When the Cupboard is Bare


Estimates show that almost 25% of Veterans living in the United States experience food insecurity. (Cohen et al., 2020)

MAZON reports that:

  • More than 1 in 4 female Veterans
  • 67% of student Veterans
  • 27% of Iraq and Afghanistan war Veterans

struggle with food insecurity.

Food insecurity is when there is “a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life” (Feeding America, n.d.).

Food insecurity can include skipping meals or eating less so that others get enough to eat. Food insecurity can mean not buying groceries so there is money for gas or medicine.

Factors affecting regular access to nutritious food include:

  • low or unstable income
  • mental health
  • physical health
  • homelessness
  • transportation access

Some organizations ask two questions to help identify households experiencing food insecurity.

  1. Within the past 12 months we worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more.
  2. Within the past 12 months the food we bought just didn’t last and we didn’t have money to get more.

Answers of ‘often true’ or ‘sometimes true’ to one or both questions are indicators of food insecurity.

Veterans Health Administration (VHA) uses the questions to screen for food insecurity and offer referrals for help. In this video a doctor discusses Veteran food insecurity, the questions, and types of referrals.

Government, Nonprofit, and Private Organizations Help with Food Insecurity

  • The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service provides food help to Military and Veteran Families. This help is a benefit earned through military service. You may be eligible for these programs:

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) gives eligible families an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card to buy food at approved stores and some farmer’s markets. The EBT card is like a debit card. Eligibility is based on qualifying income. 59% of eligible veterans are not enrolled (Cohen et al., 2020). Contact your local SNAP office for information or to apply. Find a SNAP office through the SNAP State Directory of Resources.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) supports low-income women, infants, and children up to age 5 who are at risk of poor nutrition. The program provides nutritious food, healthy eating information, and referrals to health and other services. WIC operates through state agencies. Find options for getting this help on the WIC How To Apply page.

The Meals for Kids When Schools are Closed program provides breakfast and/or lunch during the summer to eligible children. This program is also known as Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). Meal service is at schools, churches, community centers, summer camps, and other community sites. Find a site near you with the Summer Meal Site Finder or by calling 1-866-348-6479.

The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) supports Veterans living on Indian reservations or other approved areas. To determine eligibility for FDPIR, contact your Indian Tribal Organization or state agency. For more information see the FDPIR Applicant/Recipient page.

  • Some Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) work with Meals on Wheels to provide outreach and hot meals for low-income, homebound, and disabled Veterans (Cohen et al., 2020). Contact VSOs near you for information. Use Know A Vet’s search features to find State VSOs and Other VSOs.
  • VA Food Pantries
    Some Veteran Administration (VA) Medical Centers have food pantries through a partnership with Feeding America.
  • Feeding America – Find Free Food and Groceries
    Feeding American says its network serves every community in the United States. It works through 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs. Use their search tool to find a food bank near you.
  • 2-1-1
    Dial 211 from any U.S. phone number for information from United Way on programs in your area that help with food insecurity.
  • USDA National Hunger Hotline
    Through Hunger Free America, the United States Department of Agriculture provides the National Hunger Hotline. Hotline staff help callers find emergency food providers. Reach the hotline by phone at 1-866-3-HUNGRY (1-866-348-6479). Phone staff are available 7:00 AM – 10:00 PM Eastern Time. Get an automated response for help near an address or zip code by texting a question containing a keyword like ‘food’ or ‘meals’ to 914-342-7744.
  • Food Pantries
    The Food Pantries site provides a search tool for locating food pantries, soup kitchens, food banks and other food help across the country.  
  •  WhyHunger
    WhyHunger connects people to food pantries, soup kitchens, summer meals sites, government nutrition programs, and other help for food insecurity. Get help through their online form, texting your zip code to 1-800-548-6479, or phoning their hotline at 1(800) 5-HUNGRY.
  • Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP)
    SFMNP helps low-income seniors get locally grown fruits, vegetables, honey, and herbs. It defines ‘low-income seniors’ as those at least 60 years old with household income of not more than 185% of federal poverty income guidelines. Find program contact information through the Contact Map.
  • Meals on Wheels
    Delivers meals and support to seniors and those with mobility limitations. It works through a network of over 5,000 locally operated programs. Meal price depends on individual circumstances, from free to full cost.

