Food Pantries Springing Up in VA Medical Facilities

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The Department of Veterans Affairs is creating food pantries at its medical centers across the nation.

The food pantry project is a public-private partnership between the VA and Feeding America, a nonprofit organization with a network of more than 200 food banks nationwide. There are currently 18 food pantries in operation at VA locations.

Local VA facilities work through the VA Voluntary Services department to make outside donations from local and national organizations available at medical centers. To date, the program has served more than 700,000 meals to veterans, including those with dietary and health restrictions, such as diabetes.

During the intake process for medical appointments at participating centers, veterans are screened for signs of food insecurity. If they are found to be in need, the pantries supply them with a week's worth of groceries before they leave the medical center.

This screening takes place whether the visit is for inpatient or outpatient services. If the veteran's individual situation warrants, they are connected with an on-site coordinator to find other available food resources and assistance.

The food pantry program is part of the VA's whole health approach to treating veterans under its care. This program takes into account individual, social and other issues. Food insecurity is one example of a social determinant of health. The VA also offers assistance with other social determinants, such as education, employment and housing.

Food insecurity is not only about groceries. It's also about planning, social dynamics and the competing demands that many families face.

"I remember one 32-year-old veteran who worked at a gas station. You could just tell he was malnourished," says Mary Julius, a registered dietitian in the VA's Northeast Ohio VA Health Care System. "At first, he denied that he was having trouble, out of pride, but when I asked him what he ate, he said he was eating whatever was left over from the food he bought his kid. We were able to provide him groceries and instructions."

Check with your local VA medical facility for details.

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