Alaskans should never let our veterans go hungry

On Veterans Day, we honor those who have served and sacrificed for our country. This holiday is especially meaningful in Alaska, home to the highest number of veterans per capita of any state. As we honor our military, both past and present, with ceremonies and speeches, let’s also commit to honoring in deed the many veterans, along with active-duty families, who are struggling to put enough food on the table.

As a veteran myself, I understand the challenges that military life presents: frequent and sometimes sudden relocations, isolation and separation from family and friends, dangerous and stressful combat situations. Military life is tough, and military families give up a lot in service to our country. It is shameful that any service member or vet would be rewarded for these sacrifices by having to struggle to adequately feed their families.

We know from our extensive 2014 Hunger in America-Alaska Report that 23 percent of families served by the statewide Food Bank of Alaska network have at least one veteran in the household. This means that nearly a quarter of all families visiting our food pantries, soup kitchens and meal programs have a former serviceman or woman in the home. What’s more, we know that many of our active duty military families are also turning to the charitable food sector for help. Statewide, 3 percent of families we are helping with food assistance are active duty military. In Anchorage, with its large military population, this figure is closer to 6 percent.

We have to do better. These are men and women who have served and sacrificed for our country and they deserve better than to skip meals, so they can pay the rent or keep the heat on. A just country does not allow its defenders and their families to struggle with this indignity. They have served us; it is now time for us to serve them. 

Fortunately, the critical issue of food insecurity among our veterans and active duty military has been getting some of the attention that it deserves. Both anti-hunger advocates and members of Congress have been looking at ways to make federal nutrition programs, like SNAP (formerly food stamps), more readily accessible to veterans and members of the military. The Government Accountability Office recently began a study looking at the challenges of food insecurity for active duty military families, including a barrier to eligibility for SNAP. Thank you to Sen. Lisa Murkowski for helping to address this in an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that she co-sponsored. On Nov. 18, there will be a pair of congressional briefings sponsored by Food Bank of Alaska’s partner MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger focusing on veterans’ food insecurity. These briefings will highlight the high rates of food insecurity among veterans and their low rates of participation in SNAP, in an effort to call attention to and, we hope, correct this gap.

I believe that one of the best ways to show respect and care for our veterans is to ensure they have the basic resources to support their families. We have strong allies in Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Sen. Dan Sullivan and Congressman Don Young, who have all been active and engaged on the issue of veteran and military hunger. Please let their offices know that this is an issue that you care about too. You can also help by supporting programs that serve veterans, and remember that this includes your local food pantry and Food Bank of Alaska. Our military deserves better than having to face hunger. Our vets and their families have given enough to our country already -- isn’t it time we gave back to them?

Mike Miller is executive director of Food Bank of Alaska and a retired US Air Force master sergeant. Food Bank of Alaska collected and distributed 6.8 million pounds of food in 2015 through 300 partner food pantries and meal programs statewide and advocates for policies to end hunger.

Alaska Dispatch News - November 9, 2015