In time for Veteran’s Day, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs launched a screening initiative that will be implemented at all its facilities which is aimed at tackling food insecurity for veterans. Under this first-ever program, VA health-care providers will ask all patients whether they have run out of food or struggled to pay for it within the past three months. If they say yes, VA staff will connect them to a local food pantry or community program, share information on enrolling in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) or refer them to follow-up care with a dietary counselor, if needed.
This is a critical step toward addressing hunger in a vulnerable — and often unreachable — population. Veterans frequently suffer from conditions, such as disability or mental illness that can stop them from seeking help. Some may shy away from the stigma against accepting handouts and this can also be a common deterrent from getting much needed help.
In our region, 25% of households served include an active duty military person or veteran. “This is a significant step forward, to just ask the question,” said Julie Chase-Morefield, President and CEO of Second Harvest. “We’re hopeful that the VA will build on that so we can reach more of those veterans and their families who can access our services.”
Experts are also hopeful the screenings will help clinicians address other diet-related health issues, such as diabetes and depression. Studies of VA patients have shown that veterans who struggle with food insecurity also tend to have problems in these areas, and VA has identified hunger as a major factor behind hypoglycemic incidents in its diabetic patients.
Much more needs to be done, but this serious issue is finally getting some attention and action. Starting with some simple questions, help may be just around the corner.
Director of External Affairs