The onset of a functional gastrointestinal disorder (FGID) can be triggered by severe stress and infections of the digestive tract. Deployed military personnel face an elevated chance of experiencing these risk factors and developing FGIDs as a result of their service. The challenges of deployment and combat situations can be incredibly stressful, and digestive tract infections are common in areas outside the U.S. where living conditions may be less than ideal. The service connection of these conditions has been extensively studied and, most recently, a 2010 Institute of Medicine report, entitled Gulf War and Health: Health Effects of Serving in the Gulf War, identified Functional GI Disorders along with 3 other multi-symptom illnesses present in veterans as related to their service during the Gulf War.
The majority of FGIDs are painful, debilitating, and chronic. Long after a soldier’s tour is over, and the stress or infection subsides, the FGID and its symptoms can remain. It is for this reason that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognizes that there is a “presumption of service connection” for veterans suffering with Functional GI Disorders following their service during the Gulf War.
Our military personnel are taught to put duty first, and they often wait to reach out for help until their condition is quite severe. Not only are these conditions hard to treat, but in the words of one retired Sergeant, these “sometimes very embarrassing GI disorders” are just as hard to talk about.
MEMBERS OF CONGRESS CAN HELP
The Department of Defense (DOD) conducts important research into medical conditions that impact veterans and active-duty military personnel through its Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP). The House and Senate Defense Appropriations bills fund the DOD CDMRP’s Gulf War Illness Research Program (GWIRP), which provides an excellent source of funding for FGID research. The GWIRP was funded at a level of $20 million in FY 2017. Legislators must work to see that funding for the GWIRP is included in any agreement on future Defense Appropriations.