People of color, women, and those with health conditions are among at the highest risk.
Nearly a quarter of US military veterans may not have enough food, and those most at risk are people of color, women, and people with medical and trauma-related conditions, according to a recent study.
These findings, published by Brown and Providence VA Medical Center researchers in Public Health Nutrition, will help providers connect veterans with the right resources to address their short- and long-term food needs.
“There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for addressing veteran food insecurity,” says corresponding author Alicia Cohen, MD, assistant professor of family medicine and of health services, policy, and practice (research).
Food insecurity is often missed in clinical settings, Cohen says: “You can’t tell by looking at a patient if they’re struggling to put food on the table.” And like civilian patients, veterans rarely initiate a conversation about it.
“If we don’t specifically ask veterans about their food needs, we are going to be missing people who are experiencing hardship,” she says. “There are a number of resources within the VA and in the community to help address food insecurity, but we can’t offer these resources if we don’t know that a veteran is in need.”
The VA developed a systematic screening system in 2017 in which staff are prompted to ask veterans seeking health care specifically about food insecurity. This study is the first to analyze data from the screenings. In addition to helping tailor services to patients, the findings may help refine the VA’s screening practices, Cohen says.
“For example, they may help us identify specific groups that would benefit from more targeted or more frequent screening for food insecurity, as well as expanding where we conduct routine food insecurity screening to include settings like mental health clinics,” she says.