Left Behind: Military Families, Veterans and Hunger

I’ve worked on hunger in America for more than 30 years without fully appreciating how profoundly it impacts those to whom we owe the most but in some ways provide for the least — our nation’s military and veteran families. However, they will be on my mind this Memorial Day weekend because of the powerful conversation I had while recording our podcast, Add Passion and Stir.

For this episode, I sat down with two guests, both of whom have real-world experience with the needs of veterans. Chef Alex Samayoa, owner of the popular DC restaurant Espita Mezcaleria, is a returned Army vet who had been deployed in Afghanistan. Josh Protas who heads the Washington DC policy office of the hunger organization MAZON , works to address the injustice of American military and veteran families who get shortchanged when it comes to the food assistance their families need and deserve. Together, they gave invaluable insight into some of the struggles faced by our nation’s military and veteran families.

First, a few facts:

· An estimated 23,000 active-duty military households — often lower-ranking enlisted service members with larger households — receive SNAP food stamps benefits.

· $84 million-worth of food stamps are annually used in military commissaries.

· Also, about 7 percent of all veterans, over 1.5 million people, receive SNAP food stamps benefits.

“These are really hidden issues,” says MAZON’s Protas, partly due to the pride among military families and veterans. “There is an ethic in the military about not leaving anybody behind, but the truth is we are leaving them behind.”

Chef Alex described people with whom he served in the Army who cannot afford basic necessities. “Everybody says they care, but nobody’s really there.”

Ironically, President Trump’s first budget released this week provides more for defense contractors but less for military and veteran families. The proposed budget increases discretionary defense spending by $469 billion for things like Air Force jets and Navy ships, yet slashes federal support for food assistance to the poorest Americans. The proposed SNAP cuts would impact the more than 40 million Americans — many of them kids — who rely on the program.

The proposed cuts to the SNAP program are an especially harsh slap in the face to men and women who cannot provide their families regular meals on their military pay or veteran benefits. How can we allow those who served and sacrificed for their country to struggle with hunger?

The Military Hunger Prevention Act introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives would remove barriers to SNAP eligibility for currently serving military families. If you want your Memorial Day weekend to mean more than picnics and parades, listen to the conversation with Alex Samayoa and Josh Protas to get inspired to honor our military and veteran families. You can read more at mazon.org/take-action, and contact your Congressional representatives to tell them to protect military families. You can also get involved with local organizations that serve military families and veterans and help show them that we value their service and refuse to leave them behind.

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