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Celiac Disease in the Military—Don’t Ask Don’t Tell?

Celiac.com 03/04/2016 - For anyone who hasn't seen it, the website Glutendude.com has an article titled "Why Doesn't the Military Accept Those With Celiac Disease?"

CC--Tomi KnuutilaThe article highlights the story of a smart, capable, American who was motivated to serve in the military, but who was medically disqualified by military policy, and all had failed in all attempts to secure an admission waiver. The man was further frustrated by the fact that he had very minimal symptoms, and felt that he had the ability to serve effectively.

The article also highlights the military's uneven treatment of personnel with celiac disease.

Medical fitness for the military is governed mainly by the Department of Defense Medical Examination Review Board (DoDMERB), which schedules, evaluates, and certifies all applicants as "medically qualified," or as "medically does not meet the medical accession standards" for the US Service Academies, ROTC Scholarship Programs, Direct Commission Programs, and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

Basically, current military policy is to reject potential recruits with known celiac disease, provide some accommodation for some troops already in the service, and to provide medical discharges other troops, as needed.

The military doesn't reject you if they don't know you have celiac disease, and wouldn't likely test you for celiac disease unless you pressed the issue.

But if there's no official diagnosis, or no debilitating symptoms, and the recruit says nothing, then celiac disease is not a barrier to military service. And, once in the military, if the disease is kept under wraps, then it's likely it will never come up, and thus pose no problem.

Going back to GlutenDude's article, here's part of a quote from the soldier who was rejected due to celiac disease:

"Two years ago I was diagnosed with celiac disease, and the military does not accept people with this disease. I was medically disqualified by DODMERB, and all waiver attempts have been denied. Years of hard work, a 3.9 GPA, a 32 MCAT, and a desire to spend my entire career in the service have been for naught. The most frustrating aspect of this situation is that I have almost no physical symptoms, am not on medications, and the few symptoms I have are completely controlled by diet. Yet even though my disease would not affect my ability to serve, my dreams have come to a screeching halt."

The man also points out that: "Militaries in other countries accept celiac patients like Israel. Even in our military there are celiac patients that are accommodated for, albeit ones that have already been accepted and are diagnosed after being in for some time. The fact that one percent of the population, nearly 3 million people, have no chance to give their service to their country is a disgrace."

What do you think? Is the current military policy of rejecting people with celiac disease only if it becomes known a bit like Don't Ask Don't Tell? Are potentially good recruits being turned away unnecessarily? Are existing soldiers being asked to cover up a treatable medical condition for fear of being discharged?

Should people with celiac disease or gluten-intolerance be able to serve in the military?

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12 Responses:

 
Betty
Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingemptyratingempty Unrated
said this on
07 Mar 2016 6:14:36 AM PST
The situation is that celiac is a malnutrition disease. Gluten prevents the body from absorbing nutrients. Finally, the body wears down and other diseases and maladies occur. I suspect stress will accelerate the process.

 
A Baker
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said this on
07 Mar 2016 9:00:36 AM PST
As someone who has personally dealt with celiac for over 17 years, and as a military spouse of 27 years I feel confident that people with celiac sprue should NOT be in the military at this time. Even with symptoms under control, if a soldier were deployed they have no guarantee over the control of their food sources. In the middle of the desert, a war, a foxhole, or 3rd world country there are no guarantees that a soldier could secure gluten free meals. Not only does that put the soldier at risk, it puts the soldiers around them at risk who need to be able to move quickly and respond rapidly to anything that comes their way. Imagine your squadron gets attacked and the soldier next to you is suffering from a gluten reaction.

There are those who may say that you simply don't deploy soldiers with celiac. The problem with that mentality is you are now increasing the responsibility for the soldiers who can eat anything, anywhere, anytime, and who don't have restrictive medical conditions. It would be unfair to have a medical condition that would allow a soldier to stay home with their family while others are constantly deployed. The military already faces a multitude of other limiting medical conditions (diagnosed after entering the service) that are now putting the military in a position where the the same people must deploy over and over again. It poses an unfair situation to those soldiers who have no limitations. If the medical conditions are severe enough, soldiers are medically boarded and can be discharged due to medical reasons.

