Gluten-Free in Afghanistan: A Soldier's Story with Celiac Disease
Celiac disease poses enough challenges for patients. But, what if you suffer from celiac disease, have little to no control over your meals, and have to eat food that will make you sick because you need it to survive? Unfortunately, this is the reality for patients who have chosen to serve their country. For celiac and gluten intolerant soldiers, their challenges only grow when they go out on the frontlines.
No one understands these challenges better than Captain B. Donald Andrasik. After touring in Afghanistan, he wrote about his experience as a soldier with celiac disease in a book called, Gluten-Free in Afghanistan. His main goal was to raise awareness for celiac disease to help others recognize the need for the military to accommodate soldiers who need to be on a gluten-free diet for their well-being.
Today, many soldiers choose to hide their condition when starting their career with the military. In fact, the official policy from the Department of Defense is that those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities are not eligible for military service. However, some soldiers like Andrasik are able to manage their disease and live a relatively healthy life. Andrasik's military career and the stories of other soldiers with these disorders are proof that celiac disease and gluten sensitivities do not stop a soldier from protecting their country.
Andrasik, who was diagnosed with celiac disease in high school, was always vocal about his diagnosis and that didn't change when he enlisted. When he joined the National Guard, one of the questions he was asked was whether he knew his dietary requirements well enough to know what he could and could not eat. He happened to answer the question the right way, telling them that he was confident he can manage his condition and that he would not have any issues with malabsorption, which is a common symptom of celiac disease.
Though Andrasik passed the screening questions, there are many celiac patients who have been turned away because of their health. According to him, this could be because those prospects expressed that celiac disease would be a challenge for them. If the military noticed their reluctance, then they would not be able to join in the ranks.
So can be it done? Andrasik thinks so. After losing 40 pounds and risking his health by eating foods that weren't gluten-free, Andrasik doesn't see celiac disease as a hindrance. But he believes that the military needs to make accommodations for celiac disease.