Veterans have protected our nation, it’s time to protect them from hunger

November 9, 2023

Veterans Day provides an excellent opportunity not only to reflect on the reckless levels of food insecurity among veterans, but also to highlight efforts to ensure that no veteran goes hungry.

About 7.5 percent of all veterans — nearly 1.4 million — are food insecure.[1] According to a 2021 USDA Economic Research Service report, from 2015 to 2019, about 11.1 percent of working-age veterans (ages 18-64) lived in food insecure households.[2] This rate for working-age veterans is 7.4% higher than that of non-veterans.[3]

Some groups of veterans face disproportionately high levels of food insecurity driven by systemic discrimination. A 2021 study found that veterans were more likely to test positive for food insecurity at Veterans Health Administration (VHA) visits if they were female, black, Hispanic, single or partnered, low-income veterans without benefits , related to a disability, such as if they experienced housing instability or experienced military sexual trauma. [4]

Food insecurity fuels some of the most chronic and costly health problems in the US, including hypertension, coronary artery disease, hepatitis, stroke, cancer, asthma, diabetes, arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease.[5] A recent longitudinal study found that veterans with food insecurity had nearly four times the rate of suicidal thoughts one year later compared to veterans who did not report food insecurity (39 percent compared to 10 percent).[6]

Given the magnitude of food insecurity among veterans and its profound harm to their health, numerous efforts are underway to address food insecurity and connect veterans to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other food resources. Notably, the White House’s 2022 National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health directs the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to:

1. Connect eligible veterans with information and assistance in enrolling in SNAP through the VA Transition Assistance Program and screening at VA medical centers and clinics.

This strategy recognizes the importance of connecting veterans to SNAP, widely considered our nation’s first line of defense against hunger. By providing benefits to purchase food, SNAP is vital to supporting the nutrition, health and well-being of military veterans. About 1.2 million veterans participate in SNAP.[7]

Too many of our nation’s veterans do not have access to SNAP, despite all of its strengths, in part because of the stigma among some veterans about seeking help, as well as a lack of accurate information about SNAP and barriers to application. A recent RAND Corporation study found that veterans who were food insecure were consistently less likely than their non-veteran peers to be enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.[8]

Signaling the need for VA to connect veterans to SNAP in the White House plan is an important step toward closing the SNAP gap, as well as a temporary provision in the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023. Beginning September 1, 2023, veterans, regardless of the terms of their exemption or exemption, are no longer subject to the SNAP time limits that too many adults without dependents face. For more information on this new exemption, read the new FRAC brief.

2. Create a new Office of Food Security within the Veterans Health Administration to address the level of food insecurity among veterans.

The Office of Food Security within the Veterans Health Administration is up and running. It recently hosted a summit in September for about 100 participants, which I had the pleasure of attending.

(Pictured L-R) Megan Bowman, MS, RD, National Food Security Program Coordinator, VHA Food Security Program Office, Alexandra Ashbrook, Director, Root Causes and Specific Populations, and Caitlin Celardo, VHA Social Work Program Manager Office of Food Security at the US Department of Veterans Affairs

During the summit:

  • VHA and the USDA signed a memorandum of agreement to strengthen shared goals dedicated to addressing food security for veterans.

  • There was a panel of veterans with lived experience of food insecurity, a panel of food security researchers, a panel featuring successful local practices from the VA field, and presentations from federal and community partners.
  • A VA Healthy Teaching Kitchen presentation was followed by a cooking competition between USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and VA Secretary Dennis McDonough (who joined virtually). The secretaries were assisted by VA chefs from VA medical centers and VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes. The USDA won the competition with their Chickpea and Olive Salad made with vegetables from the USDA People’s Garden.

  • VA medical leaders, the target audience, were equipped with increased knowledge and skills to form interdisciplinary teams at their home facilities, review their food security screening data from the electronic medical record, and form local partnerships to address food security needs the veterans they serve.

This Veterans Day, take a moment to recognize the great work being done to address hunger among veterans and redouble the efforts needed to ensure that no veteran goes hungry.

[1] Dubowitz, Tamara, Andrea Richardson, Teague Ruder, and Katria Gadwah-Meaden, Reducing Policy Barriers to SNAP Participation by Food-Insecure Veterans. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2023.

[2] Rabbitt, Matthew P. and Michael D. Smith May 2021 Food Insecurity Among Working-Age Veterans, ERR-829, US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 2021 https://www.ers.usda. gov/webdocs/publications /101269/err-829_summary.pdf?v=562.4

[3] There again.

[4] Cohen AJ, Dosa DM, Rudolph JL, Halladay CW, Heisler M, Thomas KS. Risk factors for food insecurity in veterans: findings from the US National Department of Veterans Affairs Food Insecurity Survey. Public Health Nutr. 2022 Apr;25(4):819-828. doi: 10.1017/S1368980021004584. Epub 2021 Nov 8. PMID: 34743780; PMCID: PMC8957505.

[5] Christian A. Gregory, Alicia Coleman-Jensen. Food Insecurity, Chronic Disease, and Health Among Working-Age Adults, ERR-235, US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, July 2017.

[6] Elbogen, EB, Graziano, RC, LaRue, G., Cohen, AJ, Hooshyar, D., Wagner, HR, & Tsai, J. (2023). Food insecurity and suicidal ideation: Results from a national longitudinal study of military veterans. Archives of Suicide Research: Official Journal of the International Academy of Suicide Research, 1–16. Advance online publication.

[7] Veterans receiving SNAP benefits by state. (2021, April 12). USDA Food and Nutrition Service.

[8] Dubowitz, Tamara, Andrea Richardson, Teague Ruder, and Katria Gadwah-Meaden, Food Insecurity Among Veterans: Examining the Disparity Between Veteran Food Insecurity and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Utilization. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2023.

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