Celiac Disease and the US Military

Celiac Disease and the US Military

If you’re from the United States, I’m sure you’ve heard of the old military policy of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Thankfully, it was repealed over a decade ago, but the sentiment lives on in other ways - namely for celiac disease. Having celiac disease, or any food allergies that require an EpiPen automatically disqualifies you from many types of military service in the US.

Why does celiac medically disqualify you from the military?


Moving out from Diego González via Unsplash

A diagnosis of celiac or food allergies is medically disqualifying largely because the military does not provide gf or allergen-safe MREs. This is starting to change, but not enough to change the ruling. You can now find MREs made without gluten online, although most are not celiac safe and are made in cross-contaminated kitchens.

Military personnel may heavily depend on MREs in deployment situations where food supply lines are lacking. In certain cases, obtaining safe food for people with allergies or celiac disease could be near-impossible. In those situations, the individual with a food allergy or celiac would be a liability to the rest of the active duty members.

There are few, if any, food allergy accommodations available for meals prepared in US military mess halls. The shared food preparation area and lack of additional funding needed to purchase gluten free or allergen-friendly options makes it incredibly difficult to find meals that are safe for those individuals.

Celiac Diagnoses Increasing within the Military


Grub from Army Reserve

Celiac can be a pretty devastating diagnosis in normal circumstances, but if you’ve been dreaming of joining the military your whole life, then your career aspirations have also hit a dead end. Besides disqualifying you from service during the application process, you may be discharged if you’re diagnosed with celiac disease when actively serving. Because of this, prospective military recruits and those on active duty may be hesitant to test for celiac disease, even if it’s indicated by their symptoms.

Despite the possibly reduced testing for celiac disease within the military, doctors have noticed a concerning trend: an increase in celiac disease in those serving, with an especially large increase for women on active duty. In fact, a larger percentage of women in the military have been diagnosed with celiac disease than the general population in the US. More research needs to be done to understand why there’s been such an increase of celiac in military personnel, but it’s especially unfortunate given the lack of gluten free options they’re able to provide.

* Title image courtesy of CNN.

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