VA doctors soon asking veterans about hunger

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Veterans could soon see a new kind of question when visiting their doctors at a United States Department of Veterans Affairs hospital. The questions are targeted to reduce hunger and food insecurity among military men and women.

It's part of a new program going through a trial right now.

The program calls for doctors to question veterans about food over the last 90 days and if they had difficulties putting food on their table. If a doctor or another member of the hospital staff finds a veteran experiencing a food insecurity, staff is to get the veteran help through a local food pantry or by helping them enroll in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

According to the public affairs officer at Veteran Health Indiana, Pete Scovill, the program will get pantries and VA facilities on the same page about where to send a veteran. "It comes down to communication in the community," he said. "Which ever place is setup to do this - if we can't help - is ready to do it and understand that we are going to send and refer people to them."

Scovill said four VA facilities are testing out the program right now, which includes the VA Northern Indiana Health Care System located in Fort Wayne.

He said his hospital would welcome the program if it successfully runs through the trial phase and said he thought it could be implemented in central Indiana by the end of 2017.

The American Legion Department of Indiana also supported the new idea.

"We think it's a wonderful idea," said communications director at the American Legion, Tim Sproles. "It kind of falls in line with the American Legion anyway, which is helping service members."

Sproles said half of the American Legion's budget goes to a service office which works daily with the VA system to get veterans benefits and into programs they may need.

It's also trying to reduce the number of veterans who find themselves homeless.

According to the Hoosiers Veterans Assistance Foundation, the latest point-in-time count found more than 300 veterans who were homeless, and project the actual number to be between 1,000 and 1,500 veterans who are homeless.

"Just being able to ask about hunger, we think that's an avenue you can get life-changing help to veterans before they become homeless," said Sproles.

Scovill added that veterans who visit the VA are probably less likely to experience hunger the same way a homeless veteran does, which is why it's important to get more veterans to a VA hospital. Currently, 2,200 veterans visit Veteran Health Indiana each day.

"That's the crowd we are looking for," said Scovill.