Today, November 11, is Veterans Day in the U.S., and a good time to highlight veterans’ issues. U.S. veterans and current military service members who have been deployed in the Persian Gulf/Southwest Asia and Afghanistan regions at any time since 1990 have been shown by multiple studies to be at even higher risk of IBS and other functional GI disorders than the general population. Conservative estimates put the incidence of functional GI disorders in the general population as 25%, most commonly irritable bowel syndrome. For veterans and military service members of the Persian Gulf/Southwest Asia/Afghanistan era, the estimate may reach as high as 40%. This appears to be in part because of the high incidence of known functional GI risk factors during active duty, such as severe stress or trauma and/or food or water contamination that results in post-infectious IBS (IBS-PI) or other post-infectious functional GI and motility disorders.
Here is IBS Impact’s August 12, 2011 post on the recognition six years ago by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs of irritable bowel syndrome and functional gastrointestinal disorders as presumptive service connected disabilities for Gulf War veterans. Service in Afghanistan was not originally included in the 2011 regulations, but has since been added.
IFFGD has done considerable work in the past several years in advocating for federal funding and other legislative needs specific to veterans, conducting outreach to service members and veterans and encouraging those affected by functional GI and motility disorders to participate in veteran-specific self-advocacy efforts. Since fiscal year 2012, functional GI disorders have been included in the Department of Defense Gulf War Illness Research Program, which is part of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program. However, advocacy from the veteran community and supporters must occur on an ongoing basis for funding to be continued each fiscal year. Interest in veteran issues has been one reason for Congressional support of the Functional Gastrointestinal and Motility Disorders Research Enhancement Act of 2017 currently in the House of Representatives. This legislation is aimed toward improving the lives of affected veterans and civilians alike, and must continue to build.
As this blog reported on January 20, 2014, the depth of need for further awareness, services, support, and research in the veteran community is not necessarily well known even within the Department of Defense or other military entities, the media or the general public. The post linked in the second paragraph of this post about the recognition of IBS and other functional GI disorders as presumptive service-connected disabilities, more than six years after original publication, has continued to receive consistent hits from readers on most days. By an extremely wide margin, from the inception of this blog in mid-2011 through 2015, it was the #1 most read individual post, of over 200 cumulative posts on this blog. It was also the #1 most read post for each individual year. Not until the release of the Rome IV international diagnostic criteria in late May 2016, did it drop to #2 on the all-time and 2016-to-date lists. Clearly, a very strong need exists for information and resources on this topic. It is hoped that given the relatively higher impact of functional GI disorders among veterans and service members, and their relatively higher profile as a constituent group, any advances on behalf of the affected veterans and service members will eventually carry over to people with functional GI disorders in general.
IBS Impact encourages veterans, service members and families in the IBS and functional GI community, as well as those who support them, to familiarize themselves with the issues and resources, and to consider participating in self-advocacy activities. We look forward to feedback from readers as to how IBS Impact may be able to support such efforts further.