Soon after the Persian Gulf War, the American Legion Service Officers received complaints from veterans about medical issues they sustained while serving in Southwest Asia. They suffered from a broad range of unexplained illnesses and symptoms, including skin rashes, memory loss, joint and muscle pain, fatigue, and headaches.

However, both the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) dismissed these symptoms as being psychological in nature or stress-related. Some of these veterans were prescribed mood altering drugs such as Prozac, and others were accused of feigning their illness or exaggerating their condition. 

A major issue for Gulf War veterans was that they suffered from a cluster of symptoms which could not be easily diagnosed or attributed to a known disease or condition. Ultimately, these symptoms were referred to as Gulf War Syndrome (GWS) or “Desert Storm Disease,” and/or “Gulf War Illness.”

In 2009, the VA took steps to provide benefits for veterans of the Gulf War suffering from what it preferred to call "chronic multisymptom illnesses" or an "undiagnosed illnesses." This also included Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

While it’s possible for Gulf War veterans to qualify for VA benefits, getting a claim approved isn’t always easy. Because many GWS claims are denied, it may be helpful to hire an attorney experienced with the VA application process, especially one who understands GWS.

Three Symptom Categories the VA Rates for Gulf War Syndrome

GWS comprises a cluster of symptoms that are categorized into three main areas: undiagnosed illnesses, multisymptom illnesses, and presumptive disorders. Here's a brief look at these categories.

Undiagnosed Illnesses

It’s possible for a veteran with one or more of the following unexplained illnesses to qualify for VA benefits through a presumptive service connection:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Psychological and neurological issues
  • Rashes and skin conditions
  • Respiratory problems
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Headaches

Multisymptom Illnesses

The following conditions are included in the multisymptom illnesses category:

  • CFS
  • FMS
  • Functional gastrointestinal disorders, including: IBS, bloating, constipation, abdominal pain, dysphagia, vomiting, and dyspepsia.

Presumptive Disorders

Those veterans who served in Afghanistan may have an infectious disease that the VA considers service-connected:

  • Campylobacter jejuni
  • Coxiella burnetii (Q fever)
  • Burcellosis
  • Malaria
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis
  • Shigella
  • Nontyphoid salmonella
  • Visceral leishmaniasis
  • West Nile Virus

Except for mycobaterum tuberculosis and visceral leishmaniasis, each of these diseases must have a 10 percent rating or more within one year of service.

Disability for Gulf War Syndrome

A successful VA disability claim must be able to prove that you were a veteran honorably discharged; that you have a current disability; that the disability occurred while in service; and there is a connection between the service event and your current disability.

However, to qualify as a Gulf War veteran, you must also prove:

  • You served in active duty in Southwest Asia in the following countries or areas and/or airspace above them:
    • The neutral zone between Saudi Arabia and Iraq
    • The Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Persian Gulf, or the Gulf of Oman
    • The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iraq, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, or Afghanistan.
  • You served in Afghanistan on or after September 19, 2001.
  • Your unexplained illnesses or condition occurred during active service prior to December 31, 2016.
  • Your disability has a rating of 10 percent or higher.
  • Your disability has no other cause other than your service in the Southwest Asia theater or Afghanistan.
  • Your disability has been on-going for six months or longer.

We Can Help

The attorneys at Cuddigan Law understand how difficult it is for veterans of the Gulf War to get their GWS claims approved. They know that approximately 80 percent of GWS claims made in 2015 were denied. If you're a veteran suffering symptoms you believe are associated with your military service in the Gulf War; or if you've applied and were denied benefits, 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