by Eric Barr, SNAP Outreach Coordinator
Oklahoma is a very military-friendly state. It offers tax exemptions, employment services, tuition assistance, and other perks to active-duty military and veterans. Despite the favorable policies, out of Oklahoma’s 20,000 active-duty troops, one in four participate in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and roughly 21,000 of the 310,000 veterans receive SNAP benefits. According to Oklahoma Policy Institute, potentially “tens of thousands” more may experience food insecurity and would be able to benefit from grocery assistance.
There are multiple factors that exacerbate food insecurity among this population:
- Disabled veterans often have difficulty finding and holding work.
- Veterans who are younger and have served only one enlistment separate at a lower pay grade.
- Veterans often have families to support but did not develop skills in their enlistment that translate to well-paying jobs in the private sector.
There is also a correlation between food security and where a veteran resides. Veterans in rural and urban areas are more likely to be food insecure than veterans in suburban areas. Oklahoma is a primarily rural state, where grocery stores tend to be further away, and the lack of public transportation can make it more difficult to get nutritious foods. Rural areas also have higher levels of poverty, which can make accessing healthy foods more difficult.
Active-duty families face a unique set of issues. It is common for non-military partners to not be able to work, or work lower-paying jobs, due to frequent relocations. If the service member is deployed, the partner may not be able to work outside the home because they take on the sole responsibility of the household. These families are already dealing with the stress of deployment. They should not face the added strain of not having enough to eat.
Unfortunately, many active-duty military and veterans who qualify for SNAP do not take advantage of the resource. They often lack knowledge about SNAP, fear asking for help, or the stigma is too great a barrier. SNAP benefits should be treated like other benefits that active-duty military and veterans readily use, such as the GI Bill, to eliminate the stigma associated with SNAP.
For this reason, Hunger Free Oklahoma is participating in the Department of Defense pilot program, “Building Healthy Military Communities (BHMC).” The goal of the BHMC program is to support “Total Force Fitness for active-duty and reserve service members living in geographically dispersed areas.” Hunger Free Oklahoma is partnering with multiple community organizations to create SNAP outreach messaging for the military, veterans, and their families.
Through partnering with Veteran Service Organizations and the Building Healthy Military Communities pilot program, Hunger Free Oklahoma is committed to ending hunger in our military and veteran community. These men and women have made sacrifices in service of their nation, and we as a community must ensure they can put enough food on the table.
I am a veteran myself and I came to Hunger Free Oklahoma to help end food insecurity for active-duty military, veterans, and their families. If you are a Veteran Service Organization or know of a Veteran Service Organization who would be interested in partnering to meet this goal, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.