WASHINGTON — Nonprofit leaders told lawmakers on Thursday that protecting and improving access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, would provide much-needed help to veterans and military service members struggling to put food on the table. 

“There is no reason that military families and veterans should experience the painful reality of hunger,” said Mia Hubbard, vice president of programs at MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, at a House Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations subcommittee hearing on Wednesday.

Income and work eligibility requirements prevent some applicants from accessing SNAP benefits. Veterans and military service members face barriers such as the counting of their Basic Allowance for Housing as income under the U.S. Code, which gives a skewed perception of their financial situation. 

Challenges with food security are compounded by stigma around asking for help and intersecting structural challenges that erode financial resiliency.

“Financial stress and the stigma surrounding needing support does not end when a family leaves the military,” said Denise Hollywood, chief community and programs officer at Blue Star Families. “To the contrary, a military family’s financial difficulties can be compounded by transition-related challenges, thereby leading to veteran food insecurity.”

Destigmatizing the need for assistance among veterans and military service members will require a unique approach, said Nipa Kamdar, a nurse practitioner and researcher. 

“Most veterans I’ve met don’t want to feel like they’re getting a handout,” Kandar said. “If they can understand that this is assistance that they’ve earned, that they deserve and it’s presented to them respectfully and honorably, those are the approaches that we need to make sure they’re receiving.” 

But food insecurity does not exist in a vacuum; individuals and families struggling to find enough to eat likely also face challenges finding adequate housing, childcare and transportation, Kandar said.

“No one is ever just food insecure,” Kandar said.

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., called the SNAP requirements “cruel” and called on lawmakers to address barriers to program access. 

“We know there’s a problem here. For anyone to argue there is not a problem here is ignoring reality,” McGovern said. “We know there are solutions here. We have to act. We have to do something.” 

One solution has been posed in the Military Hunger Prevention Act. The legislation —  introduced in April by sponsor Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., — aims to amend Title 37 of the U.S. Code to establish a basic needs allowance for low-income members of the Armed Services. But the bill has yet to move past the House Armed Services Committee. 

“As we approach Veteran’s Day, let’s all resolve that we’re going to, by next year, have done something so we don’t have to hear these stories and would actually help make peoples’ lives better,” McGovern said.