Military spouse employment and veteran transition

Today I’m sharing an email I sent to Instinct and Reason Research who are undertaking research on behalf of the Department of Veteran Affairs on members transitioning from the ADF.

“I would like to make a submission to the research being conducted on the transition of ADF members and their families. I am a the spouse of an ADF member who has served for 20+ years. I am also a qualified career development practitioner who works with transitioning ADF personnel, veterans and military spouses for their job search and career needs.

One aspect of transition readiness and success that I feel receives very little attention is the impact of military spouse employment on readiness for transition. Military spouses experience a number of challenges to employment including those that result from frequent relocations. Some of the impacts of frequent relocations are periods of unemployment (one survey found that the average length of time a spouse is out of work after a relocation is 5.4 months), underemployment (both in terms of hours, experience and pay e.g one survey found that over half of those who changed jobs due to a service-related relocation were earning less in their new job) and difficulty in pursuing upward career movement and associated financial gains. Data from the USA found that US military spouses have higher rates of unemployment and underemployment and earn less than their comparable civilian counterparts. The limited research and anecdotal evidence we have here in Australia supports a similar experience. In addition to immediate financial disadvantages of unemployment and underemployment there are some long term financial consequences for those who engage in less paid work such as the lack of accumulation of leave and superannuation benefits.

Health and wellbeing impacts aside, the result for ADF families is that they rely heavily on the serving member’s income and benefits. This can be an enormous consideration and challenge when the ADF member needs to transition (and particularly when the separation from the ADF is unplanned such as the case with medical discharge). The financial impact of separation from the ADF cannot be underestimated. Dual income via long-term satisfactory spouse employment can make a significant contribution to financial readiness for separation (either voluntary or involuntary) and ease both the financial and emotional stress associated with the member finding new employment outside the ADF. Support for spouse employment needs to occur right from the very beginning in order to maximize the financial benefits over time and should take into consideration the changing needs of spouse employment throughout the military life experience.

As Deanie Dempsey (wife of of former US Chairman of Joint Chief of Staffs) stated:

“Steadily employed spouses will help the country transition its young heroes to the civilian workforce. Post 9/11 veterans and particularly those under age 24 suffer from unemployment rates at double the national average.

Fewer would suffer financial crises if their spouses were gainfully employed, and particularly so if they were able to save and invest that second income over the course of their service.” “

I am a firm believer that support for military spouse employment from the outset and throughout military life is crucial to preparing ADF families for successful transition from the ADF when the time comes and in particular when that transition is unexpected.


Department of Defence (2012) Department of Defence Census 2011 Public Report, Department of Defence. Roy Morgan Research

Blue Star Families (2016b) Societal Cost Analysis of the Unemployment and Underemployment of Military Spouses,


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