It’s a disgrace that nearly one-third of the most junior members of the U.S. military have trouble feeding their families, according to a new estimate from one of the nation’s largest food-bank coordinators.

But that’s only one reason to pay attention to this story. The other is that it says a lot about hunger in our country: what’s behind it, and how to solve it.

Feeding America, which works with more than 200 food banks across the country, estimates that as many as 160,000 active-duty military members and their families are food insecure, meaning they have limited or uncertain access to sufficient nutrition.

These numbers are just estimates — the Pentagon has not seriously studied hunger among its ranks, a problem that should be remedied as soon as possible.

But anecdotal evidence from service members tell us a lot about what’s going on. Junior-level enlisted members are young, and many have children. Because they move a lot, their spouses can find it hard to get steady work. Increasingly, they are stressed by high housing costs in the areas where they are stationed.

Showing the scope of the problem, a series of charitable organizations have emerged near major military bases to help military families get by.

Food insecurity not only adds stress to the lives of service members and their families, it also can be a factor in Americans leaving the service early. As such, hunger in this case is a national security issue.

But that may be the only way hunger in the military differs from hunger in other families.

Families outside the military, too, struggle with high housing costs, a problem in nearly every corner of the country, and one that is worse for young families.

Wages remain low for many of these families. Single-parent families struggle the most, but other families are forced to choose between low-wage work, with its accompanying child-care costs, and keeping one spouse home with the children.

Just as in the military, some of these families benefit from food assistance and other social programs. But more often, parents struggling to feed their families earn too much to qualify for help, leaving them out of luck.

For service members, the Pentagon is increasing housing allowances. Just as a permanent increase in food stamp benefits made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture earlier this year did for civilians, the raise will give military households help that better matches their need.

The federal government should also repeal a rule that counts military housing benefits as income for the purpose of food assistance, something it doesn’t do for taxes. That would allow more families to get benefits.

The civilian equivalent is to raise the income levels for benefits so that everyone who truly needs food assistance can receive it, in addition to maintaining policies that increase wages for low-income workers.

Expansion of school meals programs, such as the one initiated recently in Maine, also help families get the food they need.

Hunger, both in and out of the military, is not inevitable. It is the result of policy choices that put families in a bind.

Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., who has asked the Pentagon to study hunger among its members, said it best recently.

Though he was referring to food insecurity in the armed forces, he could have been talking about hunger in general: “It’s not rocket science,” he told the Associated Press. “This is solvable … somebody take responsibility and solve it.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.