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One in four recently separated U.S. veterans may not be able to consistently put food on their tables, according to a new report released Wednesday.
The Public Health Nutrition journal study, titled “Food Insecurity & Iraq/Afghanistan Veterans,” surveyed more than 900 young veterans and found 27 percent reported problems with getting enough food for three meals a day. That’s about twice as high as the overall national rate.
Study author Rachel Widome, a University of Minnesota health professor, called the findings “shocking and disheartening.” Investigators launched the study two years ago after tracking reports about financial hardships among young veterans.
“We really had no idea how common it was that Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans were struggling to afford food,” she said. “Given anecdotal accounts, I thought food insecurity might be somewhat of an issue, but really had no idea of the extent.”
About 12 percent of the veterans surveyed were classified as having “very low food security,” marking severe difficulties in reliably getting meals.
The study was conducted with the Minneapolis VA Health Care system and featured only veterans from Minnesota. Authors said the findings indicate serious challenges for younger veterans and their families.
Widome said veterans struggling with food problems also reported struggling with other life stress, including sleep problems, substance abuse and employment difficulties.
“For those of us who work with Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans either in health care or social service settings, it is important to be aware that these veterans may also have another hidden struggle,” she said.
“We need to work on connecting veterans in need with food assistance programs, or even better, assisting them with finding employment that provides a secure livable wage after deployment.”