US veterans and troops, especially those at lower ranks, are going hungry or struggling to get adequate food at a much higher rate than the general population, a survey has found.
One in six military and veteran families were food insecure or hungry in 2021, the Military Family Advisory Network reported Thursday. There is also a significant relationship between food insecurity and enlisted rank, geography, race and ethnicity, the organization said. The food insecurity rate for the general US population is about 10.5%, according to estimates from the Department of Agriculture.
“It’s really worrying for us, especially given the current situation we’re all living in with inflation and the cost of living and things like that,” MFAN President Shannon Razsadin said. The data was collected before inflation spiked this year, so the reality now could be even worse, she said. The rate jumped to 1 in 5 at the height of the pandemic, but was still higher than the 1 in 8 respondents who reported food insecurity in 2019.
The issue has also raised concerns on the Hill, as lawmakers fear starving troops or their families could end up harming U.S. military readiness and national security. Lawmakers are considering requiring the Pentagon and USDA to collect data on the food insecurity of troops and their families and the use of federal hunger programs, as part of a bill defense clearance.
The Pentagon on Thursday released a roadmap aimed at bolstering troop food security. Among other fixes, the report details plans to review military salaries and benefits, improve economic opportunities for their spouses and encourage military members to seek help. The report acknowledged “structural or perceived barriers” preventing service members from getting hunger relief.
The goal of the plan is “to equip our service members and their families with the tools, skills and resources needed to ensure they have access to enough nutritious food to meet the myriad of mission demands. military, without having to endure undue hardship or make difficult financial and personal decisions that can impact their quality of life,” said Gilbert Cisneros Jr., Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in The report.
Last year, lawmakers also co-sponsored a bipartisan bill (HR 5346) to improve access to nutritional assistance for military families.
Food insecurity rate
Nearly a tenth of food insecure people said they were “hungry” or had very low food security, the Advisory Network found in its survey, conducted online in the fall and winter of 2019. ‘last year. The sample included 8,638 participants from all US states, two territories and 22 countries.
Another 7.6% of respondents reported being “food insecure” or having low food security. More than 95% of food-insecure families use support resources, including federal benefits and community assistance, MFAN found.
The MFAN survey was sponsored by Oracle Corp., Cerner Corp, CVS Health Corp., Deloitte LLP, Humana Military, Hunt Military Communities, Prudential, Wells Fargo & Co. and the Wounded Warrior Project.
The most common respondents were spouses of active duty military personnel, followed by active duty military personnel. Most of the 2021 respondents were between 25 and 39 years old, and the majority were women.
Earlier: Troops worry about empty stomachs as Covid worsens hardship (1)
Families of enlisted soldiers have a higher rate of problems getting enough food than families of officers, the survey found. About 23% of enlisted people indicated food insecurity, about five times the number of families of officers who indicated the same.
People belonging to ethnic minorities also seem to be disproportionately affected by food insecurity. According to the report, Native American or Alaska Native respondents experienced hunger at higher levels than any other demographic group, with more than 20% of respondents identifying themselves as hungry. Of the 1,249 respondents identifying as Hispanic or Latino in 2021, 13.2% of that population were hungry and an additional 12% were food insecure.
“Unfortunately, the data shows a statistically significant relationship between food insecurity and the race of respondents. White respondents were statistically less likely to be hungry or food insecure than non-white respondents,” said MFAN said in the report.
Amendment to the debates on the Hill
The fiscal year 2022 defense authorization measure directed the secretary of defense to study food insecurity in the armed forces and report the results to Congress by October. Lawmakers also imposed a Basic Needs Allowance as part of the measure, though Razsadin urged the Defense Ministry to make the Basic Needs Allowance more accessible.
The amount of the allowance is currently determined by calculating the difference between a service member’s monthly income and the monthly income level at 130% of the poverty line wherever they live, averaging about $400 per month , according to the Military Officers Association. from America.
Previously: Flaws Cited in Defense Bill’s Historic Military Hunger Program
The House on Thursday approved an amendment to the Defense Authorization Measure for fiscal year 2023 that would mandate data collection and also require the Department of Defense to train and designate a contact person at military bases who would direct the military to food aid.
Razsadin also said troops’ housing allowance should be included in calculating their income, as current law bars some service members from accessing food stamps – an issue Congress should consider as part of the law. essential Farm Bill of 2023.
“And longer term, we need to make sure that the military compensation is where it needs to be,” she said. “At the end of the day, a lot is asked of military families, and we’ve seen a decrease in the likelihood of people recommending military service to someone they care about and that’s something we’re really concerned about.” According to the survey, about 62.9% of military families and veterans surveyed would recommend the service in 2021, up from about 75% in 2019.
The Advisory Network survey mirrors findings elsewhere. About a third of respondents surveyed at a major US military installation suffered from marginal food insecurity in a 2019 survey, released last year, by the US Army Public Health Center and the Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. That compares to 17.9% of all U.S. households that were mildly food insecure that same year, the USDA found.
“The costs of inaction are high, as continued food insecurity among service members and veterans threatens the national security of the United States,” wrote Jamie Lutz and Caitlin Welsh of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in an article on last month.
The hunger problem also extends to veterans, who may have a stigma around getting federal aid and higher disability rates.
The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Health Administration adopted Food Insecurity Screening in 2017, in which veterans are tested annually for food insecurity during their physical exam, and made the more comprehensive screening survey last year.
At a hearing this week, lawmakers expressed concern that the VA’s numbers may underestimate veteran hunger rates. While the VA estimates that about 2% of veterans are food insecure, a USDA Economic Research Service report estimates the rate of working-age veterans in food-insecure households. at about 11%.
The VA numbers only take into account veterans receiving medical care through the Veterans Health Administration, as opposed to all veterans, a spokesperson said.
representing mike levin (D-Calif.) wondered if the VA could better screen for food insecurity among veterans, such as asking the questions at Covid-19 vaccine appointments, in addition to annual medical checkups. .
“While we are grateful for the research and work done by the USDA and VA to understand and alleviate hunger among our veterans, there are gaps and inconsistencies in data and nutrition assistance program participation. , and that requires our collective attention,” Levine said.
Congressmen on the Veterans Affairs Committee’s Economic Opportunity Subcommittee also expressed concerns about understaffing and urged the VA and USDA to do more to educate veterans about eligibility for benefits. programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
“I can imagine that a lot of people out of pride don’t necessarily see themselves as food insecure,” the rep said. Marc Takano (D-California) said.