Proposed food stamp changes didn't take veterans into account, officials say

Photo credit Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Victoria Foley

Proposed changes to the federal food stamp program could harm veterans, and the federal government didn't take them into account when it came up with the changes, officials told Congress Thursday.

In a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, members heard from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Veterans Affairs and nonprofits that help address veteran food insecurity

One of those nonprofits was Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger. Josh Protas, vice president of public policy for Mazon, told Congress the story of Tim Keefe.

Keefe, a Navy veteran living in Maine, was injured at work, but even after going through the worker's compensation process, Keefe was unable to return to work and "fell on hard times," Protas said. He was denied food stamps because of recent policy changes in Maine, leaving him scrambling for more help and repeatedly asking, "What do I eat between now and then?"

No one had answers for Keefe, Protas said, and he eventually became homeless. He endured harsh weather in rural Maine, lived in a tent until he was forced to move "again and again." 

"He resorted to scrounging for food and even catching squirrels to get by," Protas said. 

"There were many times, more than I'd like to try and count, when I would go two or even three days without food," Keefe previously told the Maine state legislature. "I had to add seven holes to the only belt I've owned for this year to keep my pants on." 

Keefe eventually got help through emergency housing and a food bank, but those resources still are limited, leaving him with two meals a day for 10 days and one meal a day for the remainder of the month. His meals are mostly made up of rice and beans or canned vegetables.

When he turned 50,