Active duty military personnel, veterans and their families are part of a growing number of people using government food assistance programs to help make ends meet. According to the Defense Commissary Agency, service members on active duty spent over $21 million on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits at commissaries from September 2014 through August 2015. The SNAP Retailer Management 2015 Annual Report indicates that over $80.2 million were spent at military commissaries during the same time period, suggesting that many veterans and military families are also facing food insecurity issues. While military families facing financial hardships have access to government and charitable food assistance programs, a July 2016 report from the Government Accountability Office cited numerous challenges affecting service members who seek assistance benefits:
- Limited awareness of some food assistance programs.
- Stigma associated with receiving food assistance due to the self-sufficient culture of the military; stigma did not apply to receiving WIC benefits because WIC is viewed as more of a health and nutrition benefit rather than a program for those with financial and food assistance needs; WIC program is also advertised more often than other food assistance programs.
- Misconceptions about military compensation and the ability of a service member to qualify for food assistance, especially the role of BAH benefits.
- Inconsistent eligibility for programs (particularly with regard to the Basic Allowance for Housing.
- DoD lacks data on utilization of services, resulting in ineffective targeting of support for maximum benefit.
Many of our active duty service men and women, military veterans and their families are living at or below the poverty line, have a high prevalence of food insecurity and could benefit from available food assistance programs.
For additional information, view the Academy's issue brief about food insecurity among active-duty service members and veterans.
Providing Nutrition Services and Education to Active-Duty Service Members and Veterans
The impact of the nation's obesity epidemic on the military is a matter of national security and has been largely underreported:
- A 61% rise in obesity since 2002
- Among active duty soldiers, a 2012 Army Obesity Study found that 49.3% were overweight and 19.4% were obese
- Among 261,028 adult non-active duty beneficiaries and retirees, 63% and 86%, respectively, were overweight or obese
- Among 4,869,451 Veterans aged 18 – 100 who had an outpatient or inpatient physical during FY 2013, 77.8% were overweight and 40.7% were obese
- Obesity alone is the reason that 1 in 4 young Americans is unable to serve in the military
Overweight and obese civilian and military populations limit the ability of the Armed forces to recruit and retain a fit force as excess body weight impairs physical fitness, which is critical to the performance of daily military duties and to maintaining combat readiness. In addition, as both the largest employer and healthcare provider in the United States, the Department of Defense must address the challenges that obesity poses to the healthcare system, which not only provides care to Services members, but also to beneficiaries and retirees.
While the nation's obesity epidemic is straining the health care system, for military personnel, the physical abilities of their colleagues can make a difference between life and death.
For additional information, view the Academy's issue brief about providing nutrition services and education for active duty military and veterans.