researchers worked on the study nights and weekends, and used grant funds to hire part-time researchers who assisted in the collection of information from various state departments.

“We had archival research, which was really a matter of poring over state policies and finding any policy that mentioned military or veterans. Our research assistants pulled that out,” Stockdale said. “Then as lead researchers, we condensed and made sense out of the information.”

While the compilation of these programs and policies met the RFP, the research team opted to go a step further. It obtained quantitative data, which can now be used to help determine what kinds of information military members need most to assist in decisions that affect them and their families. Data collection consisted of a 35-question survey administered to 206 military servicemembers and their spouses. Questions helped provide information that included their interest in residing in Missouri upon separation from the military, and their awareness and perception of a sample of Missouri state policies that support those who serve. In Phase III, more structured focus groups were conducted to gather additional data about programs or policies that would encourage service members to reside in the state of Missouri upon separation from the military.

“Our researchers went to six classes at Whiteman Air Force Base. We also collected data through an email survey that went to Fort Leonard Wood and we had our research assistants do a paper version of the survey, where they went to different places and found veterans,” Kiger said.

She noted that when the survey was administered to transitioning airmen at WAFB, there was a brief presentation by lead researchers, and there were pre- and post-questions to see if opinions changed after information was presented.
“What we found in the study is pretty interesting,” said Huffman, who is an Air Force veteran. “The number of people who said they are definitely not staying in Missouri didn’t change. Where we see movement is in the ’unsure’ area.”

Prior to any presentation, 18 percent of the pre-test group said they were unsure if they would stay in Missouri after leaving the service, but once they learned more about policies and programs that benefit them, the number increased to 21 percent.

“It tells us that if there was a better information system, a better way of getting this information in the hands of veterans, there is a chance that they may consider staying in the state of Missouri,” Huffman said.

Stockdale added, “If servicemembers who were kind of in the middle became more likely to stay in the state with just a 10-minute presentation from us, imagine what a marketing campaign that showed them why Missouri is the place to be for military and veterans might do.”

Awareness of state programs and policies designed to support military servicemembers and their families who were sampled in the study varied from 15 to 60 percent of the survey group. Less than half of currently enlisted Missouri servicemembers intend to remain in the state after separating from the military.

Included among the research team’s recommendations is that Missouri develop a comprehensive plan to educate all incoming servicemembers and their families about state programs and policies designed for their benefit while they are stationed in Missouri and upon separation. To help make it easier to find information about state programs and policies that impact the military population, the group also recommended that the state develop and launch a comprehensive website for all military-connected benefits and programs.

Also, among the findings, participants reported positive perceptions of programs and polices available in states other than Missouri that support military servicemembers and their families. Researchers recommended that Missouri investigate programs and policies designed to support these individuals available in other states for possible adoption in the Show-Me state. The research team hopes to assist in a future study that would contribute to this effort.

“A Comprehensive Analysis of Missouri’s Efforts to Improve the Quality of Life of Military Servicemembers and their Families” will soon be available online through the Office of the Missouri Military Advocate.


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