Cover: Food Insecurity Among Veterans

Food Insecurity Among Veterans

Examining the Discrepancy Between Veteran Food Insecurity and Use of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Published Sep 20, 2023

by Tamara Dubowitz, Andrea S. Richardson, Teague Ruder, Catria Gadwah-Meaden

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Research Questions

  1. What are the characteristics of food-insecure veterans and nonveterans and their SNAP participation?
  2. What factors are associated with food insecure veterans' and nonveterans' use of SNAP?
  3. What are food-insecure veterans' reasons for enrolling in SNAP, ending their participation, or losing their benefits, and do these reasons differ for food-insecure nonveterans?
  4. Are there differences in the benefits that food-insecure veterans in SNAP- and non–SNAP-enrolled households receive?
  5. What factors are associated with the duration of food-insecure veterans’ SNAP participation, and what are veterans' long-term food-security outcomes after SNAP benefits end?

Food insecurity is linked to poorer physical and mental health, including an increased risk of suicide. Therefore, addressing the needs of food-insecure veterans is a national priority. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs conducts routine screenings to identify veterans at risk of food insecurity and refer them to sources of support. Nonetheless, food-insecure veterans are consistently less likely than their nonveteran peers to be enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This research adds to the evidence base on food-insecure veterans who do and do not enroll in SNAP, as well as differences between food-insecure veterans' and nonveterans' reasons for starting and ending — or losing — SNAP benefits and patterns in these groups' use of other safety-net programs. For example, veterans' benefits could push their income above the eligibility threshold for SNAP. Although it is a federal program, SNAP is administered by the states, and the RAND analyses highlighted potential policy options to facilitate SNAP access for food-insecure veterans.

Two groups of food-insecure veterans were much less likely to participate in SNAP than their nonveteran peers: older veterans and those who were not in the workforce because of a disability. Increasing SNAP access for food-insecure veterans who are falling through the cracks is one immediate step toward eliminating food insecurity, but there is also a need for early interventions to identify and support service members who are at risk of becoming food insecure as veterans.

Key Findings

Food-insecure veterans and nonveterans differ — as does their use of nutrition assistance programs

  • Veterans are less likely than nonveterans to be food insecure. However, compared with similar nonveterans, veterans who are food insecure are consistently less likely to be enrolled in SNAP.
  • VA routinely screens veterans for food insecurity and refers them to nutrition assistance resources. However, these screenings might not be comprehensive enough to identify all veterans who need assistance, and only veterans who receive VA health care are screened.

Some groups of food-insecure veterans are falling through the cracks in SNAP access

  • Only 29 percent of food-insecure veterans age 70 and older were likely enrolled in SNAP, compared with 39 percent of their nonveteran counterparts.
  • Among food-insecure veterans who were not in the workforce as a result of a disability, 45 percent were likely enrolled in SNAP, compared with 54 percent of similarly disabled food-insecure nonveterans.
  • A lack of state-level policies facilitating SNAP enrollment is associated with lower rates of SNAP enrollment among veterans than among nonveterans.

VA benefits might affect veterans' SNAP eligibility

  • Food-insecure veterans who received VA benefits, including disability and insurance compensation, participated in SNAP for fewer months, on average, than food-insecure veterans who did not receive these benefits.
  • State-level SNAP policies typically include VA benefits in income eligibility calculations, so it is possible that these benefits pushed veterans' incomes above the eligibility threshold.

Recommendations

  • Invest in early interventions to promote awareness of SNAP among service members who are at risk of becoming food insecure as veterans.
  • Look for opportunities to revise or implement SNAP policies in ways that improve support for food-insecure veterans, including reducing access barriers and expanding eligibility for veterans who receive VA disability benefits.
  • Expand screening for food insecurity, with a particular focus on veterans who do not receive care through VA, older veterans, and disabled veterans.
  • Direct resources to studies of promising interventions for food-insecure veterans, including VA partnerships with nonprofit organizations and improved coordination between VA and the U.S. Department of Defense, as well as studies of why so many veterans experience food insecurity.
  • Evaluate the long-term effectiveness of VA's food-insecurity screening process and whether subsequent interventions have improved veterans' food security.

Research conducted by

Funding for this publication was made possible by a generous gift from Daniel J. Epstein through the Epstein Family Foundation. The research was conducted by the RAND Epstein Family Veterans Policy Research Institute within RAND Education and Labor.

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