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Thursday, February 22, 2024
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“Thanksgiving: Unconscionable Empty Tables for Many Military Families”

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Last week, I found myself in a familiar yet anxiety-inducing scenario as I shopped at my local grocery store outside Washington, D.C., where my active-duty spouse is stationed. The impending Thanksgiving rush motivated me to get ahead on my shopping, but as I approached the checkout stand, a pit formed in my stomach – I had forgotten to check if I had enough money for groceries.

Financial Tightrope: Navigating Military Family Finances

Since I left my government job a few months ago, our finances have been tighter, and the absence of joint banking made this situation even more challenging. Amidst the uncertainty of our next deployment location, job hunting has become a daunting task. We are among the many military families relying on a single income, a situation exacerbated by the fact that the military spouse unemployment rate is estimated to be around 20%, though it’s not regularly tracked by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Checkout Stand Dilemma: A Glimpse into Food Insecurity: Thanksgiving

As the cashier scanned each item, I hurriedly recalculated prices in my head, grappling with the fear of exceeding my budget. The final beep of the checkout gun confirmed my suspicion – I was over budget. I reluctantly handed back items and bagged my groceries, experiencing a momentary glimpse into the challenges faced by roughly 25% of military families dealing with food insecurity.

Understanding Food Insecurity: Defining the Problem

For military families on a single income, especially in high-cost-of-living areas, the breadwinner’s earnings may fall short. Understanding and addressing food insecurity in the military community is crucial to alleviating these struggles. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or limited ability to acquire acceptable foods.

Insights from Research: The RAND Corporation’s Findings: Thanksgiving

A recent study by the RAND Corporation, prompted by a congressional order, found that the Army has the highest number of food-insecure service members, with early to mid-career enlisted personnel being the most affected. Surprisingly, many military families face barriers to accessing food assistance programs due to concerns about stigma and a culture that values self-sufficiency and secrecy.

Pentagon’s Call to Action: Addressing Fluctuations in Household Income

While my personal experience at the grocery store was a temporary setback, I recognize the privilege my spouse and I have compared to some military families who regularly face food insecurity. As we approach Thanksgiving, it’s crucial to acknowledge and address this issue within the military community. Congress and the Pentagon must continue studying food insecurity, working towards solutions that ensure no military family goes without during this season of abundance.

Melissa A. Sullivan, a military spouse and former federal agency spokesperson, shares her insights and calls for ongoing efforts to combat food insecurity among military families.

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