You may also want to check with local houses of worship and your local department of social services. Learn more at Know A Vet? – Food.

Article Sources

#vetresources. (2021, November 15). Check-In – Food Insecurity and Social Determinants of Health. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBBJLOTir34

Ashbrook, Alexandra. (2018, November 9). Veterans Have Fought for Our Country — They Shouldn’t Have to Fight Against Hunger. FRAC. https://frac.org/blog/veterans-fought-country-shouldnt-fight-hunger

Cohen, A. J., Rudolph, J. L., Thomas, K. S., Archambault, E., Bowman, M. M., Going, C., Heisler, M., O’Toole, T. P., & Dosa, D. M. (2020). Food Insecurity Among Veterans: Resources to Screen and Intervene. National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7010340/  

Feeding America. (n.d.). Hunger and Food Insecurity. Retrieved April 10, 2022, from https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/food-insecurity#:~:text=

Feeding America. (n.d.). Need Help? Find Free Food. Retrieved April 10, 2022, from https://www.feedingamerica.org/need-help-find-food

Food and Nutrition Service. (n.d.). Seniors Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. USDA. Retrieved April 10, 2022, from https://www.fns.usda.gov/sfmnp/senior-farmers-market-nutrition-program

Food Pantries.Org. (n.d.). Find Food Pantries. Retrieved April 10, 2022, from https://www.foodpantries.org/

Food Research and Action Center. (n.d.). Screen & Intervene. FRAC. Retrieved April 10, 2022, from https://frac.org/screen-intervene

Going, Christine. (2021, September 2). Food Insecurity Screenings Connect Veterans, Resources. Vantage Point. https://blogs.va.gov/VAntage/94006/food-insecurity-screenings-connect-veterans-resources/

Hager, E. R., Quigg, A. M., Black, M. M., Coleman, S. M., Heeren, T., Rose-Jacobs, R., Cook, J. T., Ettinger de Cuba, S. A., Casey, P. H., Chilton, M., Cutts, D. B., Meyers, A. F., & Frank, D. A. (2020, February). Hunger Vital Sign Survey. Fvfiles. http://www.fvfiles.com/524998.pdf

Health Services Research & Development. (n.d.). Implementing a Clinical-Community Partnered Intervention to Address Food Insecurity Among High-Risk Veterans. VA. Retrieved April 10, 2022, from https://www.hsrd.research.va.gov/research/abstracts.cfm?Project_ID=2141707761

Hunger Free America. (n.d.). USDA National Hunger Clearinghouse. Retrieved April 10, 2022, from https://www.hungerfreeamerica.org/en-us/usda-national-hunger-hotline

A Jewish Response to Hunger. (n.d.). Confronting Veteran Hunger. Mazon. Retrieved April 10, 2022, from https://mazon.org/priorities/veterans/ 

Meals on Wheels America. (n.d.). Find A Meals On Wheels Provider Near You. Retrieved April 10, 2022, from https://www.mealsonwheelsamerica.org/find-meals

O’Toole, Thomas. (2020, January 9). Statement of Dr. Thomas O’Toole, Senior Medical Advisor Office of the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Clinical Operations Veterans Health Administration (VHA). Congress.gov. https://www.congress.gov/116/meeting/house/110350/witnesses/HHRG-116-VR10-Wstate-OTooleT-20200109.pdf#:~:text=

Office of Health Equity. (n.d.) Ensuring Food Security in Veterans. VA. Retrieved April 10, 2022, from  https://www.va.gov/HEALTHEQUITY/Ensuring_Food_Security_In_Veterans.asp

Rabbit, Matthew P. & Smith, Michael D. (2021, May). Food Insecurity Among Working-Age Veterans. Economic Research Service. https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/101269/err-829.pdf?v=1064.5

United States Department of Agriculture. (n.d.). Military and Veteran Families. Food and Nutrition Service. Retrieved April 10, 2022, from https://www.fns.usda.gov/military-and-veteran-families

United Way. (n.d.). Finding Food. 2-1-1. Retrieved April 10, 2022, from https://www.211.org/get-help/finding-food

Why Hunger. (n.d.). Find Food. Retrieved April 10, 2022, from https://whyhunger.org/find-food/




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