A new study by Feeding America reveals some disturbing news: fully one-quarter of American military families requires state and federal aid just to be able to put food on the table.
The study found that 620,000 households that include at least one member of active duty military personnel seek food aid. It also found that fully one in seven Americans rely on food banks and meal service programs — a number that works out to 46 million people. Take some time to let it sink in that military personnel are significantly more likely to need food aid for their families than civilians.
For those curious, Feeding America is the nation's largest hunger relief charity. They're not a think tank looking to manipulate data for their own political ends — their goal is purely to feed hungry Americans. All of this data comes from their "Hunger in America 2014" study, the latest in a series of studies they conduct once every four years.
An NBCNews article delves into why so many military families are in this position. It turns out that there are a lot of factors:
The help is sought for various reasons, experts say: For active duty, pressures include low pay, poor financial planning by junior soldiers, the difficulty for spouses to hold steady jobs amid base transfers and deployments, and the higher costs of living in some states. For veterans, the triggers are the transition to the civilian world, and, for some, living off low disability pay or retirement funds. Both groups were hit by the Great Recession, too.
Conservatives love to talk about how those on food aid programs are freeloaders gaming the system and leeching off of hardworking, productive Americans. They also love to talk about soldiers are just the bestest Americans (at least with their words, though certainly not with their actions). So how do their heads not explode from the cognitive dissonance of trying to reconcile those two beliefs? You can't exactly make the argument that soldiers and military families are leeching off the system; regardless of what you think of US military policy (and there's a hell of a lot to criticize), when people sign up to get shot at, we have a responsibility to feed them and their families. That's kind of the deal.*
Especially when you consider how much we spend on the military, it's ludicrous how little we pay actual soldiers. The Department of Defense last month issued the lowest pay raise for soldiers in 50 years — a one percent raise, and apparently plans to keep that piddling amount in place through 2017. No, instead our money has to go to things like tanks the army doesn't want and ships and planes the air force and navy no longer need. We spend ludicrous amounts of money on things that do not help us, while we let soldiers and their families starve, because this is America, and we only pretend to care about the welfare of actual soldiers and military families.
This isn't a problem we lack the resources to fix — we could absolutely solve this issue tomorrow if Congress gave even a semblance of a crap about our soldiers. But we both know it isn't going to happen.
The irony that the same people refusing to pay a decent wage to our soldiers and servicemen and women are the same ones accusing anyone who criticizes American military policy of a lack of patriotism would be funny if it wasn't so sickening.
* At least, it's supposed to be. We already know how unbelievably horribly we treat veterans.
Image via Jami Garrison/Shutterstock.