Boston University Research Reveals New Information About Food Insecurity in Veteran Households

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More comprehensive data analysis reveals no significant difference between populations; Research suggests recent veterans are at increased-risk

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There was reason to believe that if we used nationally representative data that we might find a different story.

Food Insecurity in Veteran Households: Findings from Nationally Representative Data, an analysis of nationally representative data collected from the 2005-2013 Current Population Survey - Food Security Supplement shows the overall rates of food insecurity in both veteran and non-veteran households are not significantly different, a finding that differs from prior research conducted with less comprehensive data. The results of the study will be published in the peer-reviewed journal, Public Health Nutrition.

The survey obtained demographic information about respondents along with information about food program participation and food insecurity in households across the country. The national study was conducted by Principal Investigator and Boston University School of Social Work professor Daniel P. Miller, Brandeis University Heller School for Social Policy and Management professor Mary Jo Larson, and Boston University School of Social Work professors Thomas Byrne and Ellen DeVoe. The study sought to control for veterans’ sociodemographic factors to see if the disparity between veteran and non-veteran households held up upon adjustment.

“Veterans are an important subpopulation in this country, and so they are one of our classically defined groups of deserving people,” said professor Daniel Miller. “There have been a couple of recent studies [...] that had found really high rates of food insecurity among veterans, and I thought that there was reason to believe that if we used nationally representative data that we might find a slightly different story.”

Although organizations such as the Veterans Health Administration and the Veterans Benefits Administration provide medical care, income support, employment services, and other resources to help veterans reintegrate to civilian life, many veterans continue to struggle. The Feeding America organization estimates that one in four active duty or reserve households have solicited food and nutritional assistance from an emergency food provider due to a level of food insecurity.

In basic models, veteran households had lower odds of food insecurity than non-veteran households (8.4% vs. 14.4%), a stark contrast to previous research, which has reported much higher rates among veterans. After controlling for differences between veteran and non-veteran households, rates of food insecurity were nearly identical (13.5% vs. 13.3%).

However, researchers found that these results did not generalize across all groups of veterans. In particular, those who served from 1990-2001 or 1975-1990 had a significantly higher probability of food insecurity (14.8% and 14.1%), compared to non-veteran households, whereas those who served during the Vietnam War had a lower probability (12.5%).

Disparities between groups of veteran cohorts show that while veterans as a whole experience similar rates of food insecurity to civilians, veterans who served from 1975 onwards are at higher risk for food insecurity.

“I think there is something about this group of more recent veterans that suggests we should do a bit more targeting,” Miller said. “It’s not clear whether or not it’s something about this group in particular that’s leading them to higher rates of food insecurity. But some of the potential causes are psychological and social problems, difficulties transitioning back into everyday life.”

About Boston University School of Social Work
With roots dating back to 1918, Boston University School of Social Work’s (BUSSW) mission is to develop dynamic and diverse social work practitioners, leaders, and scholars through rigorous teaching, innovative research, and transformative community engagement. BUSSW offers graduate programs in clinical and macro social work practice. For more information, visit bu.edu/ssw.

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Rebecca Grossfield
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