There are around 19 million veterans in the United States, and most have had experiences that most of us can’t even comprehend. Despite their sacrifices, veterans and tens of thousands of active-duty military families still have to worry about putting food on the dinner table.
Veterans and Food Insecurity
Twenty percent of households that are supported by Feeding America include a veteran or someone that has served in the military. In fact, 27 percent of veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have struggled to provide food for their families.
Data from the USDA shows that working-age veterans are at greater risk (7.4%) of experiencing food insecurity, compared to non-veterans. For disabled veterans, this number rises nearly 3x to 22.5%.
Veterans are also more likely to suffer from depression and other psychological disorders, like post-traumatic stress disorder, than the general population. Fifty percent of homeless veterans have a serious mental illness, with PTSD being the most common diagnosis, and 70% have substance abuse problems. IMPAQ International also reported that veterans with serious mental illness were 10 times more likely to face food insecurity.
Understandably, veterans experience great difficulty adapting back to civilian life when they return overseas, especially those who don’t have any support system from their family or friends. Veterans, like millions of other citizens, experience low living wages, shortages of affordable housing, and lack of access to healthcare - all of which are vital parts of staying out of poverty and being food secure.
Research also shows that post-9/11 veterans and veterans who were in combat are also more likely to have a service-related disability compared to other veterans.
Veterans are dependent on federal programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to be able to provide food for their families. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, nearly 1.2 million veterans from 2017 to 2019 live in households that rely on SNAP benefits to keep themselves and their families healthy and well-fed, including 125,000 active duty service members (nearly 10%).
Veterans and Access to Healthcare
While there are about 19 million veterans in the United States, only 9 million of those veterans are served by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Many people believe that veterans are automatically covered by health care plans provided by the VA, but unfortunately, that isn’t accurate.
Most veterans and their families rely on private health insurance, which helps cover 13.6 million veterans, while 1.8 million veterans turn to public assistance such as Medicaid to attain healthcare coverage. The rest remain uninsured.
In 2014, it became known that 64,000 veterans that are enrolled in the VA health care system in the past 10 years have never been seen for an appointment by doctors. A report conducted by Senator Tom Coburn found that between 2004-2014 more than 1,000 veterans may have died from malpractice or lack of care from VA medical centers. When you combine this negligence with the amount of health and hunger-related issues that veterans face on a daily basis, it is no surprise that hunger is plaguing our veterans to such a high degree.
Veterans and Homelessness
Fortunately, many cities and states have been hard at work to eliminate veteran homelessness, including the states of Connecticut, Delaware, and Virginia, New Orleans as the first city to eliminate veteran homelessness, and 82 other cities across the United States.
This is being done from a collaboration between the VA, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and other partners on a federal, state, and local level. Together they are using housing vouchers and the VA’s homelessness programs to permanently house, rehouse, or prevent homelessness among veterans. However, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that there are currently 40,000 homeless veterans.
Rich Synek, founder of Feed Our Vets, a national non-profit working tirelessly to feed America’s hungry veterans says, “Feeding a hungry veteran is a great way of saying thank you for their service, to say that we have not forgotten about you.”
The individuals that sacrifice so much for our country’s well-being are more likely to suffer from food insecurity, mental health problems, and poor access to healthcare. This predicament severely impacts millions of veterans who suffer from hunger on a daily basis.
Synek implores that we do more to help feed veterans, “I don’t think anytime in the next several years we will be getting any federal funding, so the country needs to donate to organizations feeding veterans,” he said. “Individuals also need to contact their representative in Congress, their Senator, and raise awareness on social media about the plight veterans are facing with hunger.”
According to the NCBI, in a survey among adults with at least 1 chronic medical condition, 1 in 3 reported having to choose between food and medicine. With our veterans at a significantly higher risk for chronic medical conditions, we believe that veterans shouldn’t have to choose between food and having access to much-needed healthcare. Share this article on social media to spread the word about this significant issue. You can also check out Move For Hunger’s advocacy page to learn more how you can make difference against food insecurity in your community.