For Debra Tendrich, Veterans Day has been about much more than flying flags ever since she received survey results showing veterans are disproportionately represented among the 1,000 families getting her nonprofit’s donated groceries.
More than 6% of the U.S. adult population has worn a military uniform to protect the country, according to most estimates. But the first survey of Eat Better Live Better (EBLB), a Delray Beach organization dedicated to distributing fresh produce, shows that 10% of the households that need help affording food include a veteran.
The nonprofit’s board commissioned the survey to better understand what’s triggering poverty traps and what’s driving the increasing demand for food at the food education and distribution nonprofit. EBLB also runs educational programs teaching kids about good nutrition and helping people shop more healthfully.
“I knew we were serving veterans, but the number was a little bit higher than I thought,” Tendrich said.
Research has shown that veterans are not only at increased risk of homelessness and are 1.5 times more likely to die by suicide than the general population, they also face greater risk developing chronic health conditions.
A 2021 peer-reviewed study has found that veterans have higher rates of coronary heart disease; stroke; skin cancer; other cancers; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; emphysema; chronic bronchitis; arthritis; rheumatoid arthritis; gout; lupus; fibromyalgia; depressive disorders; and diabetes.
Three out of the randomly surveyed veteran clients at EBLB mentioned medical/medicine costs causing their financial situation to deteriorate from the previous years. One cited shelter alone, and the remaining six reported costs in general — gas, transportation, food and housing — increasing to the point of uncertainty.
Tendrich, who is running as a Democrat to succeed Democratic Rep. David Silvers in Palm Beach County’s House District 89, said she’s gotten firsthand accounts of why veterans might need more than just getting honored with a parade once a year.
She’ll be up against Republican Daniel Zapata, a private school administrator.
One former Marine who came to EBLB’s attention had post-traumatic stress disorder and was on the verge of being kicked out of his apartment after he got behind on the rent, Tendrich said.
Talking to these veterans has given her new insight into just why veterans are at greater risk for difficulties, even after they come home safe from the battlefield.
She recalled talking to one former servicewoman who talked about trying to adjust to a new world after 11 years in the service.
“That transition can be scarier than being deployed in a sense because … you have all this freedom to figure out who you are now,” Tendrich said.