Celiac Disease & the Military

by | G+ Amy Leger

The US military is always in recruiting mode, but now is probably the time when many high schoolers nearing graduation are thinking whether being in the US Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines is in their future. 


I recently saw a question on Facebook asking whether you could be in the military and have celiac disease.  Last year, I looked into this question when I interviewed Cynthia O. Smith.  She is a US Department of Defense (DoD) spokesperson.  “A person with celiac disease and/or a gluten intolerance or sensitivity would not be eligible for entry into the military,” she told me.  

According to Smith, the Department of Defense has a directive on this subject. The Department of Defense Instruction (DoDI) 6130.03 “Medical Standards for Appointment, Enlistment or Induction in the Military Service” says “…individuals accepted [into military service] are ‘qualified, effective and able-bodied persons’ capable of successfully performing military duties”.

You might wonder “able-bodied? When I’m gluten-free I am most certainly able-bodied.”  But the DoD doesn’t see it that way. It says under the DoDI medical standards, “current or history of intestinal malabsorption syndromes including but not limited to celiac (disease) does not meet the [medical] standard.”

Plus, the military food might not be as accommodating.  Smith said, “all military members must be available for worldwide duty 24 hours a day without restriction or delay. This duty may be in remote areas lacking immediate and comprehensive medical support.”

If you still want to help serve your country, you can do it as a civilian.  Click here to learn more about those opportunities.



8 Responses to “Celiac Disease & the Military”

  1. I was wondering about this… hopefully this will change as understanding of celiac disease develps. Great article!

  2. Glad you liked the information Jennifer!

  3. Wow, interesting, I had no idea! I was actually wondering about this the other day as I was watching Survivor on TV and knowing I could never play since all they eat is rice and I have a high sensitivity to rice. Which got me thinking about other times when food sensitivities or an intolerance would mean ineligibility – but completely forgot about the military – though it makes total sense, esp. if you were stranded somewhere with only a few provisions.

  4. I am a Naval helicopter pilot, and I was just diagnosed with Celiac in June. Because I was already in the military, my diagnosis doesn’t affect my career, and I can stay in. BUT, they have no way of providing me gluten free meals while on deployment… So I am at a loss of how I am going to be able to safely perform my job while deployed! None of the Navy docs can tell me anything.

  5. Understood. That is a very difficult situation to be in. Sounds like there is a market out there for portable shelf-stable full GF meals — maybe the military would get that in? We love Go Picnic, but I doubt that would be enough to sustain a person for anything other than lunch or snack.

  6. Thanks for this. We have 4 kids, 3 with food allergies. Oldest was just starting to inquire about this. She will be heartbroken. There is a company starting to making gluten free MMRE

  7. Paleo Meals To Go is a great option.

  8. Look at it this way. Military personnel are serving in a remote area, with few supplies on hand. They do have some local food, but this is thick stews served with chewy bread(like good pizza dough; that was painful for most of my life)There is a firefight later. The Gluten intolerant soldier guy isn’t avalible for it because he currently has stomach cramps and is squating over a hole with diarrhea.(that is atleast my experience eating this kind of fare).

    That is the officially given reason.

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