This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Few would argue against the following assertions:
• Members of the armed forces are invaluable to our nation's safety and morale.
• We should care for our veterans.
• Our care, in many circumstances, has failed miserably.
We have shamefully underfunded and understaffed our system of veterans' services. For example, in 2015 the wait times for Utah veterans seeking medical care were longer than the national average, and the national average was pretty poor.
Granted, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in Salt Lake City has made great improvements over the last year, detailed in a June op-ed by Shella Stovall, acting director of the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System.
But our veterans are still suffering, some from the most basic needs. Like food.
Luckily, there are people able to fix a problem once identified, and that is exactly what Natalie Green, a SLC VA health care administration trainee, has done. Green noticed that some of the veterans receiving medical services at the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center were desperately hungry. So she started a food pantry.
Twenty-seven percent of younger veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer food insecurity. Yet VA funds cannot be allocated for food assistance. Services offered by the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs include education, employment, health care, burial assistance and loan programs, but not food assistance. Green set up a separate account for private donations, asked for donations of canned goods from employees and other veterans and partnered with the Utah Food Bank to help fill the shelves. The pantry has been open since March and is already serving almost 100 veterans and their families a month.
Not only has Green gone above and beyond to organize the food pantry, she has also documented her efforts to help other VA hospitals across the country do the same thing. Green essentially "cut through the bureaucratic red tape" and hopefully started a national movement. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs has taken note.
The pantry is open every Thursday from 2:30 to 4:00 p.m. Donations can be made online by donating to the General Purpose fund and including in the comments section that donations should be directed to the Food Pantry GPF # 1063. Or donors can deliver in-kind donations to the SLC VA, Building 4, Room 1C25.
No, it's not Thanksgiving or Christmas, but people still need to eat. At the very least, we can all help ensure that our veterans don't go hungry.