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By W. Gardner Selby September 19, 2014

Unconfirmed: National Guard troops forced to contact food bank to feed themselves

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, suggested National Guard troops dispatched to the Texas-Mexico border by Gov. Rick Perry were reduced to asking for food assistance while fulfilling their duties.

According to a Texas Tribune news story posted online Aug. 29, 2014, Van de Putte, a San Antonio state senator and chairwoman of the Senate Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee, said: "Today, we learn that our men and women of the Guard have been forced to contact food banks to feed themselves because they haven’t been paid in weeks. This is unacceptable."

And had Guard members placed along the border contacted food banks to fill their bellies?

By email, Van de Putte campaign spokesman Manny Garcia said the senator made her statement in an Aug. 29, 2014, press release based on news stories including an account published that day by the San Antonio Express-News. By email, he provided web links to news reports including an initial Aug. 28, 2014, report by KGBT-TV in Harlingen quoting Terri Drefke, chief executive officer of the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, saying: "We were contacted that 50 troops that are in the Valley don't have any money for food and gas and they need our assistance."

The Express-News story said the Texas National Guard had just contacted the food bank to ask whether the charity had food and gas resources for about 50 soldiers in need of assistance because they hadn’t yet received a paycheck.

Then again, the story said that, according to Omar Rodriguez, a food bank spokesman, it was unclear how many soldiers had used the food bank because its clients aren’t asked to say where they work. Separately, Texas Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Patrick Hamilton said no troops had visited the food bank to his knowledge, the newspaper reported.

"We identified 50 soldiers who came on at the very end of the first pay period who would see a three-week lag in income," Hamilton said, adding that the Guard support service officer who called the food bank was "trying to help" but did so outside a chain of command.

The same day, the Guard issued a statement indicating two previously unemployed Guard members involved in the border deployment had indicated they were needy; the statement did not say either went to a food bank. But broadly, the Guard said, all "members supporting the operation" near the border "are furnished with lodging, meals, transportation and the equipment required to perform their mission. Service members supporting this operation receive pay, allowance for housing and per diem for meals on the normal state payroll schedule."

The statement further said: "Media reports indicate some members of the Texas National Guard supporting this new operation were in need of resources, including food and gas. It is important to note, the Texas National Guard offers robust services to its service members and their families who identify a need, including temporary financial assistance, resilience training and counseling, family readiness and reintegration activities."

The statement went on: "As a result of inquiries for assistance by service members deploying to the Rio Grande Valley, the Texas National Guard Family Assistance Coordinator identified a variety of options for service members who may have existing financial hardships, including inquiries to local food banks among other organizations. The agency specifically had two previously unemployed service members who requested support. Both of those soldiers were provided assistance."

Featured Fact-check

It doesn't look like the described assistance involved stopping by a food bank.

An Austin American-Statesman news story posted that afternoon quoted Lt. Col. Joanne MacGregor, a spokeswoman for the Texas National Guard, saying its officials had no indication any Guardsmen had received assistance from the food bank. In response to our follow-up inquiry, MacGregor said there had been no change in this respect; the Guard was "not aware of any service members utilizing the food banks," she emailed.

According to the Guard, troops receive one meal while on duty, plus a $32 per diem food reimbursement included in their paychecks.

We reached Rodriguez, the spokesman for the Pharr-based food bank, who told us by phone the bank still hadn't noticed Guard members coming in for food. "As far as actual members coming in for food assistance, we have not seen any," Rodriguez said, though (again) he cautioned that no one who seeks such assistance is asked where he or she works.

We circled back to Garcia, who said by email the senator stands by her statement.

Our ruling

Van de Putte said: "Our men and women of the Guard have been forced to contact food banks to feed themselves."

No one has confirmed any troops contacting food banks to feed themselves. What happened: A National Guard functionary took the precautionary step of asking a border-area food bank about troops yet to be paid possibly receiving groceries if necessary. The food bank said it could provide.

We rate this statement False.

FALSE – The statement is not accurate.

Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.

Our Sources

News story, "On Border, Questions Over National Guard Troops' Needs," the Texas Tribune, Aug. 29, 2014

News story, "Texas National Guard backtracks on report of food bank use," Austin American-Statesman, Aug. 29, 2014

Press release, "Texas National Guard Service Members Fully Resourced," Texas National Guard, Camp Mabry, Austin, Aug. 29, 2014 (viewed Sept. 17, 2014)

Emails on behalf of Leticia Van de Putte campaign, Emmanuel Garcia, communications director, Texas Democratic Party, Sept. 4 and 17, 2014

News report, "Food bank helps National Guard troops with food assistance," KGBT-TV, Channel 4, Harlingen, Aug. 28, 2014

Telephone interview, Omar I. Rodriguez, manager, communications & advocacy, the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, Pharr, Sept. 17, 2014

Email, Lt. Col. Joanne MacGregor, state public affairs officer, Texas National Guard, Sept. 17, 2014

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Unconfirmed: National Guard troops forced to contact food bank to feed themselves

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