Lawmakers hold hearing on veterans facing food insecurity

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Members of a House subcommittee heard testimony Monday about how tens of thousands of U.S. veterans face food insecurity once returning to civilian life and about efforts to combat the problem.

Veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are almost twice as likely to not have enough access to food compared to the general population, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

“They find themselves facing choices between going hungry or being able to afford the gas to drive to one of the food locations available or affording food while maneuvering through a challenging job market,” said Anthony Stewart, CEO of US4Warriors.

Testimony pointed out that as military medicine improves, more veterans can survive their combat wounds.

But that also means younger vets are living with more work-limiting injuries once they return to civilian life, which can limit their income and access to food.

“Between 2005 and 2019, veterans were predicted to be 7.4 percent more likely to live in a food-insecure household than non-veterans,” said Matthew Rabbitt, a research economist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “When an individual’s access to healthy nutritious food is compromised, they are greater risk for adverse physical and mental health outcomes.”

The VA told lawmakers that veterans are now screened for food insecurity during primary care visits.

If they are flagged as not having enough access to food, that veteran is referred to a social worker and a dietitian.

According to the VA, the department has done more than 10 million of these screenings since 2017.

“We are currently working to capture information on veterans who screen positive for food insecurity, looking at data points like age, diagnosis, years of service, location,” said Dr. Christine Going, National Food Security Program Coordinator for the VA. “The new office is focused on screening and intervening with plans to roll out pilots that look at the value of each screening as a tool to reach more veterans.”

Testimony also said that female vets are more likely to face food insecurity than male vets, and that veterans in rural areas are at higher risk of food insecurity than those living in cities.