Edit ModuleShow Tags

Help End Food Insecurity Among Our Veterans and Military Families

Article author photo. Melinda Boyd, MPH, MHR, RD This featured post is by Melinda Boyd, MPH, MHR, RD. You can follow this blogger @RDontheMove.

This Veterans Day, we pause to honor the sacrifice of our active duty military, veterans and their families. It is also important to recognize the struggles that come with the uncertainty of military life, many of which are unseen by civilians. As a military spouse and a dietitian living in the military community, I have witnessed some of these struggles. For families both overseas and stateside, frequent moves present spouse employment challenges, which impacts the ability to contribute to family earnings, and saving up for these moves also means less flexibility to spend in the moment. Oftentimes the cost of nearby childcare exceeds minimum wage earnings and spouses choose not to work. Military bases are frequently far away from big cities, which can translate to limited resources and higher food costs. Finally, we don’t get to pick where we live, and are often far away from family, which can translate into an added budget strain for those that want to visit family during the year.

As a result of these challenges, many of our U.S.-based active duty service men and women, military veterans and their families are living at or below the poverty line and have a high prevalence of food insecurity. While they would benefit from existing food assistance programs, parameters are not in place to ensure this happens.  

A Silent Struggle to Survive

According to the Defense Commissary Agency, service members on active duty spent over $21 million on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits at commissaries from September 2014 through August 2015. The SNAP Retailer Management 2015 Annual Report indicates that over $80.2 million were spent at military commissaries during the same time period, suggesting that many veterans and military families are also facing food insecurity issues.

In a recent study published in Public Health Nutrition, researchers found that one in four veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars reported past-year food insecurity and 12 percent reported very low food insecurity. In a subsequent study, researchers focused on food insecurity among veterans in the Veterans Aging Cohort Study. Of the 6,709 veterans enrolled in VACS, 24 percent reported being food insecure, and this was further associated with worse control of hypertension, diabetes, HIV and depression, among other things.

While military families facing financial hardships have access to government and charitable food assistance programs, many barriers prevent service members from utilizing these benefits, including limited awareness of available food assistance programs and inconsistent eligibility for programs, particularly with regard to the Basic Allowance for Housing.

Government and charitable food assistance programs are not widely publicized on military bases or as part of returning service members resources. There is often a stigma associated with receiving SNAP benefits; however, this stigma does not apply to receiving WIC benefits because WIC is viewed as more of a health and nutrition benefit rather than a program for those with financial and food assistance needs.   

Inconsistent program eligibility is also an impediment to food insecurity assistance. One clear example is the inclusion of the Basic Allowance for Housing, or BAH, for certain programs. While a service member's base pay stays the same regardless of station location, the BAH rate increases or decreases based on zip code. BAH is included in SNAP benefit eligibility requirements, resulting in variable eligibility for these benefits based on location. By contrast, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children legislation allows state agencies to exclude portions of a service member's pay when determining eligibility. This inconsistency creates confusion about service members' ability to qualify for food assistance programs.

Strategies and Resources to Help 

  • Raise awareness of SNAP benefits and other existing programs to reduce stigma associated with receiving assistance.
  • Include information on existing food assistance programs during in-processing at new duty stations. Availability and eligibility of programs can vary from state to state — although a family may not have qualified at a previous base, new circumstances and state guidelines may be different.
  • Deliberately and consistently coordinate information and resources with locally developed initiatives, such as food pantries on bases.
  • MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger

Improving knowledge of and access to food assistance programs can significantly decrease health care costs and improve the performance of active duty service members. More importantly, giving our active duty military, veterans and their families access to nutritious food is a tangible way to show our gratitude not just on Veterans Day, but all year.

Melinda Boyd, MPH, MHR, RD, is a registered dietitian and military spouse living in England. She is co-author of Train Your Brain to Get Thin, and blogs at NutrFoodTrvl.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter.

(Photo: Thinkstock/michaeljung)

Edit Module

More Stone Soup

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme: The Latest "Superfoods"?

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme: The Latest "Superfoods"?

If you're looking to reduce your sodium intake, the good news is that flavor does not begin and end with salt. Instead, look for flavor from non-sodium sources such as herbs and spices.
Give Peas a Chance! High-Protein Green Pea Burgers

Give Peas a Chance! High-Protein Green Pea Burgers

If you were one of those kids who secretly pushed your peas off your plate, it’s time to bring them back in a whole new way. Try this recipe for High-Protein Green Pea Burgers.
Ready... Set... Walk!

Ready... Set... Walk!

Spring is here and if you have not already purchased a new pair of running shoes, what are you waiting for?! Think of them as part of your equipment for a brand new start to a healthy summer season.
Celebrate Blueberries with Summertime Blueberry Salsa

Celebrate Blueberries with Summertime Blueberry Salsa

This powerful little fruit contains only 80 calories per 1-cup serving, plus it is an excellent source of vitamin C (providing almost 25 percent of the daily requirement), is high in manganese (a mineral important for bone development) and is a good source of dietary fiber. And, oh yeah – their signature blue color? That’s due to powerful antioxidants that may protect against cancer, heart disease and cognitive decline.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Advertise with Food & Nutrition
Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags

Stone Soup

Guest bloggers from around the world share with Food & Nutrition Magazine.

About This Blog

Stone Soup is a guest blog written by members of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Content — including information, recipes and views expressed — is that of the authors and does not reflect the positions or policies of Food & Nutrition Magazine or the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Bloggers are required to pledge they will not write for Stone Soup on topics, companies or trade organization they currently represent or have represented at any time.

Learn about our guest blogs!

Comments Policy

Food & Nutrition Magazine provides this forum to exchange ideas, opinions and contributions within a positive community. Diverse viewpoints and constructive, respectful dialogue are welcome. Rudeness, misinformation, self-promotion and abuse are not. We reserve the right, without warning or notification, to remove comments and block users we determine violate this policy or our Terms & Conditions. You must include your name or be logged into a personal account on Disqus, Facebook, Twitter or Google+ to comment.


Edit Module

Get Stone Soup in Your RSS

Use your RSS reader's instructions to add Stone Soup to your list:

Atom Feed Subscribe to the Stone Soup Feed »

Get Our Blogs in Your Email

Stone Soup
Student Scoop