How We Can Fix Food and Housing Shortfalls for Veterans and Military Families

A welcome sign is on display at the Fairchild Food Pantry at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington
A welcome sign is on display at the Fairchild Food Pantry at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, May 25th, 2023. (Lillian Patterson/U.S. Air Force)

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We as a nation have an obligation to ensure that our veterans and military service members have what they need. When the basics of food and housing are not met, we collectively must fight for solutions.

While most veterans excel with good jobs and a stable family, others struggle with complex and often overlapping issues of financial, food and housing insecurity, as outlined in a Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN) study that found that one in six veteran and military families faced food insecurity or hunger.

The challenge for veterans and military service members requiring assistance has been locating a central point of access, a place to find local resources they can trust to meet their families' needs. The answer is a national network of respected and forward-looking organizations.

This nonprofit network complements government agencies like the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense that work tirelessly on behalf of veterans. However, the support these agencies can provide is sometimes limited.

We have the model to provide help. When our organizations joined forces, we were able to build a network of over 350 veteran-focused organizations and 10,000 extended partners reaching more than 20 million veterans and uniformed military members in communities across the country. Our partners use existing resources to provide more veterans and military service members with valuable information, services and referrals.

Many operate as a hub, essentially a single front door. If a veteran goes to one organization that can meet only some of their needs, that group will introduce them to other vetted resources in their area. Named for the World War I term meaning "Got Your Back," the Bob Woodruff Foundation Got Your 6 Network reaches 97% of the U.S. veteran and uniformed military population in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, American Samoa and Guam.

This network also provides data and insights on veterans' needs nationwide, community by community, enabling us to dig deep into the challenges our veterans and service members face through national and regional research.

To get a true picture of the impact of the pandemic, for example, we surveyed partners in our Got Your 6 Network. Sixty-seven percent reported that many or almost all their veteran clients requested food or nutrition assistance, and 53% saw significant needs for assistance with housing or homelessness.

To help us understand what these issues look like in different communities, we convene experts from government, military, academic and nonprofit sectors. At a recent summit in San Antonio, regional and national organizations shared the challenges of significant population growth, a plus that presents opportunities to military families, but can intensify difficulties in accessing affordable housing, medical care, food and child care.

Likewise, MFAN's research on what's causing military and veteran family food insecurity points to other financial pressures, such as the costs of frequent moves, and employment and earning challenges facing military spouses, as driving the problem.

Sadly, food and housing insecurity can hit military families and veterans hard.

Both veteran and military families make serious sacrifices to defend democracy. We will not accept them struggling to get enough to eat or find a safe place to sleep.

That's why over the last three years, led by data, research and expertise, we have financially supported 130 organizations to address, among other topics, food insecurity and housing instability. In 2022 alone, our funding supported programs reaching more than 6,200 veterans and addressed complex needs around housing, health care, food, employment and benefits. In 2023, we've continued our commitment to investing in these efforts, and military families can find resources in their areas here.

Our veterans and service members often know what they need. It's up to us as philanthropists and advocates to listen, to identify root causes, to enable local solutions, and to inform the national dialogue from the lessons we learn from our community partners across the U.S.

-- Craig Newmark, head of Craig Newmark Philanthropies, is founder of the classifieds ad site craigslist. Anne Marie Dougherty is CEO of the Bob Woodruff Foundation and a veteran spouse.

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