Sep 20, 2023
Around 7.5 percent of all veterans —nearly 1.4 million — are food insecure, and they are consistently less likely than their nonveteran peers to be enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). A RAND study sought to address gaps in understanding about veterans' need for food and nutrition resources, their rates of SNAP participation, and factors affecting their participation.
Although it is a national program, SNAP is administered by states. An analysis of state SNAP policies highlighted potential facilitators, barriers, and policy actions to boost food-insecure veterans' SNAP participation and long-term food security.
After military service, veterans must find new housing, employment, and support networks — and they may be doing so while coping with service-related physical or mental health conditions, which increase their risk of food insecurity. Food insecurity is, in turn, associated with higher rates of depression, suicide, and homelessness. For these reasons, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) routinely screens veterans during primary care visits and connects those who are food insecure with SNAP and other nutrition resources.
However, food-insecure veterans who do not receive VA care may be unaware that they are eligible for SNAP. Others might resist participating in programs that they perceive as undermining their self-reliance or taking food away from people in need. The figure on the following page shows a decade of disparity in food-insecure veterans' and nonveterans' SNAP participation.
Several demographic characteristics were associated with lower SNAP enrollment among food-insecure veterans in national survey data, but two differences stood out:
Most VA benefits are included in SNAP eligibility income calculations. These benefits could be insufficient to prevent food insecurity while disqualifying veterans from SNAP; more research is needed to determine the extent to which they pose a barrier to SNAP participation. But the evidence indicates that food-insecure veterans who received VA disability payments and other VA benefits had lower SNAP participation than food-insecure veteran peers who did not receive VA benefits.
Three state SNAP policies were statistically significantly associated with increased SNAP enrollment by food-insecure veterans: broad-based categorical eligibility, a combined application program, and call centers to facilitate communication with clients.
Food-insecure veterans who lived in a state with one or none of these SNAP enrollment policies were significantly less likely to participate in SNAP than their food-insecure nonveteran counterparts (27 percent versus 34 percent).
There are multiple promising paths to reducing barriers to SNAP participation for food-insecure veterans, particularly those who are older or disabled:
Finally, there is a critical need for research on veterans' need for food and nutrition resources, rates of nutrition assistance program participation, and barriers to participation. Increased funding for studies of promising interventions, outreach strategies, and VA partnerships would help identify at-risk veterans, facilitate their access to SNAP and other safety-net programs, and improve their food security, long-term health, and well-being.