UPDATE: These regulations have since been expanded to veterans with service in Afghanistan at any time since September 19, 2001.
Next week, on August 15, updated regulations go into effect at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), recognizing functional gastrointestinal disorders as disabilities with “presumptive” service connection for any member of the U.S. military who has served in various countries in the Persian Gulf/Southwest Asia region since August 2, 1990. IBS is specifically mentioned. However, according to the Federal Register, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is considered structural, not functional, and it is specifically excluded in these regulations.
Functional gastrointestinal disorders are being added to a list of other “medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illnesses” that have been similarly classified, including fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, two non-GI disorders that commonly overlap with IBS.
What this means is that a functional gastrointestinal disorder, such as IBS, diagnosed in a veteran who served in this region during the stated time period and rated by the VA as at least a 10% disability will automatically be assumed to be related to his or her military service. This is very good news for people who qualify because, in most cases, in order to claim VA disability compensation, a veteran must prove that the disability is service-connected. Claims based on presumptive conditions do not require as high a standard of proof as other conditions. Please note that these regulations apply only to VA disability compensation, not other disability benefits administered by different systems, such as Social Security.
IFFGD reports that two recent studies have shown that active duty service members and veterans are disproportionately affected by functional gastrointestinal disorders like IBS because of chronic stress and high risk of exposure to gastrointestinal infections during deployment. IFFGD has testified before the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee about adding functional gastrointestinal disorders to the list of eligible conditions for the Department of Defense Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program fiscal 2012 budget and is asking the functional gastrointestinal community to support this effort. For U.S. citizens who are interested in doing so, please see IFFGD’s action alert here.
These developments appear to be very positive and concrete progress for the many U.S. service members and veterans struggling with IBS and related disorders. It is a large step forward in the recognition of these often misunderstood and trivialized conditions as legitimate and potentially disabling. IBS Impact hopes that civilian entities in the U.S. and other countries will look to this example and follow suit in the not too distant future.