For the last two years, IFFGD has been called before the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to testify on the issue of functional GI disorders and their impact on military personnel. This Subcommittee is currently crafting the Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 Defense Appropriations Bill, and Senators are considering continued support for the Gulf War Illness Research Program through the DOD Peer-Reviewed Medical Research Program, which includes functional GI disorders on the list of conditions eligible for study. The DOD research program is intended to only fund research into conditions that disproportionately impact military personnel or are related to military service.
For video from last year's testimony click here. Read the full text of this year's oral testimony below.
Chairman Inoyue, Vice Chairman Cochran, and distinguished members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present testimony regarding functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) among service personnel and veterans. My name is Elisabeth Vink and I am testifying on behalf of the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, or IFFGD. IFFGD is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting individuals affected by functional gastrointestinal and motility disorders through education and research. I am also a proud member of a military family, with my father having served 23 years in the U.S. Air Force, and I appreciate the opportunity to present testimony in support of veterans like my dad.
FGIDs are disorders in which the movement of the intestines, the sensitivity of the nerves of the intestines, or the way in which the brain controls intestinal function is impaired. The result is multiple, persistent, and often painful symptoms ranging from nausea and vomiting to altered bowel habit. Over two dozen different FGIDs have been identified, ranging in severity from bothersome to disabling. One thing these conditions have in common is that little is understood about their underlying mechanisms, making them difficult to treat effectively.
The onset of a functional GI disorder can be triggered by severe stress and infections of the digestive system. Deployed military personnel face an elevated chance of experiencing these risk factors and developing FGIDs as a result of their service. For this reason, continued research through the Department of Defense Gulf War Illness Research Program is critical in FY13. In 2010, the Institute of Medicine published a report titled Gulf War and Health, Volume 8: Update on the Health Effects of Serving in the Gulf War, which determined that there is sufficient evidence to associate deployment to the Gulf War and FGIDs. According to the report, there have been a large number of FGID cases among Gulf War veterans, and their symptoms have continued in the years since the war.
Based on the report from IOM, the VA adopted a final rule on in August 2011 stating that there is a presumptive service connection between FGIDs and service in the Southwest Asia Theater of Operations during the Persian Gulf War.
Our military personnel are taught to put duty first, and we have noticed that by the time they reach out to us, their condition is incredibly painful or highly disruptive to their life. Not only are these disorders hard to treat, but in the words of one retired Sergeant, these sometimes very embarrassing GI disorders are just as hard to talk about. In order to better articulate the suffering associated with FGIDs, I would like to share with you the voices of veterans affected by these disorders. This is from Stephen in North Carolina who served in the Persian Gulf Theater of Operations:
While there, and since my return, I have been plagued with a multitude of GI problems including IBS. I suffered nearly constant diarrhea for over ten years before the IBS was ever diagnosed. None of my GI problems existed prior to my deployment and they simply do not seem to go away afterwards.
Another veteran, Jason, mentioned the prevalence of these conditions:
While speaking with several of my former soldiers I came to realize that they are experiencing the same signs and symptoms. I am the first one of a group of friends/vets that is doing research to find out that we are not alone.
The DOD Gulf War Illness Research Program conducts important research on the complex set of chronic symptoms that impact Gulf War Veterans. Given the conclusions of the IOM report and the reports recommendations for further research on the link between FGIDs and exposures experienced by veterans in the Gulf War, we ask that you continue to support the Gulf War Illness Research Program and encourage research into FGIDs through this program so that important research on FGIDs among veterans can be conducted.
Thank you for your time and your consideration of this request.