Sunday, February 26, 2012

Fort Hood families have to use food pantries?

Fort Hood soldiers fight to make ends meet
Large families, low pay, injuries and predatory loans mean some military families depend on food pantries.

By Jeremy Schwartz
Feb. 25, 2012

KILLEEN — As the sun rises on a chilly winter morning, the line grows longer outside the Killeen Food Care Center next to the railroad tracks on the eastern edge of downtown. Sprinkled throughout the expanding crowd of more than 100 are what some might consider a surprising sight: uniformed soldiers from nearby Fort Hood, waiting to fill bags with about 10 days' worth of canned meats, cereal and fresh vegetables.

"I got the information from two other soldiers," said Sgt. Sandy Cornet, 28, who recently returned from Iraq and was waiting in the line with her husband and two of their five children. "It's a lot of them that come here, but they change their clothes because I guess it's embarrassing. A lot don't like to ask for help."

Over the past decade, an all-volunteer military force has shouldered the entire burden of frequent deployments into the war zone, spending months away from families and risking injury and death. But back at home, the harsh reality for a largely unseen population of soldiers and military families has been a spot in a food line, food stamps and a daily struggle to make ends meet.

An American-Statesman analysis of Fort Hood and national numbers shows that American service members are feeling the same economic pain as the rest of the country: They are using federal entitlements in growing numbers, seeking millions of dollars in emergency relief and receiving regular food assistance.

At Fort Hood, the military's busiest deployment hub to Iraq over the past decade and home to as many as 50,000 soldiers, an on-post food pantry has served nearly 5,000 military families since 2008. Food stamp usage at on-post commissaries has ballooned from about $285,000 in 2001 to $1.4 million last year, according to the Defense Commissary Agency . Those numbers include soldiers, family members, reservists and retirees.
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