Veterans-day-hungry – The San Diego Union-Tribune
Kamensky is a veteran and Chief Strategy Officer at Feeding San Diego. He lives in Escondido.
While I served in military leadership positions from 2001 to 2008, including as vice commander of the United States Navy submarine force, I never heard of the problem of starvation in the ranks. It’s for two reasons: I wasn’t looking, and no one would have talked about it.
Admitting the need for help with something as basic as food for one’s family would have been seen as a weakness. Asking other servicemen for help was not part of the culture. We received three meals a day on board the ship. But did my shipmates’ families have food on the table at home?
Today, knowing that up to 160,000 active duty enlisted service members are having trouble getting food on the table, I’m shocked that I didn’t know this problem existed. I’m sure many others serving in the military today don’t know that either.
I didn’t know about the issue of military hunger until I started my current role at Feeding San Diego, the local Feeding America affiliate. I learned that one of the demographic groups in dire need of food assistance was my own former Navy community. Our non-profit organization runs a program called “Feed the Heroesto provide hunger relief to serving military and veterans, and their families. In promoting this program, we hear the general public’s disbelief when they learn that members of the military community often rely on non-profit organizations to meet their basic needs.
San Diego County is home to one of the largest concentrations of veterans and military in the world. The military employed more than 145,000 inhabitants in 2021. About 75% are active duty military. Nearly half are enlisted youth, the lowest paid employees in our military. Meanwhile, the cost of living in the city of San Diego is 47% more than the national average. This percentage increases to 55% higher than the national average for San Diego County. Although the military provides stipends for specific needs, such as a basic housing allowance, the simple truth is that these stipends often do not cover the expenses of junior personnel with families.
As we see in civil society, economically disadvantaged families are the ones who struggle. The difference with military hunger is the perception that everyone is taken care of in the military. Although our military receives more than their civilian counterparts, it is still insufficient, especially with high inflation.
Many The factors contribute to food insecurity for active duty families, including lower rank, maturity, having children, and location of service. The confluence of cost versus affordability is pushing military families to make tough decisions that affect the food they buy, among other tough choices.
Recently, the US Department of Defense identified areas where the cost of rental housing has increased by an average of 20%, making it especially difficult for service members to find affordable housing. Six slots nationwide will see a temporary increase in its Basic Housing Allowance as part of a Department of Defense initiative to combat the rising cost of living, and San Diego is one of them. However, this change is temporary.
In our hunger relief work, the CalFresh program (known federally as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) provides monthly benefits used to purchase nutritious groceries. It helps many low-income families to get food. Since the basic housing allowance is included to determine eligibility for CalFresh, many San Diego service members are not eligible for benefits.
To address this problem, California recently promulgated Senate Bill 950, which requires the state Department of Social Services to submit a federal waiver request to exclude any basic housing allowance in determining CalFresh eligibility. However, this is a short-term solution that would require annual renewal and is subject to federal approval.
For a long-term solution, Congress must expand eligibility for Basic Needs Allowances to households living below 150% of the federal poverty level and exclude the Basic Housing Allowance from the calculation of gross income. Not only would these changes improve the welfare of currently enlisted members, they would also allow members to end their service and become veterans on more stable grounds.
Until these levers are exercised, I have accepted a new call of duty to help cover the hunger gaps felt by our service members through my work at Feeding San Diego. Alongside our valued partners, which include exemplary nonprofits such as Support the Enlisted Project and USO San Diego, our organization is working to address some of the shortcomings that continue to affect military families and veterans.
I hope we are a short-term solution for people who give so much to our country and deserve more.