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When Greg Stegall left the Navy at 30 years old, he found himself utterly adrift: a single dad with no degree, no clear plans for the future and a short résumé in a down job market. Struggling to find work, Stegall put his son in a boarding school for poor children and asked his parents for money and food.

Nearly 30 years later, Stegall — now 58 — oversees a program at a Pennsylvania food bank that delivers meals to hungry veterans. But he still regularly sees other vets in similar situations.

Military advocates have long warned that certain groups of veterans suffer extreme rates of hunger. Those include veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — 27 percent of whom have struggled to put food on the table.

Now, in a first-of-its-kind program, the Department of Veterans Affairs will screen all vets who visit its health-care facilities for hunger, asking them whether they've struggled to afford food in the past three months. That's welcome news to Stegall and other advocates, who say vets are especially hard to reach because they're often unwilling to seek help.

Any program that tries to engage hungry vets will "make a positive impact in their lives," Stegall said.

Veterans' hunger has long flown under the policy radar, in part because it varies widely between generations and regions. Overall, multiple studies have found that all veterans' rates of both poverty and food insecurity are lower than those in the general population.

But there are pockets of vets who experience hunger often. People with disabilities and mental illnesses are far more likely to be food insecure, according to data from the Department of Agriculture. An estimated 39,000 veterans were homeless in 2016, which can make it difficult to access food.

Most strikingly, a 2015 paper published in the journal Public Health Nutrition found that veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from food insecurity at more than double the national rate of 12 percent.

It isn't entirely clear why more recent veterans suffer higher rates of hunger. Researchers have hypothesized that it may relate to the state of the job market when they left the military, or to the high incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse. It may also have something to do with the demographics of servicemen in an all-volunteer army — which tends to draw from lower socioeconomic groups — as opposed to the demographics of those who served in Vietnam, Korea and World War II.

The apparent epidemic among recent veterans — as well as urging from a bipartisan coalition of politicians and anti-hunger groups — has prompted VA to reevaluate its food security approach. In early October, VA launched a screening initiative that will be implemented at all its facilities by the end of the month.

"This is a huge step forward, to just ask the question," said Josh Protas, the head of government relations for the anti-hunger organization Mazon, which spearheaded efforts to get VA to launch a screening project. "We're hoping that VA will continue building on that."

Under the program, VA health-care providers will ask all patients whether they have run out of food or struggled to pay for it within the past three months. If they say yes, VA staff will connect them to a local food pantry or community program, share information on enrolling in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) or refer them to follow-up care with a dietary counselor, if needed.

Advocates say this is a critical step toward addressing hunger in a vulnerable — and often unreachable — population. Veterans frequently suffer from conditions, such as disability or mental illness, that can impede them from seeking help. The stigma against accepting "handouts" is also a common problem, said Stegall, whose program distributes pantry boxes at VFW Halls to help needy veterans feel more comfortable.

He remembers one vet — a man with a recent hip replacement and a single jar of spaghetti sauce in his cupboard — who refused a pantry box because "someone else might need that food more." The man was referred to Stegall's program by one of his VA caretakers.

Experts are also hopeful the screenings will help clinicians address other diet-related health issues, such as diabetes and depression. Studies of VA patients have shown that veterans who struggle with food insecurity also tend to have problems in these areas, and VA has identified hunger as a major factor behind hypoglycemic incidents in its diabetic patients.

A 2015 pilot of the VA hunger-screening program, which focused on clinics for homeless and formerly homeless veterans, found the screenings could help identify these issues early.

"When health care providers at pilot clinics were queried on user acceptance and implementation issues related to the screening, all universally endorsed the program," an academic paper on the pilot concluded.

In the coming months, the agency plans to ramp up a number of other initiatives designed to feed veterans on and off their campuses.

Anne Utech, the acting national director of VA Nutrition and Food Services, said the agency is conducting regular training on food insecurity. In June, VA launched a pilot program with Feeding America that set up mini-food pantries at 10 VA medical facilities. And the agency consulted with Community Foodworks, a D.C.-based nonprofit organization, on a tool to help connect veterans to nearby farmers markets.

But advocates say the government must still do more to address hunger — among veterans and among families with active-duty military members. Protas said he would like to see better follow-up from VA to make sure vets are getting help. His organization has called on the department to come up with ways to reach the millions of veterans who don't use VA hospitals or health clinics.

Mazon is also pushing for changes in SNAP rules that prevent military families from receiving food benefits. More than half of children in Pentagon-run schools qualify for free or reduced-price lunch — indicating their families are struggling to provide food, according to the Department of Defense.

Protas expects the issue to surface during the upcoming Farm Bill negotiations.

"We'd like to get that issue resolved as soon as possible," he said. "Needless to say, it's important."

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ALERT ALERT

Joe Biden Vows: Give Taxpayer-Funded Obamacare To All Illegal Aliens In U.S.

Former Vice President and 2020 Democrat presidential primary candidate Joe Biden is vowing to give Obamacare, funded by American taxpayers, to all 11 to 22 million illegal aliens living in the United States.

During an interview with Telemundo’s Jose Diaz-Balart, Biden forgot that Obamacare technically bans illegal aliens from enrolling in healthcare plans — although illegal aliens are still able to obtain subsidized and free healthcare at Americans’ expense — and promised that under his plan, all 11 to 22 million illegal aliens would be able to get Obamacare.

The exchange went as follows:

DIAZ-BALART: When I … NBC moderated that first debate with you, I didn’t … I don’t recall a clear answer, under your plan should … would the 11, 12 million undocumented immigrants that live in the United States, that have been here many for generations, would they have access …

BIDEN: Yes.

DIAZ-BALART: — to health insurance.

BIDEN: Yes, they … if they can buy into the system like everybody else.

DIAZ-BALART: Because you know, in [Obamacare] they can’t.

BIDEN: Yeah. Yeah, I know. Well they can, that’s my point. They continue to be able to do that.

DIAN-BALART: They cannot under the ObamaCare.

BIDEN: Well and that’s my point, they will though. They will be able to buy into … [illegal aliens] would be able to buy in, just like anyone else could.

Biden joins Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg — among other 2020 Democrats — in committing to forcing American taxpayers to pay for healthcare for illegal aliens who arrive in the U.S.

Already, due to loopholes, American taxpayers are spending nearly $20 billion every year to provide illegal aliens with subsidized healthcare, emergency room visits, and other health services.

Under the 2020 Democrats’ plan to provide taxpayer-funded healthcare to all illegal aliens living in the U.S., Americans would be billed potentially $660 billion every decade just to cover the costs. Other research has found that the plan would cost Americans at least $23 billion every year.

As Breitbart News has reported, experts have said that giving taxpayer-funded healthcare to effectively all foreign nationals who can make it to America’s borders would drive “strong incentives for people with serious health problems to enter the country or remain longer than their visas allow in order to get government-funded care.”

Despite 2020 Democrats’ continued push for taxpayer-funded healthcare for illegal aliens, American voters are overwhelmingly opposed to the plan. The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey revealed that the healthcare-for-illegal-aliens plan is the least popular policy position, with opposition from 62 percent of U.S. voters.

Similarly, a CNN poll from July discovered that 63 percent of likely swing voters oppose providing healthcare to illegal aliens, along with nearly 6-in-10 of all likely U.S. voters and 61 percent of moderates. A Rasmussen Reports survey also found that likely voters, by a majority of 55 percent, oppose giving healthcare to even the most low-income illegal aliens.

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