Updated: Dec 3, 2021
Yesterday was Veterans Day, a national holiday that honors Americans who have served in the Armed Forces. Second Harvest would like to thank all the veterans out there for their service, and commit to fighting food insecurity among veterans.
About 1.5 million veterans live below the poverty line. Some veteran subgroups that experience higher rates of hunger include Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans, women veterans, non-white veterans, homeless veterans, and veterans with mental illness. Veterans who live in rural or low-income areas with limited access to nutritious food are also at a higher risk of food insecurity.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity among veterans was estimated to be anywhere from 6% to 24%. There is a lack of data for hunger rates among veterans, but it can be reasonably assumed that these rates have gone up since the pandemic.
The cause of hunger is, of course, low household income. Service members’ salaries can become inadequate once they marry and have children, especially if the spouse does not have adequate employment. Before the pandemic, the unemployment rate for military spouses was 24%. However, 42% of military spouses who were employed before the pandemic stopped working after March 2020, mostly due to layoffs.
There is huger among active-duty service members we well. Military families can face un-reimbursed costs of moving and off-base housing. Furthermore, the income USDA uses for SNAP eligibility benefits don’t include the cost of on-base housing, as that is subtracted from the service member’s pay. Confusingly, for those who live off-base, the USDA does include their housing allowance even though it is not considered taxable income.
MAZON, a national anti-hunger organization, explained: “two service members with the same base pay and family composition could have different SNAP eligibility status because of where they live—only the one who lives on base will be eligible for SNAP.”
This means that service members who need food assistance may not be eligible to receive it.
To affectively combat food insecurity, we need more data on hunger among veterans, especially homeless veterans. For surveys, researchers have found that terms like “food insecurity” need more explanation and could result in more accurate results.
In 2017, Feeding America launched a partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide food to veterans onsite at VA medical centers. According to Feeding America, 20% of their served households have a member who has served or currently serves in the military, and hunger may affect up to 125,000 active-duty service members.
Unfortunately, efforts to pass bills in Congress to help military families have been mostly unsuccessful. In 2018, there was the Military Hunger Prevention Act, which would have
required the Department of Defense to pay an allowance to low-income service members. There was also an act to allow service member’s children to be on free or reduced-cost school meal programs. Both failed.
In 2021 in response to the pandemic, Supporting At-Risk Veterans in an Emergency (SAVE) Act passed which allows the VA to give veterans food and other necessities during a public health crisis.
Food insecurity among active-duty service members of course distracts them from the immediate task of serving their country. Food security would help improve the mental health and general well-being of veterans, which is vital.
Lastly, there may be a stigma attached to receiving foot assistance or going to food pantries for veterans and active-duty service members. At Second Harvest, we want to de-stigmatize needing food assistance as much as possible. Everyone deserves to have access to healthy, nutritious food, and we welcome absolutely anyone who needs food to use our services.
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