President Michael D Higgins has said members of the Defence Forces should have incomes that are sufficient to provide for themselves and their families.
Speaking at an event to honour seven exemplary members of military, he said showing appreciation is not enough and words must be matched with actions.
President Higgins said: "It is no secret that changes in conditions for serving men and women has brought its own challenges and, I have to say Supreme Commander, it has brought hardships."
He said these are challenges that should be addressed with "sensitivity and urgency" and those providing the service should be real partners in interpreting and responding to such changes.
Mr Higgins said: "Should this not happen, there is a real danger of a gap opening up between our expressed appreciation of their work and the circumstances we deliver for its practice."
Recruitment and retention of members was also raised by the President during the ceremony in Áras an Uachtaráin.
He said: "Serving men and women should have conditions including an income and prospects that are sufficient to provide for themselves and their families."
"I have heard and read with anxiety of the distress that is being experienced by some of those who are giving their all to serve the State."
Among the recipients was Able-Mechanician Ryan O'Driscoll who was given an award for 'respect'.
During his four years with the Navy, he has been involved in a number of search and recovery operations and was directly involved in the recovery of the body of Captain Mark Duffy, who died when Coast Guard Rescue Helicopter 116 crashed into Blackrock Island off the coast of Co Mayo in March 2017.
He serves on the LÉ Samuel Beckett where he has helped with the rescue of more than 3,400 migrants in the Mediterranean.
Private Thomas Carew was honoured with the award for 'selflessness' for risking his own life to try to save the life of a motorcyclist who had crashed and was propelled into an estuary in high tide.
The award for 'physical courage' was given to Cpl David McCormack for returning to service in full fitness following ten months of rehabilitation after a serious assault left him with life-threatening injuries.
He was honoured for showing "single minded determination" during the ten months of his recovery and rehabilitation.
Retired Gunner David Stack was recognised for his 'integrity' and praised for putting his unit ahead of his own needs and working for 48 hours assisting external agencies during Storm Emma.
The award for 'loyalty' was given to Sergeant PJ McCabe, while Cpl Cathriona Lacey was honoured with the 'moral courage' award.
President Higgins presented the overall award to RSM John Murray after 41 years of service.