Food Insecurity Among Active Duty Personnel

In the past, I have written about the issues surrounding sufficient and good housing for active duty military members, particularly for married families on military bases, and the causes. This article is based on research done concerning food insecurity among Active Duty personnel by the Rand Corporation for the Department of Defense (DoD) in 2018 and beyond. The findings are troubling, but even more troubling is the statement in the Military Times article on this matter that there seems to be a certain lack of clarity around what the causes for the said food insecurity are.

The study, commissioned by the DoD in 2018, found that 25.8% of active duty members were food insecure compared to 5% of civilians. This was despite the fact that military personnel members, in general, make more money than their equivalent civilian peers. How can this be? That is the question that the DoD is attempting to find out in this research.

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The Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food security as “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.” According to a recent Military Times article on this matter, the lead researcher, a senior economist for Rand, Beth Asch, said, “I wasn’t expecting that the rate of food insecurity would be so high relative to civilians.” The research indicated that the ranks that were most affected by food insecurity tended to be in the E-4 to E-6 grades, and it was reported to be higher among those living on posts, rather than in the economy.

The research indicates that this issue is experienced by a wide variety of military members and their families. But here is the kicker; the researchers “don’t have a clear idea of what the underlying causes are.” The DoD may have an idea of the issue, but until they understand the cause, or possibly a number of causes behind food insecurity issues, they will not be able to address the issue of food insecurity effectively. It seems to this writer that there might be many causes; some could be related to issues that concern the DoD directly, but others may be related to the service members who are experiencing this issue of food insecurity.

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I do not want to overwhelm you with all of the statistical information that the Military Times article spelled out from the research. Statistics have a way of putting one to sleep. But a few will help you to understand the study. Suffice it to say, the Rand research asked 6 questions in its short-form survey concerning food security issues. If the participants answered 2-4 of the questions with a “yes,” they were considered to be experiencing the possibility of a low level of food insecurity. If they answered “yes” to 5-6 of the questions they were considered affected by a high level of food insecurity. According to the survey of the more than 15,000 active duty members, about 24% experienced food insecurity.

According to the Rand study, 40% of those who were considered affected by food insecurity were in the Army, 26% in the Navy, 18% in the Air Force, 14% in the Marine Corps, and 3% in the Coast Guard. About 14% of all of these used “food assistance programs” in 2018 when the survey was done.

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At the end of the article in the Military Times, things get a bit confusing. It is reported that 29% of those who were identified as food insecure reported themselves as being “very comfortable and secure” financially or “able to make ends meet without much difficulty.” This seems contradictory, and it’s unclear why this contradiction occurs in the research. The remaining 71% of participants considered food insecure indicated in the survey that their difficulties with food insecurity were “occasional” versus “tough” or “in over your head.”

The part of the article that made the most sense to me was at the very end, where a number of possible causes were offered. These included: “Financial mismanagement on the part of the active duty personnel, lack of financial literacy, chronic spouse unemployment, and providing support to extended family members outside of the household.”

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These seem to me to be real-world issues and could be the most significant, yet eminently fixable, “causes” behind the food insecurity issue among active-duty military personnel and civilians alike. Financial mismanagement and financial literacy are not uncommon across the whole of American society. These are manageable problems in the sense that classes to help military personnel can be easily organized and taught on base. This is another form of empowerment that would go a long way in helping military families to become financially independent and successful. I know this from personal experience. A little knowledge about how to manage and live within one’s income really improves the financial status and security of a family and takes away most of the worries about finances.

Photo: Adobe Stock/Yakobchuk Olena

Spousal employment is critical to military families, especially when one or the other of the spouses is deployed. In today’s economy, it is a fact that families almost always require two incomes to handle the expenses of housing, food, and education costs, among many other things.

The more difficult element of the list above is the number of active-duty military personnel who are also having to support extended family members outside of their immediate households. This is more difficult because it has many more dimensions to it. But even this can be addressed positively if the DoD wants to improve the lives of current active-duty personnel. After all, when military members and their families are secure in financial, food, and housing matters, they are able to be more focused on their required duties both in times of peace and in wartime.

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