Food insecurity in America’s Heroes
By Sarah Pittman, Human Nutrition Graduate Student at the University of Illinois
Food insecurity is one definition that has changed meaning since the term first came into existence. The current definition of food insecurity by the USDA is “a lack of consistent access to enough food to live a healthy, active life.”5 Food insecurity has three domains: availability, access and utilization but also included is having the ability to acquire socially and culturally acceptable foods. Food insecurity can change over time, whether it is seasonally or as a result of unexpected shocks like weather events, deaths or regional conflicts.2 Depending on the circumstances, there are two possible food insecurity conditions, chronic or transitory (being food secure one month and food insecure the next). For veterans, food insecurity often stems from the mental health issues that our veterans endure. Veterans can experience difficulty adapting back to civilian life when they return overseas, especially if they don’t have support from friends and/or family when they return.4
Food insecurity in our veterans
There is a growing number of active duty service members becoming food insecure, relying on SNAP for assistance.1 In 2018, a study showed that 1.5 million veterans live in a household that completely relies on SNAP to supplement their food intake.4 And in 2016 it was noted that families spent about $67 million in food stamps at commissaries.8 A study by Cambridge University conducted in 2015 found that about 27% of veterans that had served in Iraq or Afghanistan wars were food insecure with 12% reported being very low food security.6
Consequences and challenges of food insecurity
Having soldiers that are food insecure increases risk of health conditions that may decrease military readiness.3 Although there are supplemental programs available to veterans, many are unaware they exist.1 A study completed in July of 2016 found that military families facing financial hardships face challenges seeking assistance benefits, which include: limited awareness, stigma, misconceptions and inconsistent eligibility.1
Is there hope for food insecure veterans and their families?
Yes! In an article from September of 2018, stated that officials with the Military Family Advocacy Network are planning to work with Feeding America, the Food Research & Action Center, National WIC Association and the United Way to tackle food insecurity in veterans and their families. With this help they plan to “find the best ways to help families access services, while increasing education on the assistance that’s already available”, while also reducing the shame of asking for help.7
Lawmakers in action
“Because of a quirk in the law, some service members can be disqualified from programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP… Service members can be considered ineligible because of certain military pay, such as housing benefits.”8 The Military Hunger Prevention Act excludes the value of a housing allowance for service members in determining eligibility for any federal program issuing benefits for nutrition assistance.9
Do you know any veterans that are food insecure? Do they use or at least know the resources available to them?
- Eatrightpro.org. https://www.eatrightpro.org/advocacy/legislation/all-legislation/food-security-veterans. Published 2019. Accessed June 18, 2019.
- Jones A, Ngure F, Pelto G, Young S. What Are We Assessing When We Measure Food Security? A Compendium And Review Of Current Metrics. American Society for Nutrition; 2019:481-505.
- SM W. Prevalence of food insecurity among military households with children 5 years of age and younger. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26976798. Published 2019. Accessed June 18, 2019.
- Sobol Z. Why Are So Many Veterans Food Insecure? | Move For Hunger. Move For Hunger. https://www.moveforhunger.org/why-are-so-many-veterans-food-insecure/. Published 2019. Accessed June 18, 2019.
- What Is Food Insecurity in America? | Hunger and Health. Hunger and Health. https://hungerandhealth.feedingamerica.org/understand-food-insecurity/. Published 2019. Accessed June 18, 2019.
- Windome R, Jensen A, Bangerter A, Fu S. Food Insecurity Among Veterans Of The US Wars In Iraq And Afghanistan. Cambridge Core; 2019. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/public-health-nutrition/article/food-insecurity-among-veterans-of-the-us-wars-in-iraq-and-afghanistan/F03B64DD63287F2BE5F2067F3E5AC5FB/core-reader#. Accessed June 18, 2019.
- Bushatz A. Advocates Are Building a Plan to Take on Military Hunger. Military.com. https://www.military.com/spousebuzz/2018/09/24/advocates-are-building-plan-take-military-hunger.html. Published 2019. Accessed June 25, 2019.
- NPR Choice page. Npr.org. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/04/19/524563155/when-active-duty-service-members-struggle-to-feed-their-families. Published 2019. Accessed June 25, 2019.
- H.R.1078 – 115th Congress (2017-2018): Military Hunger Prevention Act. Congress.gov. https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1078. Published 2019. Accessed June 25, 2019.