This needs assessment examines issues facing the Greater San Antonio military community—its military personnel, military families, veterans, and veterans’ families. In addition to examining the available infrastructure, this report analyzes data to identify challenges and makes recommendations about how to best serve the San Antonio military community across the life domains of health, housing, financial security, education, and social support.
This report’s most significant findings include:
- Over the past decade, San Antonio has experienced significant population growth fueled by a growth in employment opportunities and a moderate cost of living—a trend that is expected to continue over the next two decades. While Greater San Antonio historically had room to expand geographically, the city reached legal boundary limitations in recent years. As a result, housing demands are increasing, and the cost of housing is rising.
- As the population of San Antonio increases, the accessibility of health care has been impacted. Even with the new facilities, the availability of health care resources is not keeping up with growth, and there are specialists and types of medical treatment that require a long drive.
- 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.
Greater San Antonio’s distinction as “Military City, USA” makes it unique among American cities.1 The city is the seat of Bexar County, which is home to an estimated population of 159,000 veterans and more than 80,000 active-duty military service members out of the 1,434,625 total residents.2 Veterans comprise 11 percent of the total population within the county; including the active-duty population, 16.7 percent of the total population is either currently serving or has previously served in the military. The military community within Greater San Antonio is comprised of three main subgroups: service members, veterans, and military families. Each subgroup faces challenges and opportunities specific to their experience. While existing research focuses on each subgroup independently, local community leaders and service providers would benefit from a holistic understanding of the unique challenges facing the broader military community. Service members are affected by the resources available to their family members and military families face challenges associated with the demands of their service members’ career, including frequent relocations, spousal unemployment, and the stress of separations. Such challenges may persist after the service member transitions from active duty since veterans may face challenges reintegrating into civilian life after separating from military service, including difficulty finding employment and mental health care accessibility.
While resources and benefits exist for the families of active-duty service members, military families may no longer be eligible for the full range of services once their service member transitions out of the military. For example, TRICARE health insurance for service members and their families ends for the family members upon separation. Although Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) coverage extends to qualifying veterans, it only applies to family members in rare circumstances.3 However, the challenges inherent in military life do not end upon separation, and veterans’ families experience the transition alongside their service member. Military spouses who experienced upheavals in their career and professional setbacks as a consequence of their spouse’s service still have a checkered résumé upon transition. Military children who experienced long separations from their parent(s) and changed schools frequently because of military service are at greater risk for education disruption than their peers, yet without the resources available for current dependents.4 This needs assessment attempts to highlight the challenges currently facing service members, veterans, and their families within Greater San Antonio, characterize the services and resources currently available to them, and address existing or perceived gaps between the needs identified and the services available.
This report takes a holistic look at the lives of military personnel, veterans, and their families, concentrating on five interconnected life domains: health, housing, financial stability, education, and social support. Looking at the experiences and needs of all those in the military community, the report covers generations, gender, and racial and ethnic identity. The report examines the needs of military personnel, veterans, and their families across Greater San Antonio with a specific focus on military and veteran families in Bexar County. Where possible, primary source data for specific military subpopulations in Bexar County is provided; when local data was unavailable, statewide or nationwide data was used to inform the study.
This report builds from six past regional needs assessments CNAS has conducted that examined the state of veterans in Massachusetts; New York State; Maryland, Northeast Virginia, and Washington, D.C.; the Dallas-Fort Worth region; Southwest Pennsylvania; and the western United States.5 Previous needs assessments sought to help local foundations, organizations, and other actors understand the specific challenges veterans faced in their region and what services and interventions were most needed. Capturing the state of veterans in these localities, these assessments also examined which veteran needs were being met, and the main efforts to address them.
CNAS is not the first to study the military-affiliated community in San Antonio. In 2016, the Military and Veteran Community Collaborative (MVCC) published a San Antonio needs assessment of the military community.6 The MVCC study provided a first effort for understanding the landscape of the San Antonio military community. The MVCC assessment focused on veterans in the city of San Antonio; this CNAS needs assessment provides further analysis of currently serving military service members (active, Guard, and Reserve) and both military and veteran family members. Additionally, the CNAS team expanded upon previous research by examining the current range of services and resources available to service members, veterans, and their families within Greater San Antonio, including all of Bexar County beyond the city limits.
