A Veteran named “Shannon” spoke recently about the the difficulties she encounters at her local corner store. She doesn’t have transportation to get to a grocery store or produce market. She’s in her late 20s and also has diabetes.
“I can get banana flavored-pudding, but I can’t get bananas,” she said.
Shannon has been hospitalized five times in past three months. She often did not have enough money for food or a place to reliably refrigerate her insulin. Shannon didn’t have a reliable place to refrigerate her insulin because she lacked stable housing, in part because she couldn’t get regular work. She couldn’t get regular work because she kept ending up in the hospital.
“Many Veterans like Shannon struggle with this cycle, but we have resources within VA to help,” says Dr. Alicia Cohen, VA primary care provider.
Food insecurity means you have problems accessing adequate nutrition due to financial issues, transportation or other problems.
Working to address the problem
VA’s Nutrition and Food Services (NFS) and the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) are working together to address Veterans’ hunger and food insecurity. They:
- Screen Veterans for food insecurity during medical visits.
- Train staff on resources and counseling for Veterans with food insecurity.
- Educate clients on new SNAP eligibility and benefits.
VA and USDA know that it can be difficult to talk about this problem or how you’re struggling. VA wants to make it as easy as possible for Veterans and staff to open a conversation about it. Nutrition is fundamental to health and talking about access to nutrition should be part of your health care.
Pam Miller, FNS administrator, adds “Veterans are America’s heroes, and they deserve our fullest support. The USDA FNS team collaborates closely with VA to help combat food insecurity among Veterans. They also provide them with the skills or work experience they need for employment opportunities.”
Teams deliver access to food for Veterans
USDA FNS is the program that administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as “Food Stamps”). VHA NFS is the program that provides clinical nutrition care to Veterans enrolled in VA. Together, these offices work with a national VA multi-disciplinary team and leverage organizational partnerships to screen, refer and deliver direct access to food for Veterans.
To date, staff have screened over six million Veterans. Those who screen positive for food insecurity are offered referrals to VA clinicians for information. In approximately 50 VA medical centers, there is direct access for Veterans via VA food pantries through organizational partnerships, such as Feeding America.
This takes a village and the VHA has established agreements with Feeding America and MAZON a Jewish Response to Hunger. The national Ensuring Veterans Food Security Workgroup connects these groups to facilitate communication and resources.
Programs for rural Veterans
“Malnutrition is not just a problem for older or homeless Veterans. It can happen to any Veteran or family member at any time,” said Dr. Lynda Davis, VA’s Chief Veterans Experience Officer. “If this is a challenge for you or a Veteran you know, let us reach you with resources. Let us be of service to you and support others who have served.”
Additionally, the VA Office of Rural Health (ORH) implements a diverse range of programs that help improve the health and well-being of rural Veterans by increasing their access to care and services. These national programs research, innovate and disseminate new innovations to support the 2.7 million rural Veterans who are enrolled in and rely on VA’s health care system.