Young depressed veteran with stomach issues sitting on her bed looking sad

How Gastrointestinal Health Can Be Linked to Mental Health

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Veterans with mental health issues may experience related gastrointestinal problems.


  • Veterans can benefit from understanding how gastrointestinal health can be linked to mental health.
  • The gastrointestinal tract hosts bacteria that create and deploy chemical messengers to the brain.
  • A damaged or malfunctioning digestive system can deprive the brain of signals that keep it healthy.
  • Veterans may be eligible for VA disability benefits based on gut and stomach issues stemming from a service-connected mental condition, as well as the other way around.

As surprising as it may sound, growing research points to how gastrointestinal health can be linked to mental health. Veterans with gut issues may suffer from psychological conditions, and vice versa. Given that vets are already at risk for service-related mental health conditions, establishing this connection can help make a case for VA disability benefits. 

At VetLaw, our VA-accredited veterans disability claims lawyers are ready to guide you through the paperwork and process of filing a claim to secure benefits, as we have done for vets nationwide for almost a decade. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us at (855) 651-1522 or fill out an online contact form to schedule a free consultation.

Poor Gastrointestinal Health Can Interfere With Chemicals That Influence the Brain

Like many systems in the body, the gastrointestinal tract and the brain can exhibit a reciprocal dynamic. While many veterans are unaware that their gut health can impact their psychology, the bacteria in the GI tract actually have a critical role in keeping the brain healthy.

At their core, most mental illnesses are the product of chemical imbalances or damage caused by physical trauma. For example, veterans with PTSD typically display an imbalance of serotonin and substance P in their brains. 

Serotonin, along with other neurotransmitters, are responsible for signaling the brain. Based on the levels of neurotransmitters the brain interacts with, functions like memory, as well as mood, are impacted. Over time, a surplus or deficit of a neurotransmitter can manifest as a mental condition, like depression

The Role of Gut Bacteria in Veterans’ Mental Health

In large part, neurotransmitters are regulated by gut bacteria. Researchers believe that the components for neurotransmitters are created in the GI tract by microbiota and that these bacteria can also build neurotransmitters from the ingredients they produce. 

If a veteran has a gastrointestinal condition that upsets the balance of bacteria in their digestive system, their gut bacteria may lose the ability to manufacture sufficient neurotransmitters to maintain a healthy chemical balance in the brain.

A gastrointestinal issue can also interfere with how the gut uses neurotransmitters to communicate with the brain.

Making a VA Disability Claim for a Mental Health Condition Linked to a Gastrointestinal Problem 

When a veteran suffers or develops a service-related injury, such as Ulcerative Colitis from exposure to AFFF firefighting foam, additional health issues that arise from that condition may also be eligible for VA disability benefits.

For vets to obtain benefits for a Secondary Condition, there has to be evidence that the primary service-related disability caused the second.

Establishing a Basis For Compensation With the VA

There are several types of gastrointestinal health issues the VA recognizes as disabilities. For example, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a presumptive condition for Gulf War POWs and veterans. Even if your GI issue is not a presumptive condition, you may still be entitled to VA disability benefits.

After verifying a medical nexus between your gastrointestinal condition and your military service, you would then need to establish a link to your secondary mental health condition.

That means showing your mental illness is a product of your service-related GI condition, or that your gastrointestinal problem made your existing mental illness worse.

The science behind gastrointestinal health’s influence on mental health is still relatively new, so veterans should expect the VA to treat their claim with skepticism. Additionally, keep in mind that mental illnesses are complex and may have multiple contributing causes.

A dedicated and experienced veterans disability claims attorney can offer helpful input on how to pursue benefits or appeal a VA denial.

Get In Touch With VetLaw’s VA-Accredited Team About Your Disability Benefits Claim

As discussed, proving your gastrointestinal health can be linked to mental health issues may be tricky. If the VA has denied your claim, don’t just submit an appeal and hope for the best- recruit the best team of veterans disability appeals attorneys to lend their expertise to your claim. 

At VetLaw, our mission is to provide disabled veterans with the legal support they need to overcome obstacles to accessing VA disability benefits. Your satisfaction is of the utmost importance to us. Our client reviews are a point of pride for us because they reflect our commitment to our goals.

VetLaw is a leading firm for veterans disability claims in the U.S. because we are thorough, communicative, and knowledgeable. If we can’t help you secure VA disability benefits, you don’t owe us anything. We encourage you to reach out to our team at (855) 651-1522 or fill out an online contact form to schedule a free consultation.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do VA disability ratings work for mental conditions?

Disability ratings for mental conditions differ from ratings for physical conditions in two key ways. First, the VA does not issue separate disability ratings by diagnosis for mental conditions as it does for physical conditions. 

Instead, a vet receives one disability rating that accounts for all of the mental conditions they suffer from. Second, the VA uses the following increments for disability ratings for mental conditions: 0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, 70%, and 100%.

Which neurotransmitters are linked to common mental illnesses among veterans?

Veterans should still seek medical evaluations from their providers to determine the causes of their mental illness, as individual biology and experiences can factor in. In general, imbalances of these neurotransmitters can have a harmful effect on a veteran’s mental health:

How can a mental health condition impact gastrointestinal health?

Veterans dealing with mental health conditions commonly experience concurrent gut or stomach issues. For example, a brain plagued by anxiety may signal to the stomach that it is in crisis due to a perceived threat.

This compromises the normal digestive process. The brain is essentially yanking resources and redistributing them to other parts of the body.

As a result, a veteran may experience constipation, cramping, diarrhea, vomiting, and other uncomfortable symptoms in the moment. Over time, the GI tract may sustain damage from this imbalance, including problems like ulcers.

Our team can help determine if you qualify for VA disability benefits for a gastrointestinal issue caused by a service-related mental condition.