I was born and raised in a military family. My father served for nearly 28 years in the Army, having moved up the ranks after being drafted during the Vietnam War to his retiring rank of Command Sergeant Major. For all of my teenage years I was keenly aware of our family’s specific responsibility to the soldiers on the base. As the Command Sergeant Major’s wife, my mother was involved in the military service organizations that helped make life easier for the families in the unit or battalion. This included social functions, fundraising activities and food drives for the base food bank.
The needy families in the community that used the food bank were our fellow military families.
My parents have long since settled into life as a retired military family, but the need for food aid for active duty personnel remains to this day. Qualifying military families use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to the tune of an estimated $100 million dollars a year. Of the 48 million families that received SNAP, 5,000 listed their occupation as active duty personnel.
Many of these are lower ranking soldiers with families. The pay for many of these soldiers are at or below the poverty rate. They often serve separated from their families, who are back home struggling and using SNAP at the base commissary.
Then there are the veterans.
More than one million veterans use food stamps. Unemployment is high among veterans, not to mention the number of seniors that are retired military. Of course, many of the young soldiers that receive the assistance during their service leave before they promoted up to the higher ranks and return home to an uncertain job market and few benefits. The ongoing war in Afghanistan has many soldiers returning with mental and medical conditions that leave them disabled and unable to work.
Then they come home to food insecurity.
It’s hard to imagine that the soldiers we spend so much time praising and honoring are among the millions of poor that need assistance for their basic needs. They are represented among our homeless and our hungry. They are among our mentally ill and our disabled. When the political debate about the poor heats up, they forget that the “lazy moochers” they so despise include those who have risked their lives for our country.
Many are risking their lives at this exact moment.
The recent farm bill passed by the house stripped millions of dollars from the SNAP program. This means that tens of thousands of active duty personnel and veterans saw their SNAP benefits reduced as of November 1. They, along with millions of others have been forced to make changes in their food buying budget with funds that were already insufficient to last a full month for many. For certain members of Congress, this isn’t enough, and they will insist on further cuts to the program in the upcoming budget negotiations and making it harder for people to apply.
These are the same members of Congress that will be honoring our men and women in uniform on Veterans Day and thanking them for all they’ve done for their country.
It’s painfully obvious they need more than just words.