Helping families as service members transition from military to civilian life

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Military service is often associated with change and uncertainty for many military families, but one thing is certain — the service member will leave the military one day. Penn State researchers are working to help military spouses prepare with their service member for that transition.

Led by the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DOD) Military Family and Community Policy, the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness at Penn State is part of a diverse team, mostly comprised of military spouses and veterans, to assist the DOD. The team has been working to provide better outcomes for military families through the development of their Military Spouse Transition Program (MySTeP).

The program is specifically designed to provide spouses of service members with encouragement, resources and support as they navigate the service members’ careers and prepare for success as their service members transition from military to civilian life. 

Existing research, literature, a review of existing and available programs, and accounts of military spouses have been major influences of the topics MySTeP covers. 

“The content and activities of this educational program are a strong example of evidence-informed information and practical experiences,” said Daniel Perkins, professor of family and youth resiliency and policy, and the principal scientist and founder of the Clearinghouse.

Additionally, this program may be even more useful now, while many families are facing a period of heightened physical distancing. The availability and readiness of online resources can prove to be advantageous for those who can obtain access from home.

MySTeP includes three phases that are tailored to address the unique needs of each military spouse facing obstacles that are common during that particular phase of military service. For example, a spouse whose significant other just joined the military will probably need different resources than a spouse of a service member preparing to leave the military for civilian life.

MySTep’s first phase, Stepping In, helps new military spouses learn about tools, programs and resources that they can use to advance their education, find a portable job, or seek social support — all things that will help them if their service member transitions out of the military prior to retirement. Information is shared through brief videos, each outlining a specific topic, a potential solution, and the resources the military spouse can use to address each issue.

Researchers are currently working on expanding phase two of MySTeP, called Stepping Through. Stepping Through will be targeted for military spouses who are already accustomed and familiar with their lives as military husbands or wives. However, this phase will help spouses by providing resources that can further benefit the family.

The last phase of MySTeP, Stepping Beyond, was recently launched and covers topics such as transition-related training, financial planning for transition, information about benefits and entitlements, and more. Stepping Beyond provides the same style of video found in Stepping In and is enhanced by My Next Step fact sheets. These fact sheets provide in-depth analyses of transition-related topics, considerations for families to make as they are actively preparing for transition, and a targeted library of resources.

One of the primary goals of MySTeP is to become a common household resource for military families globally, and researchers are hopeful this can be achieved through the savvy use of social media.

“There are many exciting aspects of MySTeP,” said Renee Kotch, project manager of MySTeP and research associate at the Clearinghouse. “But the most important aspects are that the information is shared accurately and relatedly, and in a way that pays tribute to military spouses’ busy lives.”

Another focus of the project is better transition-related outcomes for America’s military families. Researchers note that this can look very different for each family engaging in MySTeP.

“Spouses can watch a brief video or download a fact sheet about a particular topic and use the information included to start planning,” Kotch said. “They can also be sure that the answers provided in MySTeP are accurate and reflect any current changes in policy.”

Because of the diverse topics throughout the phases of MySTeP, military spouses can create a personalized, targeted approach to preparing for their families’ transition out of the military. More online resources will be available throughout the year to help meet families’ diverse needs.

“Our goal is to share the information in the same way a military spouse would receive help from a friend, but with the added benefit of a research team behind the advice,” Kotch said.

The Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness is an applied research center committed to advancing the health and well-being of service members and their families. The Clearinghouse takes a solution-oriented approach that includes conducting applied research studies, building workforce expertise through training and resource provision, implementing and evaluating evidence-informed programs and practices, and delivering objective data and policy-relevant findings so that decisions are based on the best science and evidence available. The Clearinghouse is located within Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute.

Last Updated April 15, 2021