While some celiacs may not experience symptoms on a daily basis (and that's great), when celiacs are not in control of what they eat it's a concern for their well-being. Our military has shrunk considerably over the last few decades. It is estimated that approximately 1 percent of the population now serve in the US military. They must be deployable without restrictions. Some deployments last for a year and even longer.

Before Celiacs take this as a personal slam, consider the long list of other medical conditions that keep people out of the service. usmilitary.about.com/od/joiningthemilitary/a/intmedstandards.htm

Perhaps at some point in the future, once the pill treatment for gluten exposure is perfected, it would be possible. Until then, I commend anyone who wants to serve our country (and for those who already serve) . I am grateful for their desire to defend and protect. I appreciate your frustration and also your patriotism.

 
Ginny
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said this on
07 Mar 2016 10:55:50 AM PST
@ABaker - Regarding your comment that a symptomatic soldier with diagnosed celiac disease causing increased risk to fellow soldiers during combat situations we must consider the increased risk currently being posed by undiagnosed symptomatic soldiers with celiac disease who are serving in combat situations. Based on your comments the best way to safeguard our soldiers from having to depend on gluten symptomatic undiagnosed celiac disease positive soldiers is to test all soldiers for celiac disease. Probably would be a good outcome for all soldiers. And it would be fair. Yes, I know it would cost some money but aren't the lives of our soldiers worth it?

 
A Baker
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said this on
07 Mar 2016 2:58:20 PM PST
As we know, it is possible to test positive genetically without symptoms. This does not guarantee someone would ever develop the disorder. I could see screening based on symptoms but I'm not sure screening all prior to entry makes sense. The initial article referred to someone who already knew they had celiac. That is much different than screening people for a disorder that may never manifest itself. It would be similar to screening for the breast cancer gene and determining someone is at risk who never develop cancer.

 
derrick
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said this on
07 Mar 2016 11:47:00 AM PST
While I do have sympathy for GlutenDude's situation, as a retired military member (diagnosed with diabieties while in the uniform) and both husband and father to Celiacs, I must strongly support the Military position, and strongly recommend GlutenDude to pursue other courses to support the Military outside of the uniform itself.
After I was diagnosed with Diabeties, I was deemed "not-combat-deployable" and restricted to desk jobs until my retirement
only a few years later. GlutenDude made a critical statement: "controlled by diet". This is a CRITICAL issue. Diet is one thing that absolutely CANNOT be guaranteed outside of civilian establishments. If a Celiac only had access to gluten based or contaminated food in the field they become a liability to their unit. As a diabetic, my medications were supplementary, my condition
primarily controlled through diet ... same problem ... not deployable.
PLEASE THINK.
This is not a denial of rights/privileges. This is for the protection of the REST OF THE UNIT.
Yes, I was disappointed. But it is necessary.
As for the other militaries cited, good on them. But remember, they are primarily local defense forces where all hands are needed. The US Military has global operations.
GlutenDude can join organizations like SPAWAR, DoE, DoT, or any one of the myriad of Defense Contractors.
I wore glasses before I enlisted and have always been denied pilot or flight officer duty. I became non-deployable at the end of my career. I understand being denied. Find another way to serve, but don't threaten the safety and operational capabilities of your potential unit.
Find an alternative way to serve, you motivation is welcomed!
Best of luck.

 
Mary
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said this on
07 Mar 2016 12:11:41 PM PST
@derrik: I realize a medical condition is different than that of race or sex, however, the military used to make exactly the same arguments about blacks and women being in combat units in the military--keeping them out was "for the protection of the REST OF THE UNIT." I think it is time that the military find a way to make it work for celiacs.

