Tester, Stabenow Push to Address Veteran Food Insecurity by Urging VA, USDA Coordination During COVID-19 and Beyond

Senators call on agencies to employ all available Federal and local tools to curb veteran hunger nationwide

Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Mont.) of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry are urging the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to increase coordination and take swift action to address veteran food insecurity during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

“While USDA is primarily responsible for food and nutrition assistance programs, the VA also has an important role to play in ending veteran hunger,” Senators Tester and Stabenow wrote in a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue. “Some studies have found that more than 20 percent of veterans using VA health care experience food insecurity. However, the food insecurity screening used in VA health care is only one question covering the last three months, which is inadequate and may allow veterans to fall through the cracks. We ask that VA evaluate the use of an enhanced and validated screening tool, such as the ‘Hunger Vital Sign’ screening, which is only two questions but more accurately identifies individuals at risk of food insecurity over the past year.”

In their letter, the Senators also urged VA to explore approaches for addressing food insecurity among vulnerable veterans—including homebound veterans, homeless veterans, and student veterans—who have trouble accessing and affording nutritious food. The letter pressed USDA to halt the implementation of changes to the Supplementation Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which will be particularly harmful to veterans experiencing unemployment or homelessness, and to improve data collection of veteran participation in nutrition programs. Tester and Stabenow highlighted the importance of having both agencies work collaboratively to employ all available Federal and local tools to aggressively curb veteran hunger during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.

The Senators continued, “We urge you to explore the possibility of a cooperative agreement between your agencies to allow VA and its extended stakeholder community to do SNAP eligibility screenings and enrollment, utilizing available data and records for veterans, looking to the example of the cooperative agreement currently in place with USDA and the Social Security Administration. Giving VA the tools to bridge the gap between nutrition counseling and actual nutrition assistance would make the difference for many veterans.”

A copy of the Senators’ letter can be found HERE.