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Helping Heroes Handle IBD

For many veterans, their greatest battle isn’t against enemy forces. It’s a challenge that lies within their own bodies.

An estimated 66,000 veterans live with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Whether diagnosed while in service or after discharge, it’s normal to have questions about the disease, need resources to navigate care options and want to connect with others who understand what you are experiencing.

Regardless of your specific circumstances, learning to be an advocate for your health can take some time as you complete your transition process into the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system.

Being a proactive participant in your health care can help you in your journey. Arm yourself with more information about IBD and your options with these tips from the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.

Learn About IBD

No matter where you are in your disease journey, you may have questions about Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Focus groups led by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation revealed many veterans living with IBD want to learn more about their diet and how to manage their disease symptoms.

Living with IBD means paying special attention to what you eat. Your diet needs to include enough calories and nutrients to keep you healthy and avoid malnourishment. Some of the best ways to maintain adequate nutrition are to work with your healthcare team, seek help from a dietitian, make healthy food choices and avoid foods that make your symptoms worse.

Many people with IBD also take medications on a regular basis to manage symptoms and help prevent flares, even when the disease is in remission. Patients may sometimes use complementary therapies together with traditional medicine; however, it is important to remember complementary therapies should not replace the treatment prescribed by your doctor.

Continuous Care

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

Working on an ongoing basis with a primary care doctor and gastroenterologist (ideally an IBD specialist) allows you to focus on targeted IBD and preventive care such as immunizations, cancer screenings and bone health monitoring.

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

  • Seek help from a social worker, care coordinator or patient navigator.

  • Adhere to recommendations for follow-up visits with your healthcare team.

  • Keep a list of all prescribed and over-the-counter medications in your smartphone or on paper.

  • Sign up for the VA’s health app, Myhealthevet, to communicate with your healthcare team, access your records, request prescription refills and access other helpful tools.

Mental Health and Emotional Wellness

People with IBD are 2-3 times more likely to experience anxiety and depression than the general population, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.

However, there are ways to help you cope with these feelings and concerns.

Coping tips include engaging in activities like exercise, relaxation techniques and meditation. You might also consider seeking help from a mental health professional who can assist you with acquiring skills to cope with your fears, worries and emotions.

To find more resources, including perspectives from other veterans managing IBD, visit, where you can also find a link to a support group for veterans with IBD on Facebook.

Manage Your Menu

It’s not always easy knowing what foods best fuel your body, especially when you have Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. Your diet and nutrition are a major part of life with IBD, yet there is no single diet that works for everyone.

Nutrition affects not just your IBD symptoms, but also your overall health and well-being. Without proper nutrients, the symptoms of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis can cause serious complications, including nutrient deficiencies, weight loss and malnutrition.

While there is no one-size-fits-all for meal planning, these tips can help guide you toward better daily nutrition:

  • Eat small, frequent meals daily.

  • Stay hydrated with water, broth, tomato juice or a rehydration solution. Drink enough to keep your urine light yellow or clear.

  • Drink slowly and avoid using a straw, which can cause you to ingest air that may cause gas.

  • Prepare meals in advance and keep your kitchen stocked with foods you tolerate well.

  • Use simple cooking techniques such as boiling, grilling, steaming and poaching.

  • Use a food journal to keep track of what you eat and any symptoms you experience.


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