 
Rick
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said this on
07 Mar 2016 3:50:19 PM PST
I wanted nothing more than to be a fighter pilot for the Air Force or Navy, but I have been wearing glasses since Junior High. I was automatically disqualified no matter how close I could get to 20/20. But, if I passed the initial flight physical and made it through training and then had a reduction in vision then they'd make due and I could keep on flying. Sound familiar? This is life and some people have been dealt a bad hand. But my vision restriction DID NOT keep me away from flying, in fact it is my career. And now my Airline will not provide me any special meals and there are ZERO safe options in our terminals, so again I am trying my best to make due with what I have.

The same holds true with this topic, I am extremely surprised at the tone and suggestion that someone join the military with celiac disease. It is down right irresponsible, because when you join someone may really want to be a pilot, but the only opening for your tested skill set is carrying a gun on the front lines.... see there are zero guarantees when you join, and to even suggest one shouldn't be honest about celiac is extremely troubling.

How about we try and focus our attention towards issues we can really have an impact on, like safe food options while away from the safety of our home kitchen!!

 
Leigh Anne
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said this on
08 Mar 2016 3:50:52 AM PST
My son is in high school and has always had aspirations to go to college at one of the academies. He was diagnosed with celiac disease in 9th grade, and we later found out that this will disqualify him from being accepted.

Although we are disappointed, we totally understand this position. It's not about whether or not the military could provide gluten free food at the base or on the ship. It's about whether they would be able to provide it during combat. And there is no way to guarantee that gluten free food would be available in that situation. It puts the soldier in the position of having to choose between not eating, or eating food that he or she knows will make them sick. I believe that the military has made the right decision on this issue, and I support it.

 
Rick
Rating: ratingfullratingemptyratingemptyratingemptyratingempty Unrated
said this on
08 Mar 2016 4:46:06 AM PST
Being a woman or of a different race is NOT a medical condition regardless of ignorance of yesteryear. As a group we'd all be better off focusing our attention to issues that truly matter, like being able to dine out safely without the risk of getting sick. Everyday young men and women are denied by our Armed Services, this is NOTHING new and most definitely not an attack on those with our disease. But then again we have a new generation coming up that doesn't know the meaning of NO with everyone leaving the field with a shiny trophy, so I guess this is the fallout.

 
Janet
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said this on
08 Mar 2016 6:59:12 AM PST
No Mary, the military does not have to make exceptions for celiacs. The same reason you can't serve if you have peanut allergies. The military cooks for the masses, not the individual. It is not personal. I was in the Navy. There is no was they can have have a gluten free kitchen on a ship where they cook 4 meals a day for 5000 people. I was lucky as I didn't find out I have celiac until 2 years ago. They currently do not test for celiac before entering the service, but if they did, and I was disqualified because of it, I WOULD HAVE FOUND OTHER EMPLOYMENT. The military is also an employer. They don't HAVE to take someone, just like you can't walk into a place and demand they hire you. They disqualify people all the time. And as for women in combat? Since you brought that up, BOTH situations are for the best interest of the unit. The military will never bend on certain medical issues, period. BUMED will list medical conditions of disqualification. I was lucky. I also understand that having celiac means I have a very different life now. I don't walk into restaurants and demand a gluten free meal, if they don't offer one. The man in the article from GlutenDude's website needs to find another career.

 
Sarah
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said this on
15 Mar 2016 6:42:03 AM PST
It's so refreshing to read so many comments with so much basic common sense behind them. Ever since Cruz's comments were manipulated to sound like he was being discriminatory it seems too many have forgotten the military's purpose - to protect and defend. Someone with celiac disease has no business being in the military. Too many people seem to think the world is meant to revolve around them. Putting people's lives at risk by removing screening criteria would be irresponsible.

 
admin
( Author)
said this on
16 Mar 2016 9:47:27 AM PST
This article only dealt with celiacs in combat...so you recommend banning all celiacs from the military completely? This would be totally unnecessary. Many celiacs have served this country in the military, including in combat. Celiac.com supports the right for celiacs to serve in the military in all positions.




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