Veterans can turn to VA resources and partnerships for food security
Many Veterans Health Administration (VHA)’s partnerships support Veterans’ access to food security, which is the state of having access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food. These partnerships add to the services VHA already provides to Veterans—the VHA Nutrition and Food Services office, for example, offers a budget friendly meal planning worksheet, nutrition tips for Veterans without homes, and a weekly meal planner grocery list.
VHA’s partnership with MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger also contributes to Veterans’ nutrition and food security. Formalized in July 2020, the partnership ensures Veterans have reliable access to food. MAZON has been urging the presidential administration to expand Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to Veterans.
Josh Protas, Vice President of Public Policy at MAZON, explained that Congress just approved an initiative to extend a 15% increase to SNAP benefits through September 2021. What MAZON is concerned about, he said, is the Veteran “SNAP participation gap.”
“Research shows that of Veterans who are eligible for SNAP, only about one in three are in households that participate in the program,” Mr. Protas explained.
There are several reasons for that—stigma around asking for help can be particularly pronounced in the Veteran population, Mr. Protas said. There is also a lack of awareness about SNAP and misinformation about the program. SNAP is not a “handout”—it is an entitlement, such as Social Security, that everyone pays into through taxes. Some people also may think, Mr. Protas continued, that if they use SNAP benefits, they’re “taking” them from someone else.
“That’s not the case—anyone who is eligible to receive the assistance can get the assistance,” he explained. “There isn’t a limited amount of funding where if you take the benefit, you’re reducing the pool of funds for others.”
To counteract this stigma and misinformation, MAZON is helping uplift the stories of Veterans who utilize the SNAP program on the “This is Hunger” project. VA has also been working with MAZON on a brochure about food insecurity and SNAP that is targeted to Veterans. MAZON has also helped create an online training course alongside the PsychArmor Institute—a VA partner that helps support Veteran Community Partnerships and the Veterans Crisis Line—that helps providers who work with Veterans provide solutions to food insecurity.
Partnerships help Veterans access the food security and nutrition they need all year round, such as the one with MAZON and a VHA collaboration with the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), which provides support on nutrition and anti-poverty issues. VHA’s National Center for Healthcare Advancement and Partnerships (HAP, formerly the Office of Community Engagement) supports many of these partnerships.
“We are able to do so much at VHA to increase Veterans’ access to sufficient, nutritious food, but we can’t do it all alone,” said HAP Health Systems Specialist Georgeanna Bady. “Partners like MAZON help ensure Veteran families always have food on the table.”
For more information on MAZON, please visit mazon.org.
For more information on HAP, please visit va.gov/healthpartnerships.