A new study suggests that 25 percent of troops in active duty, Guard and the Reserve use food banks to provide groceries and meals for themselves or their families.
The study sponsored by Feeding America, the nation's largest food bank network, is conducted once every four years and was based on data collected in 2012. It found that four percent of surveyed households who used a food bank contained a currently serving military member.
Based on those results, Feeding America officials estimated that 620,000 of their 4.65 million customers, or about 25 percent of the military population in 2012, used food banks.
"We find it disheartening," said Maura Daly, a spokesman for Feeding America. "We know from our food banks anecdotally that they have seen a dramatic increase in the number of military families that they are serving over the last several years. We weren't surprised that the need is there. We were a little surprised by how much need is there, and we believe that this is just the beginning of understanding this issue."
The study did not differentiate between Guard and Reserve or active duty members, creating no way to tell what portion of the four percent are inactive guard or Reservists, who may have vastly different monthly income and different assistance needs as compared to active duty members.
Pentagon officials took immediate issue with the study's methodology. They said that surveying households instead of individuals while comparing those numbers to military data creates an inaccurate picture.
"Without performing appropriate statistical adjustments to match the survey sample with the military population, it is impossible to accurately calculate an estimated percentage of military households served by the Feeding America's programs based on the survey data," said Navy Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman.
Christensen said pay for active duty members or activated Guard and Reservists is better among officers than 90 percent of comparative civilians and, among enlisted, better than 83 percent of civilians with similar education and experience levels.
"The work of Feeding America and other organizations will help the Department amplify the DoD resources available to service members and families, particularly in high-cost locations," said Navy Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a DoD spokesman. "The Department of Defense recognizes that personal financial readiness of service members and their families must be maintained to sustain mission readiness."
Officials with the National Military Family Association (NMFA) said they also question the methodology. However, they said regardless of whether or not Feeding America's data on the military population is accurate, knowing that some military families face financial hardship is enough to cause a need for action.
"Military families face financial hardships for many reasons: youth and inexperience with financial matters, unemployment or underemployment of military spouses, frequent moves that add out of pocket costs and make spouse employment continuity difficult, lower income after deployments which force adjustments in spending that could take families time to make," said Joyce Raezer, executive director for NMFA. "Military pay at junior levels is comparable to age and education of civilian peers --but, if someone enters the military with a family, they are going to face financial challenges."
Officials with Feeding America said that if a family or individual feels that they need the help of a food bank they can visit the Feeding America locator to be connected with a food bank in almost any county in the U.S.
-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org