After returning home from the Persian Gulf War, you may have experienced unexplained illnesses and symptoms that have no apparent link to specific Doctor Meeting With an Older Patientmedical conditions. These symptoms are often referred to as Gulf War Syndrome (GWS), “Desert Storm Disease,” and/or “Gulf War Illness.”

Initially, veterans who suffered these unexplained symptoms were believed to have problems psychologically, and their pain, fatigue, and cognitive issues weren't considered serious or real. However, researchers analyzed more than 100 studies focused on these illnesses, and the results revealed that exposure to certain chemicals could be linked to the symptoms veterans experienced. These chemicals included:

  • Pesticides
  • The nerve gas Sarin
  • An anti-nerve gas drug, pyridostigmine bromide

Gulf War veterans may qualify for benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), but there are challenges involved in filing a claim for GWS. Because the VA denied approximately 80 percent of claims by Gulf War veterans in 2015, veterans often have many questions about how to get medical evidence for these illnesses and the best way to file a claim. An attorney experienced in the VA application process can answer your questions and help with your claim.  

Questions About Unexplained Gulf War Illnesses and Conditions

Of the 700,000 soldiers who served in the Persian Gulf War from 1990–1991, approximately 30 percent developed GWS. The symptoms of GWS can be varied, debilitating, and different for every veteran; thus, they’re hard to classify with a single diagnosis. This is one reason why the VA prefers not to use the term "Gulf War Syndrome" and instead refers to the condition as a "chronic multisymptom illness" or an "undiagnosed illness." This makes it difficult to determine if a veteran's condition is related to service and eligible for VA benefits.

How Do I Know If I Have GWS?

There are many different symptoms of GWS, and no veteran experiences the condition the same way. However, here is a brief look at some of the typical symptoms of GWS:

  • Neurological issues
  • Memory problems
  • Arthritis and joint problems
  • Gastrointestinal and respiratory disorders
  • Rashes and skin conditions
  • Headaches and fatigue

Do Veterans Who Suffer From GWS Also Have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is definitely a condition associated with GWS. Veterans with CFS often experience long-term, severe exhaustion that isn’t related to another illness and doesn’t resolve after resting. To be diagnosed with CFS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the exhaustion must persist beyond six months and be present in combination with at least four other conditions, including headaches, memory loss, muscle pain, and tender neck or armpit lymph nodes.

If you’re a veteran seeking VA disability for CFS, you need medical evidence that shows that the new onset of fatigue is debilitating and has decreased your normal daily routine by 50 percent for at least six months. It’s also important that your medical reports show evidence that there is no other possible illness or condition that could produce similar symptoms.

Why Have I Returned Home From the Gulf War With Gastrointestinal (GI) Problems?

GI disorders present in a wide range of symptoms, including abdominal pain, dyspepsia, constipation, bloating, vomiting, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Many civilians have IBS; however, many combat soldiers were diagnosed with IBS after returning home from war. Of those veterans who served in the military and did not have IBS, approximately 20 percent returned from active duty in Afghanistan and Iraq and developed this disease. The VA presumed a service connection and defined new guidelines for benefit eligibility.

Veterans appear to have a greater risk for IBS because the condition is more prevalent in people with a high level of anxiety. This is especially true if that anxiety is associated with specific life events that are particularly stressful. Combat soldiers who experience trauma, life and death situations, and worry about being away from family and friends may suffer from stress that could increase their risk of developing IBS.

Am I Eligible for VA Disability?

Possibly, if you meet the following qualifications:

  • Proof that you served in active duty in Southwest Asia in the Red Sea; the Gulf of Aden; the Persian Gulf, or the Gulf of Oman; the neutral zone between Saudi Arabia and Iraq; or the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iraq, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, or Afghanistan. This active duty also includes flying in the airspace above these areas. If you served in Turkey, you're not considered a Gulf War veteran.
  • Documentation clarifying you're a veteran of the Persian Gulf War.
  • Medical records detailing your chronic disability and how it may qualify for benefits.
  • Proof you sustained the disability while on active duty.
  • Proof your disability is service-connected if it developed after you returned home.

Keep in mind that the VA must assign a 10 percent or higher rating to your disability before any consideration of benefits.

We Can Help

Obtaining VA benefits for GWS can be a challenge. If you’re a veteran who suffers from service-related symptoms and wonder if you're eligible for benefits; or if your GWS disability claim was denied, call Cuddigan Law at 402- 933-5405. We can help determine if you qualify for VA disability.


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