Irritable Bowel Syndrome in U.S. Veterans

U.S. veterans who deployed in foreign countries and participated in active combat may develop long-term physical and psychological problems. Functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGDs), such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), are emerging in some veterans of more recent conflicts.

Most of the research on lingering illnesses in veterans focused on those from the Gulf War, but further information is coming out regarding health problems in those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Family greeting returning soldier outdoors
Ariel Skelley / Getty Images

Chronic Symptoms of Post-Deployment Health Problems

Some veterans, regardless of sex, suffer from a wide variety of ongoing and inexplicable health problems. Chronic issues reported by veterans include:

  • Abnormal weight loss
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Indigestion
  • Insomnia
  • Memory and other neurological problems
  • Menstrual disorders
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Psychological disorders
  • Respiratory problems
  • Sleep disturbance

IBS and Gulf War Syndrome

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) calls it “medically unexplained illness,” but you may know it better as Gulf War syndrome.

In cases where symptoms initially appeared during or after deployment, the VA now officially recognizes that the following illnesses may be the result of active duty in the more recent military conflicts

The exact causes of those conditions in veterans have yet to be determined.

The Link Between IBS and Military Service

Ongoing research focuses on post-infectious IBS (IBS-PI) because those stationed in foreign lands are at high risk for travelers' diarrhea, foodborne illness, and other forms of infectious gastroenteritis. Your risk of developing ongoing IBS after having that kind of illness is six times higher than for someone who hasn't had one, and the risk stays elevated for a few years after the initial illness.

Additionally, you may have a heightened risk for IBS-PI if you experienced higher levels of anxiety, particularly in conjunction with stressful life events, in the three months before you caught the infectious illness. The stressors inherent in military service may contribute to the increased risk of developing IBS, including:

  • Traumatic combat experiences
  • The ongoing fear of being harmed
  • Being far from home

Veterans Benefits for IBS Diagnosis

The VA recognizes IBS as a disabling condition eligible for healthcare benefits and disability compensation if you served in the Persian Gulf, Iraq, or Afghanistan. If you suspect your IBS is a result of your military service, you should be eligible for a free health assessment, as well as ongoing healthcare services, at your local Veterans Health Administration center.

If your IBS prevents you from getting a job, you may be eligible for disability benefits. For a comprehensive overview of military disability benefits, see the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. US Department of Veterans Affairs. War Related Illness and Injury Study Center. Irritable bowel syndrome.

  2. US Department of Veterans Affairs. Presumptive disability benefits.

  3. US Department of Veterans Affairs. Gulf war veterans.

  4. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Gulf War veterans' illnesses: Medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illnesses.

Additional Reading

By Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.