AT LEAST 1,300 troops are being given special financial aid to help them meet their weekly bills.
They are unable to look after their families because of a series of cuts in their wage packets.
And a conference heard yesterday that one in five members of PDFORRA, the representative association for soldiers, sailors and aircrew in the Defence Forces, qualify for the family income supplement.
Association president Mark Scally described their plight as sad and said he had to question the Government's decision to take money from a wage packet and then give it back as a social welfare benefit.
He told his association's annual conference in Wexford, "This lack of joined-up thinking greatly affects the dignity of our members, who by their nature are very proud and independent professionals.
"They feel their contribution to the Defence Forces and the State and their dedication is being grossly undervalued", Mr Scally added.
He said this was clear evidence that cuts in their pay had become too deep and he advised Defence Minister Alan Shatter to listen to his message: "stay out of our pockets, allow us to work with our dignity and pride".
Mr Scally said it was nonsensical, and government policy should be directed at protecting the pay levels of those who were now reliant on family income supplements.
He estimated that 20pc of his 6,500 members qualified for the supplements at some level and said this figure indicated they were not receiving adequate pay to provide their families with a decent standard of living.
It also showed that ongoing cuts in pay had gone too far and resulted in unnecessary stress, he argued.
He pointed out that the Defence Forces had been held up as a role model for all other public sector organisations and departments to copy.
The Defence Forces had been downsizing throughout the boom years of the Celtic Tiger, reducing their numbers while other areas were adding to their staff total by the thousands, and also engaging in new productivity and modernisation programmes. But their reward for being the best boys and girls in the class was to be called on again to accept further reductions in wages and allowances in the Haddington Road agreement, he said.
General secretary Gerry Rooney noted that, as well as reduced wage packets, his members were also affected by the lack of opportunities for additional earnings.
In many cases, the family income supplement made the difference in allowing them to meet their costs and pay their bills.
He warned that the total figure for those who qualified for the supplement could even be higher than 1,300.
Meanwhile, the assistant chief of staff of the Defence Forces, Brigadier General Colm Campbell, highlighted what he called the very high esteem in which Irish military personnel were held on the international stage.
He said their recent deployment to the United Nations UNDOF mission to the Golan Heights region of Syria demonstrated this esteem as well as clearly validating the responsiveness and capability of the Defence Forces.