In focusing on veteran and military family needs in the Greater San Antonio region, this report addresses gaps in the local military support landscape and identifies interventions that could benefit the various members of the military community. While San Antonio is unique among major cities in the United States in its accessibility for the military community, findings and results may be relevant to veterans and military families and organizations that serve them across the country.
This report identifies state and local government resources for military and veteran families and provides five different angles of analysis of the veteran and military family landscape in the San Antonio region: health, housing, financial stability, education, and social support. Although these categories and associated problems are interconnected, they are presented separately for individual analysis. The health category includes both physical and mental aspects and examines the availability, accessibility, and quality of health care facilities and providers, both within and outside the Department of Defense (DoD) and VA networks. Financial stability refers to employment and unemployment rates, income levels, and emergency financial resources. Housing includes housing affordability and homelessness. Education refers both to the experiences of military children and those of military-affiliated college and university students, including student veterans and current guardsmen and reservists. Finally, social support encompasses non-familial interpersonal relationships and highlights the community experiences of the military-affiliated population, including both community engagement with the broader San Antonio civilian population and the social support resources available within the military community.
This report follows a mixed-methods approach using four primary lines of effort to collect information: an evaluation of existing literature and publicly available data, interviews with key stakeholders in the San Antonio region, working groups with experts in San Antonio, and a survey of the military-affiliated community in Greater San Antonio. CNAS conducted qualitative analysis on the experiences of military personnel, veterans, and their families in San Antonio across the five life domains by reviewing publicly available policy papers, academic analyses, reports, and survey results from a variety of sources including all levels of government, nonprofits, local advocacy groups, and universities.
CNAS staff traveled to San Antonio in April 2022 to conduct working groups with stakeholders, conduct site visits, and meet leaders in the community. Two working groups were held at the United Way office; the first gathered stakeholders working in military and veteran health care and mental health care, and the second was attended by service providers, city and county employees, and local business leaders engaged with the military and veteran community. Three and nine stakeholders participated in the working groups, respectively. While in San Antonio, CNAS staff also conducted site visits to Endeavors (a supportive service provider for veterans, active duty service members, and their families, serving 2,897 veterans in 2021) and the Endeavors Veteran Wellness Center (providing integrated health and mental health services, serving 321 veterans and family members in 2021); the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic (a mental health care provider for veterans and their families, serving 1,545 San Antonio veterans and family members in 2021); the Military Family Readiness Center (MFRC) at Lackland Air Force Base (AFB), and the University of Texas at San Antonio Center for Military Affiliated Students.7 At each site, the CNAS team interviewed frontline staff and leadership regarding the services their organizations provide, the trends they see in the populations they serve, and requested data regarding the populations served where available and releasable.
While the in-person working groups and meetings were beneficial to the research, there were many individuals who could not attend or were uncomfortable attending due to COVID-19 precautions. To gain greater insight into the experiences and perspectives of the military community in San Antonio, as well as into organizations’ efforts to reach them, CNAS conducted interviews with 23 stakeholders, subject matter experts, and community leaders. Researchers initially identified experts at 74 organizations through institutional contacts, funder recommendations, individual research leading to direct outreach, and recommendations from interviewees through the snowball method. Each point of contact was approached four times in the research process for input: an initial invitation to participate in the working groups; a reminder of working group participation; an invitation for a one-on-one interview if they were not able to participate in the working group, and a follow-up email containing a link to the CNAS survey. The interview protocol can be found in Appendix A, and a list of participating organizations can be found in Appendix B.
