Getting Veterans (VA) Disability for “Gulf War Syndrome”
Since 1990, Gulf War veterans have demonstrated a higher-than-average rate of developing certain symptoms not explained by any specific medical condition, often referred to as “Gulf War Syndrome.” These symptoms include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Sustained and debilitating fatigue
- Headaches and migraines
- Joint pain and discomfort
- Difficulty sleeping
- Problems with memory and cognition
- Digestive ailments
If you are a Gulf War veteran and later experienced any of the above symptoms, you may be eligible to receive veterans (VA) disability compensation for a medically unexplained chronic multi-symptom illness (MUCMI) or an undiagnosed illness, both of which are included under the umbrella term “Gulf War Syndrome.”
When and Where Was the Persian Gulf War?
For VA purposes, the Persian Gulf War refers to service in the Southwest Asia theater of military operations beginning on August 2, 1990. At present time, the period for the Persian Gulf War extends to December 31, 2021, which means that service members who served in the Southwest Asia theater of military operations after September 2001 are eligible for benefits under VA’s Gulf War presumption (more on the presumption under “VA’s Gulf War Presumption”).
VA considers service in the following countries and locations as Gulf War service:
- Gulf of Aden
- Gulf of Oman
- Saudi Arabia
- The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.)
- Waters of Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and the Arabian Sea
- The neutral zone between Iraq and Saudi Arabia
- The airspace above these locations
Veterans of Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield meet the criteria for qualifying service during the Persian Gulf War, as do veterans of Operation New Dawn (OND), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and in some instances, Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).
PGW Environmental Hazards
Among the environmental hazards during PGW were: smoke from over 750 Kuwaiti oil well fires; pesticides/insecticide use, including personal flea collars; indigenous infectious diseases, such as leishmaniasis; solvents and fuels; ingestion of pyridostigmine bromide tablets on a daily basis as a nerve gas antidote; the combined effect of multiple vaccines; and inhalation of ultra-fine-grain sand particles. Veterans began reporting chronic debilitating medical symptoms that typically included some combination of chronic headaches, cognitive difficulties, widespread bodily pain, unexplained fatigue, chronic diarrhea, respiratory problems, and other abnormalities.
Overall, veterans were exposed to a variety of hazardous toxins and harmful environmental conditions. Not all of the exposures are known at this time, but research continues to be conducted.
Research on Gulf War Syndrome
As mentioned above, VA and other independent researchers continue to investigate how service in the Gulf War is linked to illnesses Gulf War veterans have experienced. As of now, research includes the following:
- Multiyear health survey of Gulf War-era veterans to find out how their health has changed over time
- Studies by VA’s War Related Illness and Injury Study Center
VA also formally contracts with the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to scientifically review the evidence for possible connections between Gulf War veterans’ illnesses and exposure to environmental agents or preventive medicine during service. This division also researches the best treatments for these illnesses.
GWI Study Finds Gulf War Veterans Remain at Risk of Gulf War Syndrome Years Later
The studies above have addressed how Gulf War service may be connected to certain illnesses and negative health outcomes in veterans; however, few studies have examined the changes over time in the prevalence of these conditions. Understanding the burden of chronic multisymptom illness/Gulf War illness (CMI/GWI) as Gulf War veterans age is critical to estimating current and future health care needs. As such, the most recent study, “Prevalence of Chronic Multisymptom Illness (CMI)/Gulf War Illness (GWI) Over Time Among Millennium Cohort Participants, 2001-2016” aimed to address this matter further.
The study found that CMI/GWI prevalence increased substantially over the study period among all groups of veterans (i.e., Gulf War veterans, Gulf War era veterans, and non-era personnel). However, Gulf War veterans had the highest prevalence of CMI/GWI across the study period. Specifically, prevalence of CMI/GWI was 28.4 percent among Gulf War veterans, 18.7 percent among era personnel, and 23 percent among non-era personnel. Furthermore, Gulf War veterans without CMI/GWI at baseline were likely to screen positive later in the study period.
This study has the longest follow-up and most assessments of any published study examining CMI/GWI among Gulf War veterans to date. Gulf War veterans’ increased risk of CMI/GWI persisted across the study period (i.e., 15 years), highlighting the continued importance of screening and improving treatment options among this population.
