Celiac Disease and the Military
I wrote this post in 2016 after Ted Cruz, senator from Texas and candidate for President, said the quote above. Here’s the thing though. Celiac Disease disqualifies serving in the military. As mentioned in Amy Leger‘s article for Gluten-Free Living magazine, “A person with celiac disease and/or a gluten intolerance or sensitivity would not be eligible for entry into the military,” says Department of Defense spokeswoman Cynthia O. Smith. “While each branch of service has its own enlistment standards, they do need to follow medical policies dictated by the Department of Defense.”
There are cases of Celiac soldiers in the military. Some have kept it secret, as Leger discusses in her article mentioned above. Others, like Donald Andrasik, fully disclosed their autoimmune disease and “survived” deployment. (I highly suggest reading his book about his experiences.) Still others like Sgt. Kevin Mulloy served, even after getting named Soldier of the Year, was discharged after late realization of his Celiac Disease. This isn’t new. Over 40 years ago, the miliary discharged my father because of his Celiac Disease.
We’re Not Whiners
So if those with Celiac Disease aren’t supposed to be in the military, why did Cruz bring up “gluten-free MRE’s” at all? Because his comment doesn’t really have to do with Celiac Disease. It has everything to do with using the word as a derogatory term. A term to insinuate “weak” and “pain in the rear.” Our diet became the new “trendy” put down.
As I sat in my house the other night, the idea of gluten-free as an insult really struck me. It made me realize that “gluten-free” has now become a jab, a put-down, similar to the use of “retard” or “gay.”
An Education in Compassion
I used to take care of a young man. His name is Seth. He’s now in his 20’s, which is honestly a miracle. Seth can’t walk, talk, can’t swallow, or control his bodily functions.
I remember when I met him in college. I was in school to be an elementary school teacher, doing my observation hours in a kindergarten classroom. At the time, I felt anxious working with special needs kids. And here’s Seth, with an aide, making odd noises and being fed by a tube.
No One Quite Like Him
I’d never met a child like him before. I was definitely outside of my comfort zone. As weeks went by though, Seth grew on me. His classsmates adored him, he loved music, and always smiled. Although he couldn’t walk, he could stand if you held his hands, and he would dance with you forever. I still remember the deepness of his joy, the grandness of his smile. Such a blessing.
One day his mom, Laura, stopped in to help with a tube feeding. Here I was, dancing with her kid in the middle of the room. I mentioned that if she ever needed help with babysitting, that I’d be glad to help. Me, the girl who was unsure about dealing with special needs kids. She looked at me and said “really?”
Why I Never Use the “R” Word
From there I started visiting their house, providing respite care for Seth and his brother. I learned all about tube feedings, changed diapers, and helped his older brother with homework. I saw the struggles they endured every day, and watched as Laura volunteered for ARC. ARC previously stood for the “Association of Retarded Children.”
But once people started using the word “retard” to degrade those with development issues and use it as an every day word for slander, the group distanced itself from that word all together. I made sure that I personally stopped using that word. How could I not? A young child I loved had that word used against him in a negative way.
I found myself taking a stand against the word “retarded.” I’ve been an advocate for deleting the word “retard” from the lexicon for the past 15+ years. No one should be mocked for their genetic makeup.
Our Medical Needs do not Deserve Ridicule
Fast forward to now. Now I’m the one that’s being mocked. My medical needs require special attention, albeit ones that I can manage myself. Society derides my fellow Celiac Disease sisters and brother, because of our dietary restrictions. However, we’re not a group of weak “sissies.”
On the contrary, what some of us have had to go through to get a proper diagnosis and live safely requires more determination and strength than most people deal with every day. I think of young people like Max Domi, who overcame not only Type 1 Diabetes but also Celiac Disease, to be one of the top 5 new scorers in the National Hockey League.
Dear Celebrities, Come Up With a Better Punch Line
We should change the way we talk to each other. Maybe we should speak less, and listen more. Instead of people speaking with such heated passion, maybe we should be people of compassion. Maybe we need to “dance” with those who are different to understand the steps that they have to take every day?
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” You don’t have to be a follower of Jesus to see the wisdom in that.
What are your thoughts on how “gluten-free” is used in a negative way? How have you handled it? For more on this issue, read my piece on dealing with food allergy / dietary intolerance bullying. For more graphics to share, visit my post of 15 Truths about Celiac Disease We Wish You Knew.