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The forgotten veterans: Why are so many soldiers relying on food stamps just to survive?

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by: J. D. Heyes

(NaturalNews) Despite the fact that the Obama administration has made a number of pledges to improve the lives of U.S. veterans, far too many have slipped through bureaucratic cracks and remain in dire need of assistance.

Even those who are still on active duty do not fare well, especially lower enlisted ranks – many of whom still need supplemental food assistance just to be able to feed their families.

As reported by Truth Out, military members on active duty spent $24 million in food stamps at military commissary centers on base between September 2014 to August 2015. In addition, 45 percent of students in schools operated by the military are currently eligible free lunches or meals at reduced prices. This should not happen to service members in the richest country on the planet.

For several years now, the Pentagon has been stung by reports that many of its soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines – especially younger troops with families – have to struggle financially just to get by, and this is in spite of the fact that most are housed at military bases. A recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) also found that the Defense Department is unaware of just how serious the problem really is.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – most commonly known as “food stamps,” is managed by the Department of Agriculture. But neither the Pentagon nor the USDA tracks the number of active duty service personnel who are receiving SNAP benefits, the GAO said, as noted by Truth Out. Worse, no one at the Defense Department or in Congress appears concerned enough to determine the scale of this problem – and then fix it – anytime soon.

Multi-faceted problem

Base salaries for lower-ranking personnel begin as low as $18,800 per year. A military member making that wage in a two-person household qualifies for food assistance under current SNAP guidelines.

A measure added to the 2016 Defense Appropriations bill seeks to encourage data-sharing between the USDA and the Pentagon, in order to address the issue. But thus far, the Pentagon has yet to launch a coordinated effort to gather and assess that data via the USDA or other government agencies.

In its report, the GAO concluded that barring an interagency effort to share data, the problem will likely continue into the future because the military continues to whiff on opportunities to fully understand how desperate some of its lower-enlisted personnel are likely experiencing hunger within the ranks. And again, Congress isn’t mandating that the information be gathered and then provided to lawmakers for further action.

The head of a Jewish anti-hunger group that runs a program focusing on military families says food insecurity among military members is a multi-faceted problem.

In testimony before Congress in January, Abby Leibman, president of MAZON, noted that low pay among lower-ranking enlistees, higher-than-average unemployment among military spouses, bigger households, challenged due to deployments and other unexpected financial obligations and emergencies all contribute to food instability and uncertainty – something that should not happen to those serving our country.

Different rules preclude some from getting benefits

In addition, she said that there are food pantries on nearly every military post around the country, and that military families are visiting them more frequently. That said, there is little information provided for families about how they can provide some of their own food security.

Leibman told a House committee on Agriculture, “Despite strong anecdotal evidence, food insecurity among military families is not adequately documented or monitored by government agencies, and indeed the problem has long been obscured and ignored.” She went on to say, “Data [is] often withheld from the public or are excessively difficult to obtain. What data we have been able to secure are often contradictory, out of date or simply incomprehensible.”

For instance, recent USDA figures state that some 2,000 active-duty service members have signed up for the SNAP program, though estimates based on federal census data from fiscal year 2014 put the figure at 19,455.

Some say sources for these figures are, at best, unreliable for many reasons. Liebman has called on the Defense Department and the USDA to working jointly in determining how many military members are receiving SNAP benefits.

The GAO report also noted that, depending on certain state rules, some service members may not have equal access to all assistance programs. For instance, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program can exclude portions of a service member’s pay when determining eligibility, though SNAP does not.

Sources:
TruthOut.org
GAO.gov

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