Military City, USA? New study explores how San Antonio supports troops, veterans, and military families – Texas Public Radio

The report takes a holistic look at the lives of the military community in Greater San Antonio, including military personnel, veterans, and their families. Bexar County is now home to an estimated 159,000 veterans and more than 80,000 active-duty military service members. In a yearlong study, the authors explored five life domains: health, housing, financial stability, education, and social support.

“The robust network of services and resources in the city and surrounding communities provide models for other cities, particularly those with a growing population of young veterans and their families,” said Katherine Kuzminski, the study’s lead author. “However, even in a city that actively focuses on welcoming and meeting the needs of service members, veterans, and their families, challenges still exist.”

Over the past decade, San Antonio’s population has grown significantly as a result of its employment opportunities and a moderate cost of living. The availability of housing has gone down as demand has gone up, a crunch which is affecting service members, veterans and civilians alike.

Those rising costs put unique stress on active duty military families, who have fixed allowances for housing.

“The basic housing allowances are set, and it takes about a year to 18 months to reset those,” Kuzminski said. “So one of the challenges that we saw during COVID was there was a giant spike in housing costs, whether that was the cost to purchase a home or the cost to rent. And the BAH didn’t keep pace with that growth.”

In an attempt to mitigate the problem, the Defense Department recently instituted a basic needs allowance for service members who fall below a certain income threshold.

The CNAS report also found that health care resources in San Antonio aren’t keeping up with population growth, and certain specialists and types of medical treatment require long waits or commutes. Oncology and mental health resources were especially challenging to access.

“There’s just increased demand because the population is growing,” she said. “So there’s competition with civilians, if a military-affiliated person is being seen by a civilian provider. Part of it, too, is TRICARE eligibility.”

Kuzminski also emphasized that San Antonio is a training ground for a variety of healthcare professions through its university and hospital systems. Part of the solution to the healthcare and case management shortage, she said, is keeping those providers local.

“So part of it is retaining that talent in the San Antonio area and increasing the pool of eligible healthcare providers and mental health care providers, possibly by providing retention incentives,” she said. “If the region was able to capture and retain at least some of the talent that they’re training, that would ease those wait times for access to care.”

Other key findings:

  • “The city’s emphasis on supporting military and veteran families has significant practical implications for service providers, with military cultural competency woven into the business models of local schools, health care, mental health care, housing, and substance abuse providers.”
  • “While there is a concerted effort to bring together the region’s service providers to ensure a high degree of awareness of the available resources, service providers, veterans, service members, and their families acknowledge that the abundance of resources available in the area leads to challenges navigating the available resources.”
  • “Military-affiliated college students encounter unique challenges in the academic environment stemming from a lack of understanding from faculty and civilian students, lack of knowledge of veteran resources and qualifications, social discrimination, significant age differences between military students and the general student body, and difficulties adapting to the transition out of service.”
  • “Lack of affordable childcare heavily impacts women as they are the predominant gender of childcare workers and family caregivers, and the military community is no exception. The ongoing impacts of COVID-19 on the childcare worker field have greatly limited women who want to re-enter the workforce, due to worker shortages from low pay rates, closures and limited operations of childcare centers, and the need for specialized childcare.”

Read the full report here.

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