A National Disgrace

It’s been a long time since I’ve had to put something back on the supermarket shelf because I thought it wasn’t worth the price or couldn’t afford to pay for it. But, yesterday, I did that, and I’ll be honest with you, it doesn’t feel good. However, being a disabled vet on a fixed income and the head of a family of five, one must make responsible choices. Inflation has ravaged this nation, and many people, especially military members and veterans, can’t keep up with it.

The government is telling us that this year’s inflation rate is a mind-numbing 8.3%. An inflation calculator I found online shows that the annual inflation rate in 2020 was just 1.4%. Ah, how I long for the good ole days. The cost of food prepared at home has risen by 14% in the past year, according to Morningstar, and one thing is for sure, you gotta eat.

As noted, one group that this stagflation is hitting especially hard is our active duty military members—especially the younger ones.

Buckley Space Force Base food bank
Gretel’s Pantry is there to help families who need food assistance at Buckley Space Force Base in Aurora, Colorado.

Fortunately, the Department of Defense is taking action to ease the burden of our service members in need. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, once an Army officer, recently penned a memo addressing the problem. He wrote in it that “The Department of Defense has a sacred obligation to take care of our service members and families. Doing so is a national security imperative. Our military families provide the strong foundation for our force, and we owe them our full support.”  

memo addressing military pay and food insecurity
Page one of the Sec Def’s memo regarding “taking care” of the troops. Image from Twitter.

That pay raise, which is over three months away, will still keep our troops at almost 4% behind from breaking even with the ever-escalating inflation rate. No wonder recruiting is at an all-time low. Lawmakers should be ashamed of themselves for not taking better care of the men and women who protect and serve this nation. I would expect to see such a thing from Russia, but not the United States.

We Can’t Even Keep Our Troops Fed

Unfortunately, the numbers available from the US Department of Agriculture are a bit outdated regarding how many active duty military families currently qualify for federal food assistance benefits through the SNAP program. They are from 2019, but I’ll include them here anyway because they’ll give you a fair idea of how many military members are in need today. In 2019 (and of course, this was before the pandemic), 22,000 active duty service members, 213,000 members of the National Guard or Reserve, and 1.1 million veterans qualified for what we used to call “food stamps.” This was back when the annual inflation rate was a quarter of what it is now.

BAH, or Basic Allowance for Housing, is the amount a servicemember gets in addition to their base pay to pay for housing when government housing is not provided. The amount is based on the zip code where the servicemember lives. The official army.mil website informs us that BAH rates have increased an average of 5.1% effective January 1, 2022. According to rent.com, the average rent nationwide for a two-bedroom apartment is $2,054. That is a whopping 23.43% increase, year over year, from 2021 to 2022.

Despite what some people say, the folks that run the Department of Defense are not stupid. They are well aware that housing costs trend upwards over the years and are prone to spikes like the one we are experiencing right now. One can’t help but wonder why they did not build enough on-base housing to address the needs of service members. This would have provided multiple benefits to the servicemembers (such as being close to schools, the commissary, etc.) and probably would have cost the government less in the long run.

For the record, here are the 28 military housing areas where rent has increased 20% in the past year, and the government has approved temporary increases in BAH. These augmented payments are scheduled to begin in October. Unfortunately, it’s hard to get a handle on exactly how much one’s BAH will increase because it’s based on rank, location, and whether or not they have dependents.

  • Vandenberg AFB, California
  • Twenty-Nine Palms MCB, California
  • San Diego, California
  • Dover AFB/ Rehoboth, Delaware
  • Patrick AFB, Florida
  • Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Florida
  • Orlando, Florida
  • West Palm Beach, Florida
  • Volusia County, Florida
  • Fort Myers Beach, Florida
  • Kings Bay/Brunswick, Georgia
  • Maui County, Hawaii
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • Cape Cod–Plymouth, Massachusetts
  • Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
  • Brunswick, Maine
  • Coastal Maine, Maine
  • Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri
  • Helena, Montana
  • Wilmington, North Carolina
  • Northern New Jersey
  • Newport, Rhode Island
  • Providence, Rhode Island
  • Beaufort/Parris Island, South Carolina
  • Knoxville, Tennessee
  • Houston, Texas
  • Quantico/Woodbridge, Virginia

Servicemembers looking to calculate their new BAH rates can do so here.

I want to take this opportunity to help out my fellow soldiers in need by giving them a link to the Army’s Financial Readiness Program. The FRP is quite a beneficial resource as they employ credentialed personal finance counselors trained to teach soldiers how to best manage their money. I know I could have used something like that when I was coming up through the ranks. In addition, their counselors help during tax time,  explain the ins and outs of the GI education Bills, and ensure soldiers are taking advantage of the provisions of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). For example, did you know there was a 6% cap on pre-service debts, such as credit cards?

If we want to maintain a strong, capable well-trained fighting force, we must start compensating them appropriately. We must let them know that they are important to us and that their sacrifices matter. They are owed no less.