VA Service Connection for Gulf War Syndrome
Again, as veterans were coming back from service in the Southwest Asia theater of operations, they were experiencing unexplained illness and symptoms. VA then created a presumption for Gulf War veterans under 38 C.F.R. 3.317. The presumption for Gulf War veterans is intended to make it easier for veterans to obtain service connection for conditions they develop due to their service in the Gulf War.
The presumption holds that if a veteran served in the locations listed above in the section “What Is the Persian Gulf War?” between August 2, 1990 and December 31, 2021, and they experience certain signs or symptoms, VA will presume that the veteran’s Gulf War service caused their condition.
The presumption includes medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illnesses (MUCMIs), undiagnosed illnesses, and certain infectious diseases.
VA’s Persian Gulf War Regulations
After the 1991 Gulf War, Congress enacted statutory directives at § 38 U.S.C. 1117, which addressed a range of disabilities in veterans who served in Southwest Asia. VA then promulgated its regulations at 38 C.F.R. § 3.317. The law provides for presumptive service connection for a “qualifying chronic disability.” A qualifying chronic disability means a chronic disability resulting from “an undiagnosed illness” or a MUCMI defined by a cluster of signs or symptoms.
The term “undiagnosed illness” is meant to cover a range of symptoms and conditions that appear to be unrelated or do not conform to a formal diagnosis. An undiagnosed illness can be shown through objective evidence that a veteran has a symptom(s) of which a doctor cannot figure out the cause or diagnose. VA lists the following symptoms as examples of undiagnosed illnesses:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Unexplained fatigue
- Cardiovascular ailments
- Muscle or joint pain
- Menstrual disorders
- Psychological or neurological problems
- Respiratory disturbances
- Difficulty sleeping
- Skin conditions
Medically Unexplained Chronic Multisymptom Illnesses (MUCMI)
A medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illness (MUCMI) is a diagnosed condition without a conclusive pathophysiology or etiology that is characterized by clusters of symptoms. Examples of MUCMIs include:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Functional gastrointestinal disorders
There are also numerous “infectious diseases” endemic to Southwest Asia covered under these laws including: (1) Brucellosis; (2) Campylobacter jejuni; (3) Coxiella burnetii (Q fever); (4) Malaria; (5) Mycobacterium tuberculosis; (6) Non-typhoid Salmonella; (7) Shigella; (8) Visceral leishmaniosis; and (9) West Nile virus.
VA’s History of Adjudicating Gulf War Syndrome Claims
In June 2017, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report which found that VA denies more than 80 percent of veterans’ disability claims related to the Gulf War. The report also found that Gulf War Illness claims have longer wait times, and that there is a poor understanding of Gulf War Illness among VA staff. Presumptions are meant to ease the process of service connection, however, the report found that the approval rate for Gulf War Illness claims is three times lower than all other medical issues. VA employees and examiners do not properly understand Gulf War illnesses, resulting in frequent denials of Gulf War claims.
VA Disability Benefit Amounts for Gulf War Syndrome
VA determines disability ratings depending on the severity of your symptoms and how those symptoms affect your ability to function in daily life.
VA uses a rating system to determine the amount of your benefit. All service-connected disabilities receive a rating, which are then combined into the veteran’s combined rating. A combined rating ranges between 0 and 100 percent, in increments of 10 percent. However, to be eligible for benefits for “Gulf War Syndrome,” you must receive a 10 percent disability rating or higher.
A rating of 30 percent or higher qualifies you for additional benefits for any dependent living in your home (e.g., spouse, children, dependent parents).
Why You Should Hire A Lawyer To Fight For VA Disability for Gulf War Syndrome
Gulf War-related claims are notoriously complex for their myriad nuances. Despite the existence of the Gulf War-related illness governing regulations being in place for about 20 years, VA has yet to streamline a process to correctly apply these rules to veterans’ claims. Thus, VA does not have a perfect, cut-and-dry process for granting or denying benefits. There is a lot of subjectivity involved, and if you lack experience in the process, you risk a denial despite having a valid, service-related condition.
The attorneys at Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD have dedicated their careers to VA disability cases, and through helping veterans like yourself win the benefits they deserve, have become intimately familiar with the appeals process. We do all the hard work so you can focus on your health and family.
Let our VA disability claims advocates put their experience and knowledge to work for you. We offer free consultations to determine if we are able to assist you. Contact us today at 401-331-6300.
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