theGrio editorial: Military families should not go hungry on Memorial Day

Opinion

Military Couple

As Americans prepare to celebrate Memorial Day, many military families are preparing for something that for them, is an all-too common occurrence: financial struggles; and in some cases, even hunger. In fact, food and financial insecurity is a growing problem among America’s military families, as servicemen and women come home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, only to find that jobs are scarce back home.

Operation Homefront, an organization that provides food and other assistance to the families of active-duty, deployed service members, assisted 4,275 families in 2012, down from a high of 6,044 families in 2011, but up sharply from the 1,076 cases of “needs met” in 2008, the organization told theGrio.

“The economic difficulties of the last few years have taken their toll on military families, as they have many Americans,” said Jim Knotts, who heads Operation Homefront. “In addition, while it is a blessing to have so many service members returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, many military families are struggling financially with the loss of combat pay, and many National Guardsman and reservists have returned home to lower-paying jobs.  Operation Homefront is here to provide emergency financial assistance to the military families in need.”

Organizations like Operation Homefront have faced challenges not just keeping up with the pace of the challenges facing military families, but also the red tape that inadvertently made it difficult for many of them to assist those who need help.

‘Red tape’ regulation waived

This month, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel waived a regulation that prohibited service members from accepting gifts valued at more than $20. The Joint Ethics Regulation was intended to prevent gifts that might “influence” a military member, but made it hard for “military support nonprofits” and Veterans Service Organizations to help.

The good news is that the unemployment rate among veterans has been declining. It stood at a 9.9 percent at the end of 2012, for those veterans serving since 2001, and 7.0 percent for veterans overall. A March report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that some 21.2 million Americans were veterans of the armed forces, and their unemployment rate held steady at around 7.0 percent — slightly lower than the total adult population. For black veterans, the unemployment rate in March was significantly lower than that of the larger black population — 6.9 percent versus nearly 13 percent. But it is young veterans who have suffered the highest, most persistent unemployment, with rates consistently topping 30 percent.

In addition, Military families more ten times more often than civilian families, according to Joining Forces, the initiative started by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, which  provides employment and other resources and advocates for policies supportive of military service members and their families such as changes in state laws that would allow military spouses to transfer their professional licenses from state to state. With families moving frequently, spouses of service members often find it tough to find jobs, or in 14 states, impossible to claim unemployment insurance. To add to the difficulties, many military families struggle with debt, and with predatory lenders.

Getting help to military families can be difficult for other reasons — service members often are reluctant to ask for help, priding themselves on their independence and a sense that they are there to serve the country, and not the other way around. Still, the notion that the families of service members and veterans are struggling, strikes many Americans as antithetical to the country’s core values. It seems, as we celebrate Memorial Day, when we honor the nation’s war dead, that America can do better by those who have served.

How to give, or receive, help: