Veterans with IBD

Veteran standing in office wearing ARMY shirt

Are you a veteran of the United States military living with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis (collectively known as inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD)? You aren’t the only one.

In fact, it is estimated that there are over 66,000 veterans living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).1 Whether you were diagnosed while in service or after you were discharged from service, you may have questions about your disease, need resources to navigate your healthcare options, or want to connect with others who understand what you are experiencing. The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation is here for you.

Many chronic illnesses may be considered for medical separation from service, which can be difficult to cope with for many who aim to have a career within the military. But being a proactive participant in your healthcare as an IBD patient will help you in your journey.

 

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Transitioning into the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ healthcare system

Life after discharge can seem uncertain as you seek care from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) healthcare system. Like many patients who may be newly diagnosed with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, you may have questions about your disease and how to manage it, and what treatments are available. You may also have been discharged for some time and may be considering transitioning into the VA for continued care. Regardless of your situation, learning to be an advocate for your health needs can take some time as you learn what the next steps are in completing your transition process into the VA. You might have questions, including:

  • What kind of doctor or specialist do I need to see to treat my disease?
  • How quickly can I get care in the VA once I am registered?
  • Where do I go for care?
  • What forms do I need as I transition into the VA?
  • Who can I contact for questions about my care, or medical coverage?
  • What should I expect as a Crohn’s or colitis patient?

Prepare yourself with the answers to these questions, and use tools and resources offered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to help you. Learn more with these helpful links:

Continuous care

Living with a chronic illness like Crohn’s or colitis means seeing your doctor regularly. Having continuous care helps ensure that you’re needs are being addressed and you are receiving the care that you need.

Continuous care can mean:

  • Working with a primary care doctor and a gastroenterologist (GI) for your healthcare needs 
  • Coordinating your healthcare needs, including IBD and your preventive care (such as immunizations, cancer screenings, bone health, etc.)
  • Being able to visit with your doctors regularly 

Keep the following tips in mind as you navigate your care whether it be a VA hospital, a community center, or even through a private physician outside of the VA. 

Some tips to consider:

  • Ensure you have both a GI (an IBD specialist is ideal) and a primary care doctor and keep record of their contact information
  • Seek help of a social worker, care coordinator, or patient navigator within the VA if available to you
  • Make sure that you adhere to recommendations for follow-up visits with your healthcare team
  • Keep a list of all prescribed and over-the-counter medications with you. We recommend keeping them noted on your phone for easy access, but a paper list can also be helpful
  • If you receive care within the VA healthcare system, sign up for the VA’s health app, Myhealthevet. This platform can be a helpful way to communicate with your healthcare team, access your own records, request prescription refills, and other helpful tools

Traveling veteran consultations

 If you are seeking care within the VA and move to another state, there are some important steps needed in order to ensure your care within the VA is smoothly transitioned to your next destination in life. It is important to have a discussion with your gastroenterologist about your need for a traveling veteran consult. This is a process that is started before your move and ensures that you have continuous care with another GI in the new state or location where you will be living. Your new GI will have access to information and records about your health and history from your previous GI. Be sure to plan ahead, if possible, to alert your VA physician with as much advance notice about your plans to move. 

Learning about IBD

No matter where you are in your disease journey, you may have  questions about Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. In a series of focus groups led by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, we learned that most veterans living with IBD want to learn more information about managing their symptoms, diet, and more. You can explore and learn about these topic areas by clicking below:

Mental health and emotional wellness

Addressing your mental health and emotional well-being is just as important as your physical health when living with IBD. People with IBD are two-three times more likely to experience anxiety and depression than the general population. Similarly, the number of U.S. veterans experiencing anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, is increasing.3

Having a chronic illness can bring on daily challenges and affect your overall mental health. However, there are ways to help you cope with these feelings and concerns. Coping tips can include engaging in activities like exercise, relaxation techniques, meditation, and others. It’s also important to consider seeking help from a mental health professional who can help you gain the skills  you need to cope with stress, anxiety, depression, and other fears, worries, and emotions. To learn more about how mental health professionals can help you, click here.

Additional resources for veterans:

 

References
  1. Betteridge JD, Armbruster SP, Maydonovitch C, Veerappan GR. Inflammatory bowel disease prevalence by age, gender, race, and geographic location in the U.S. military health care population. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2013;19(7):1421-1427.
  2. Association of Continuity of Care with Outcomes in US Veterans with Inflammatory Bowel Disease,” JAMA Network OpenDOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.15899

  3. Elyse R Thakur, PhD, Shubhada Sansgiry, PhD, Jennifer R Kramer, MPH, PhD, Akbar K Waljee, MD, MSc, Jill K Gaidos, MD, Linda A Feagins, MD, Shail M Govani, MSc, Lilian Dindo, PhD, Hashem B El-Serag, MD,MPH, Jason K Hou, MD,MS, The Incidence and Prevalence of Anxiety, Depression, and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in a National Cohort of US Veterans With Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, Volume 26, Issue 9, September 2020, Pages 1423–1428, https://doi.org/10.1093/ibd/izz280

Resource Contributors and Program Supporters

 

The content and resources on this page were reviewed by the Veterans with IBD workgroup of the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation.

 

The resources on this page are supported through a sponsorship from Janssen, Pfizer, Inc., and Takeda.