By Jessica Bartholow/Labor’s Edge Blog
Next week, America will take a day to honor the commitment of men and women who have served our country. In California, this day is significant because it is home to more returning veterans than any other state in the Nation.
But for too many veterans, the November 11th holiday is nothing more than a gateway to a stressful holiday season filled with cold months, high utility bills and empty plates. I know this because my dad is a disabled Veteran who suffered for years with untreated and debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We were never invited to a Veteran’s Day parade or a pancake breakfast, just left to find our own way, many times our basic needs going unmet.
While poverty among veterans is half that of the general public, there are 1.5 million young veterans, some with families, who live with incomes below the poverty line. Some of these veterans are disabled and have applied for help through the U.S. Department Veterans Administration (VA), where they will wait an average of 320 days for the VA to process their disability claims.
California’s veterans who return without debilitating conditions will begin the difficult transition into a civilian job market still slowly recovering from the recession and with regional unemployment rates high above the national average. While waiting for their chance at a job interview or for a delayed disability claimed to be processed, many veterans will turn to our country’s tattered safety-net for help. And finding work won’t guarantee that our veterans prevent poverty, as over 60 percent of poor Californians live in a working family. To keep from being hungry, some veterans have turned to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps. In fact, as many as 900,000 veterans receive this essential federal food help.
As if being hungry and on food stamps after serving your country weren’t insulting enough, these veterans just got hit on November 1st with a 5 percent, across the board, cut to their benefit level due to Congressional inaction to stop it. And this $11 Billion cut may not be the end of it. Just as fast as the final pieces of tickertape from hometown veterans’ parades have been swept up, members of Congress return to Washington, DC to consider legislation that would make further cuts to food help for hungry Americans, including veterans, and add complicating new rules that will make in more difficult for SNAP recipients to prevent hunger. All together, Congress is looking for a combined $50 Billion in cuts to food help for the poor in these last two weeks of the year.
There are more poor Americans now than any time in our nation’s history and more hungry children than ever before. Not only is it insulting to our veterans to let them go hungry, it is insulting to them and to their years of service to let anyone in America go hungry, especially children. This is not the America that they fought for and not the American they should have returned home to.
This Veterans Day, let’s honor our veterans with more than just a day on the calendar, let’s recommit ourselves to an America where no one goes hungry and where every returning hero is cared for with the same vigilance with which they protected our country’s great values. That will make a happy Veteran’s Day.