WASHINGTON — Tim Keefe, a Navy veteran from Maine, recounted foraging for food and living like a “caveman” in the months when he didn’t qualify for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program during a House subcommittee hearing Wednesday.
“It’s a desperation I wouldn’t wish on anyone,” Keefe told the House Nutrition, Oversight and Department Operations Subcommittee, which was examining food insecurity among veterans, active duty military and military families.
Keefe said he was unable to work following an injury and multiple surgeries, but initially received SNAP, or food stamps, for three months while living in a tent in the woods. The $194 a month kept him nourished until it was cut off because of work requirements associated with the program that he could not fulfill.
After several failed appeals, he turned to hitchhiking once a month to a food pantry 25 miles away. When he turned 50 about a year later, the work requirement for SNAP benefits ended and Keefe was once again able to obtain food stamps.
He is one of many veterans and active duty military members who have struggled with food insecurity, according to several government agencies.
“No person should ever go hungry in America. However, it is especially galling to see those who have dedicated their lives to serving our nation struggle to put food on the table,” said Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., who chairs the subcommittee.
From 2015 to 2019, about 16% of veterans between the ages of 18 and 64 lived in food insecure households or households with very low food security, meaning food intake is reduced and eating patterns are interrupted, according to a 2021 Department of Agriculture report.