Congress Seeks to Serve More Food to Veterans Who Served the US
WASHINGTON — Navy veteran Tim Keefe told a congressional panel Wednesday about how he was willing to give his life for his country when he enlisted in the military.
After he left the Navy, he had trouble finding a sandwich to eat.
He suffered a job injury that included torn cartilage in his hand. He underwent surgery, physical and occupational therapy, but it took four years before he recuperated enough to return to work.
By that time, he could find no work.
“Eventually what money I had ran out and I found myself homeless and living in a tent in the woods in the winter in Maine,” Keefe told the House Agriculture subcommittee on nutrition, oversight and department operations.
The subcommittee asked Keefe to testify as an example of the 14% of active military service members and 12% of veterans who report difficulty finding enough food for themselves or their families.
Keefe said he had worked since he was 11 years old and never worried about finding a job or adequate food.
“It wasn’t until I couldn’t work that I experienced true hunger,” he said.
He applied for benefits through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides food purchasing assistance for low-income people. SNAP was previously known as the food stamp program.
He received $194 a month in food assistance under SNAP for a few months. The program administrators then told him his benefits had run out.
He told them about his lingering injury and how it impaired his job search. He was told his disability did not meet the program’s threshold requirements to continue the food assistance.
“I contemplated stealing food many times with the justification being that if I got away with it, I would eat, if I got caught, I would go to jail for at least some amount of time, and I would eat,” Keefe said.
On the eve of Veterans Day, he told lawmakers, “We’re only as great as our most disenfranchised person, and that should never be a veteran.”
The threshold requirements that Keefe mentioned drew the greatest interest from the lawmakers. They are considering lowering the threshold for veterans, particularly the disabled, to increase their opportunities for food security.
They described hunger among military members and veterans as a tragedy for each of them but also a national security risk when potentially good recruits look for other jobs to ensure they have food and housing.
No one should go hungry in the United States but “it is especially galling to see those who have dedicated their lives to our nation struggle to put food on the table,” said Rep. Jahana Hayes, who chairs the subcommittee on nutrition, oversight and department operations.
Hunger can sometimes propagate other problems with veterans’ health and mental well-being, she said.
The military branches have tried to help veterans through their Transition Assistance Program, which helps service members adjust to civilian life. The largely educational program instructs soldiers on how to access benefits for family support, disability compensation, education and health care.
The question addressed by the subcommittee on nutrition, oversight and department operations is whether TAP is really enough when food insecurity and homelessness are chronic problems for veterans.
Rep. Don Bacon suggested expanding job training for veterans transitioning to civilian life.
“There are opportunities to put our veterans into these really great-paying jobs,” he said.
Another proposal would help active duty service members when they are stationed in places where the U.S. military lacks enough housing for all of them. They would receive an allowance to help them find off-base private housing.
They do not receive an allowance for food, which compels some of them to seek assistance through charitable organizations.
The pending Military Hunger Prevention Act would offer them and their families an additional allowance for food.
Tom can be reached at [email protected]
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