The CNAS team designed a survey on the Qualtrics platform, which was dispersed to the San Antonio military community through the interviewed stakeholders and through CNAS social media. Between April and September 2022, 133 individuals responded to the public survey. Consisting of 22 questions (detailed in Appendix C), it inquired about the experiences of military personnel, veterans, and their families in the San Antonio area, with different questions depending on respondents’ military status. The survey asked questions about each life domain and the respondents’ awareness of the resources available. Survey responses were used to identify the challenges and opportunities for the military community in San Antonio. While survey engagement was low, respondents provided insights into the specific issues facing the military and veteran family community in Greater San Antonio.
Of those who self-identified, nine were current service members, 14 were spouses of current service members, 11 were veteran spouses, 30 were retired service members, nine were veterans who separated before retiring, and 21 were other dependents. Fifty respondents identified with the Air Force, 24 with the Army, 10 with the Marine Corps, and six with the Navy. The majority of respondents (56 out of 91) reported residing in Greater San Antonio for more than five years, reflecting the higher response rate of veterans, retirees, and their spouses.
This needs assessment begins with a profile of the military-affiliated community of the Greater San Antonio region, including population statistics. Findings are presented, starting with the available infrastructure, and then organized by life domains. The final section provides recommendations for government, service providers, local nonprofits, and private industry in San Antonio to better serve the military community.
- “City of San Antonio unveils ‘Military City USA” trademark logo,” 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs, Joint Base San Antonio, press release, June 19, 2017, https://www.jbsa.mil/News/News/Article/1218583/city-of-sanantonio-unveils-military-city-usa-trademark-logo/. ↩
- Quickfacts: San Antonio City, Texas, (United States Census Bureau, July 1, 2021), https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/sanantoniocitytexas. ↩
- Jim Absher, “Health Care After Discharge,” Military. com, August 28, 2020, https://www.military.com/benefits/2020/08/28/health-care-after-discharge.html. ↩
- “The Challenges of Supporting Highly Mobile, Military- Connected Children in School Transitions,” (Center for Public Research and Leadership, October 2017), https://www.militarychild.org/upload/images/CPRL/Military_Student_Transitions_Stu.pdf. ↩
- Nathalie Grogan, et al., “Massachusetts Veteran Needs Assessment: During the Pandemic and Beyond,” (CNAS, December 3, 2020), https://www.cnas.org/publications/reports/massachusetts-veterans-needs-assessment-during-the-pandemic-and-beyond; Nathalie Grogan, et al., “New York State Minority Veteran Needs Assessment,” (CNAS, February 20, 2020), https://www.cnas.org/publications/reports/new-york-state-minority-veteran-needs-assessment; Katherine Kidder, et al., “Needs Assessment: Veterans in Washington, DC, Maryland, and Northeastern Pennsylvania,” (CNAS, February 21, 2018),
https://www.cnas.org/publications/reports/needs-assessment-1; Phillip Carter, Katherine Kidder, and Amy Schafer, “Needs Assessment: Veterans in the Dallas-Fort Worth Region,” (CNAS, March 29, 2016), https://www.cnas.org/publications/reports/needs-assessment-veterans-in-the-dallas-fort-worth-region; Katherine Kidder and Phillip Carter, “CNAS Needs Assessment: Veterans in Southwest Pennsylvania,” (CNAS, November 17, 2015), https://www.cnas.org/publications/reports/cnas-needs-assessment-veterans-in-southwest-pennsylvania; and Katherine Kidder and Phillip Carter, “Needs Assessment: Veterans in the Western United States,” (CNAS, December 13, 2013), https://www.cnas.org/publications/reports/needs-assessment-veterans-in-the-western-united-states.↩
- Dr. Jonathan Wivagg, Dr. Gloria Martinez- Ramos, and Colin Pierson, “2016 Military City USA Needs Assessment: Understanding Characteristics and Needs of Service Members, Veterans and Family Members in San Antonio, Texas,” (Military and Veterans Community Collaborative, August 2016), http://mvcc-sa.org/images/upload/2016%20MVCC%20Needs%20Assessment.pdf. ↩
- Data regarding the populations served by Endeavors, the Veteran Wellness Center, and the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic derived from “2021 Impact Report,” (Endeavors), https://endeavors.org/2021-annual-report/, 30–31. ↩
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