Gulf War Syndrome and Eligibility for VA Benefits

Gulf War Syndrome, also known as “Desert Storm Diseases” or “Gulf War Illness,” is a collection of unexplained symptoms and medical conditions that affect many veterans who served in the Persian Gulf War, which took place from August 1990–February 1991. Government employees and journalists covering the war also complained of these symptoms. By 1999, over 100,000 cases of Gulf War Syndrome were reported.

Individuals described symptoms such as:

  • Mood changes, including depression, anxiety, and irritability
  • Chronic stress brought on by reliving military experiences
  • Cognitive issues, including decreased ability to concentrate and absorb information
  • Neurological issues, including numbness and tingling in the limbs
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Consistent headaches
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Hair loss
  • Skin rashes
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Asthma
  • Consistent coughing

Because these symptoms are apparent with other illnesses, including chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, Gulf War Syndrome (GWS) is hard to diagnose, and medical professionals haven’t identified one specific cause of it. But this is a real medical condition and, according to the federal government and the NAS Health and Medicine Division, it affects approximately one in three veterans of the 1991 Gulf War.

If you’re a veteran of the Gulf War, you may be eligible for benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). But because of the challenges involved to file a claim for Gulf War Syndrome, you may want a legal expert to help. Attorneys familiar with the VA rules and regulations can help you navigate the complicated process of filing for disability—especially for GWS.

Claims Are Often Denied for Gulf War Syndrome

There are certain illnesses the VA designates as “presumptive” if they occurred during service. This means the illness occurred, or an existing illness was aggravated, during service. For veterans who served in the Persian Gulf War, chronic symptoms that exist for six months or more are considered Shadow of a Soldier on a White Backgroundpresumptive if a soldier experienced them while serving in the Southwest Asia theater of military operations or through the end of 2016, and the symptoms are at least 10 percent disabling. Illnesses include fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal problems, chronic fatigue syndrome, and other undiagnosed/unexplained medical conditions. If you served in the Gulf War and are applying for VA disability, you may not have to prove a service-related connection for symptoms associated with these types of illnesses.

However, it’s important to know that in 2015, the VA denied over 80 percent—or four out of five—of those claims filed by veterans of the Gulf War with two primary presumptive conditions: chronic multi-symptom illness and undiagnosed illness. This denial rate increased approximately four percent from 2011. A reported 38 percent of claims for Gulf War Syndrome were denied completely, both for these illnesses and other conditions.

Yet, over half of those veterans whose claims were denied for Gulf War Syndrome were approved for other conditions. Some researchers believe this may show a bias on the part of the VA against approving Gulf War veterans’ claims for unexplained illnesses.

Making the Service Connection for Gulf War Syndrome

If you believe you suffer from Gulf War Syndrome or another chronic multi-symptom illness, here are some necessary considerations to establish eligibility for VA benefits:

  • You need to prove you are a Gulf War veteran
  • You have a qualifying chronic disability, which occurred while you were in service or developed when you returned home
  • Your condition has a 10 percent or higher disability rating

To qualify as a Gulf War veteran, you needed to be on active duty in Southwest Asia in the following countries or areas, including airspace above them:

  • The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iraq, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, or Afghanistan
  • The neutral zone between Saudi Arabia and Iraq
  • The Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Persian Gulf, or the Gulf of Oman

If you did not serve in the areas listed, or if you served in Turkey, the VA will not consider you a veteran of the Gulf War.

We Can Help

The VA application process to obtain benefits for Gulf War Syndrome can be challenging. If you are a veteran suffering symptoms you believe are associated with your time in the Gulf War, you may be eligible for VA disability benefits. If you've already applied and were denied benefits, there may still be options. Call Cuddigan Law at 402-933-5405 to schedule an evaluation to discuss your eligibility for compensation.

 

Sean D. Cuddigan
SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska