September is Hunger Action Month, an initiative that raises awareness of food insecurity and encourages people to stand against hunger. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) defines food insecurity as a lack of access to enough food for a healthy lifestyle. A 2021 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that in 2015 through 2019, more than 11% of working-age Veterans (between ages 18 and 64, three-quarters of all Veterans) lived in food-insecure households. Food security is critical for Veterans’ well-being—it is a social determinant of health (SDOH), which are conditions in the environments where Veterans live. When Veterans have access to positive SDOH such as food security, they have better health outcomes.
VA supports Veterans’ food security in many ways. VA’s Nutrition and Food Services (NFS) office offers a budget-friendly meal planning worksheet, nutrition tips for Veterans without homes, and a weekly meal planner grocery list. NFS has also partnered with the USDA to address Veteran hunger by screening them for food security during medical visits; training staff on counseling for Veterans who are food insecure; and educating Veterans on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
Other partnerships within VA increase VA’s ability to help Veterans avoid hunger. VA partnered in 2020 with MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, a national advocacy organization working to end hunger among people of all faiths in the United States and Israel. MAZON released a report in April on food insecurity among U.S. military families with recommendations for policy leaders about increasing food security among these families.
Also this spring, Congress approved an initiative to extend a 15% increase to SNAP benefits through September; in turn, MAZON is uplifting the stories of Veterans who use SNAP to raise awareness and decrease stigma through its “This is Hunger” project. Through this partnership, VA will continue to educate Veterans, create policies to reduce the number of Veterans who are at risk for food insecurity, and reach food-insecure Veterans not enrolled in VA health care.
Another VA partnership with the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) helps connect Veterans to SNAP and other federal nutrition programs. A goal of this partnership is to reach Veterans through outreach events, educational services, and sites where they can receive assistance completing SNAP applications. The partnership enables VA to support Veterans who do not receive their care through VA and connect them with national and local resources. FRAC also recently released a “Food Insufficiency During COVID-19” dashboard with data on how the pandemic has affected food access.
“We can do so much within VA to ensure Veterans and their families have access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life, which we know is essential for Veterans’ well-being,” said Dr. Tracy L. Weistreich, nurse executive for the Veterans Health Administration’s National Center for Healthcare Advancement and Partnerships (HAP), which supports the MAZON and FRAC partnerships. “We can go even further for Veterans when we partner with organizations like MAZON and FRAC, that add their critical resources to our own in support of Veterans’ health.”
For more information on HAP’s partnerships, please visit va.gov/healthpartnerships.