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House Committee hears about hunger among troops and veterans in San Diego

The outside of the San Diego VA Medical Center is shown on Nov. 2, 2018.
Megan Wood
The outside of the San Diego VA Medical Center is shown on Nov. 2, 2018.

A U.S. House Veterans Affairs subcommittee met in Oceanside Monday, where they were told the high cost of living is pushing many veterans and local military to go without food.

The US Department of Agriculture estimates roughly 11% of veterans live in households where they at times go hungry, and many don’t access services provided.

“The shame and the stigma and the fear of admitting that you can’t provide enough food for your family keeps a lot of people from responding,” said Anahid Brakke, President of the San Diego Hunger Coalition.

Food Advocates tell US House Committee that veterans and troops are going hungry

The San Diego Food Bank serves roughly 45,000 vets and local members of the military. The number rose by more than 6,000 families since the pandemic.

“Our numbers demonstrate that food insecurity among active duty and vet families is a serious but hidden problem which has been exacerbated by the problems of the COVID-19 pandemic and the current inflationary environment,” said Casey Castillo, CEO of the San Diego Food Bank.

The Veterans Health Administration has begun screening clients for food insecurity, part of an effort to end hunger among veterans. Nationwide, veterans who suffer from PTSD or have a disability are more likely to suffer from food insecurity. Women veterans are also especially vulnerable. The committee was told the entire process needs to be overhauled so more veterans experiencing hunger can qualify for food programs.

“It’s not just about outreach and handing people information. It’s about what happens when they start that application to submit it and get through the enrollment process,” Brakke said. “It’s undignified. It’s overly complicated. And these are all things that can be fixed with federal legislation.”

Advocates said the process isn’t just complicated. Rules under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is sometimes called food stamps, indicate that veterans may not qualify unless they are 100 percent disabled.

US Rep. Barry Moore, (R-Alabama) said on a recent trip to San Diego that a person who delivered the pizza to his door was an active duty Marine, trying to earn extra money in his off hours.

The committee discussed reforms that included exempting the Basic Allowance for Housing that most active duty troops receive from the income requirements for food stamps.

US Rep. Mike Levin chairs the Veterans Affairs subcommittee. The VA has committed to ending food insecurity. Levin is co-sponsoring a bill to turn the VA’s effort into law.