I look forward to the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month each year as a time to celebrate our freedoms and thank those who served in our military. This year, I had the great pleasure of addressing the Veterans Day ceremony in Chickasha. With my new role at the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, I discussed the often overlooked needs of children in military families.
In Oklahoma, numbers for active duty as of May, 2016 were at 18,729 service members, along with 13,739 reserves. Today, military families experience increased stress of multiple deployments and longer tours of duty. Since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001, the United States has seen the largest sustained deployment of military servicemen and servicewomen in the history of the all-volunteer force.
In addition, unlike previous eras, a majority of our current military force is married with children. As a result, more than two million military children have been separated from their service member parents, both fathers and mothers, because of combat deployments overseas. These children have had to cope with frequent parental absences, numerous moves to new schools, the fear of potential harm to a parent, as well as the after-effects of wartime deployment.
Surveys have reported one-third of military-connected children cited symptoms of anxiety, a number far greater than our general population. The types of problems these children reported varied by age. While younger students demonstrated higher ratios of stress, older students had more difficulties with school and more problem behaviors such as fighting.
In addition to this strain, military families often cope with financial struggles, according to state and national reports. Statistics show that 25% of active duty families qualify for the SNAP program, the current equivalent for food stamps. In addition, approximately 26,300 Oklahoma veterans received SNAP assistance in 2014. Together, military families make up approximately 20% of all food insecure families served by the Feeding American Network.
The lowest ranks in our military rely on more than $100 million in SNAP benefits annually. Although $598.5 billion of the discretionary federal budget is dedicated to military spending, a living wage for lower-ranking military personnel has not been given a priority.The news gets worse as we also see thousands of homeless veterans across our nation in need of long-term care. Some of these younger veterans are also parents.
Our military deserve our respect and support – and one of the best ways each of us can assist is to volunteer for programs aiding their children. It is especially important for children in military families that our communities address their unique challenges and help increase their coping skills and resiliency. Out of school programs such as 4-H and scouting have excelled in this area, but many more volunteers are needed.
We should never forget those who have served or are serving our nation, but we certainly should not neglect those youngest family members who stand by them also. Please answer the call to help these kids.