Because of the conditions of their service, Afghanistan veterans are at an increased risk of several health problems, such as infectious diseases, Gulf War Syndrome, and illnesses related to Afghanistan burn pit exposure. The VA has listed several of these health conditions as presumptive service connections, allowing Afghanistan veterans to apply for disability benefits without requiring them to show evidence of a direct connection between their condition and their service.
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In this article about Afghanistan presumptive conditions:
- Who are Afghanistan veterans?
- Presumptive conditions for Afghanistan veterans
- VA benefits for exposure to Afghanistan burn pits
- Gulf War Syndrome
- Infectious diseases common in Afghanistan veterans
- VA benefits for non-presumptive disabilities for Afghanistan veterans
- How our VA disability lawyers can help
Who are Afghanistan veterans?
Afghanistan veterans served in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) any time after it officially began. Afghanistan veterans also make up a portion of Gulf War veterans. The VA defines a Gulf War veteran as anyone who served on active duty in the Southwest Asia theater of operations, Afghanistan, Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, or Jordan. Afghanistan veterans’ earliest date for service connection through the VA is Sept. 19, 2001.
Operation Enduring Freedom
Operation Enduring Freedom was the U.S. response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack in New York City. It officially began on October 7, 2001, with bombing strikes in Afghanistan targeting al-Qaeda and Taliban forces. The U.S. officially ended Operation Enduring Freedom on December 28, 2014, though it kept some troops in Afghanistan until August 30, 2021.
More than 800,000 American military service members have served in Afghanistan since then, until the U.S. made a final withdrawal of troops on August 30, 2021. While there, hundreds of thousands of these service members developed health problems.
Presumptive conditions for Afghanistan veterans
The VA has since established that the unique circumstances of these deployments to Afghanistan can be connected to several specific health conditions. Due to this, the VA developed a list of presumptive service connections for “Gulf War and Post 9/11 Veterans.” The VA will automatically connect these presumptive conditions to a veteran’s service in Afghanistan without requiring any additional evidence or medical nexus.
The list of presumptive service connections for Afghanistan veterans includes conditions from exposure to burn pits, those related to Gulf War Syndrome, and nine Gulf War infectious diseases.
VA benefits for exposure to Afghanistan burn pits
The U.S. military used open-air burn pits in Afghanistan to dispose of on-site waste. These large pits were the U.S. military’s spots to burn paint, rubber, metal, chemicals, trash, medical and human waste, petroleum, and more.
“During the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. Military used open-air burn pits to dispose of all trash and waste,” said VA disability lawyer Krystal Lechner. “Anywhere that there was a base, there was a burn pit. The most widely publicized and the largest burn pit even burned up to several thousands of tons of waste a day.”
When those materials burn, they release toxins that can have devastating effects on health. It can take a while for effects to appear, so veterans may not immediately realize they are suffering from their exposure to Afghanistan burn pits.
Afghanistan burn pit presumptive conditions
There are 33 different presumptive conditions related to Afghanistan burn pits. Veterans who served in Afghanistan after September 11, 2001, and now suffer from any of these 33 disabilities should receive a presumptive service connection from the VA.
|Types of Cancer||Other Diseases|
|Adenocarcinoma of the trachea||Asthma that was diagnosed after service|
|Adenosquamous carcinoma of the lung||Chronic bronchitis|
|Brain cancer||Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)|
|Gastrointestinal cancer of any type||Chronic rhinitis|
|Head cancer of any type||Constrictive or obliterative bronchiolitis|
|Large cell carcinoma of the lung||Granulomatous disease|
|Lymphatic cancer of any type||Interstitial lung disease|
|Lymphoma of any type||Pleuritis|
|Neck cancer of any type||Sarcoidosis|
|Reproductive cancer of any type|
|Respiratory cancer of any type|
|Salivary gland-type tumors of the lung|
|Salivary gland-type tumors of the trachea|
|Sarcomatoid carcinoma of the lung|
|Squamous cell carcinoma of the larynx|
|Squamous cell carcinoma of the trachea|
|Typical and atypical carcinoid of the lung|
If you were exposed to burn pits in Afghanistan and now have any of the listed conditions, you can contact a VA-accredited attorney to apply for benefits, even if you have been denied before. If the VA denied your claim in the past, it’s possible your condition might not have yet been added to the presumptive list.
Gulf War Syndrome
Of the 650,000 veterans who served in the Gulf War theater of operations from 1990 to 1991, between 175,000 and 250,000 began reporting symptoms ranging from fatigue, rashes, and muscle and joint pain to gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and respiratory issues after they returned home.
A federal advisory committee report found that the symptoms were “a result of neurotoxic exposures during Gulf War deployment.” As a result, the VA created the title “Gulf War Illness,” to make it easier for veterans to overcome obstacles in seeking benefits for their medically unexplained conditions. Gulf War Illness is more commonly referred to as “Gulf War Syndrome,” and some Afghanistan veterans may call it “Afghanistan War Syndrome.” However, all three titles refer to the same concept.
“While mounting evidence points to chemical exposures, and nerve agent inoculants, the ultimate cause is not well understood,” said VA disability lawyer Zack Evans.
Symptoms of medically unexplained chronic multi-symptom illnesses like Gulf War Syndrome may include:
- Unexplained rashes or other dermatological symptoms
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain
- Neurological signs and symptoms
- Neuropsychological signs or symptoms
- Signs or symptoms involving the upper or lower respiratory system
- Sleep disturbances
- Gastrointestinal signs or symptoms
- Cardiovascular signs or symptoms
- Abnormal weight loss
- Menstrual disorders
“The presumptive service connection is so important with Gulf War Syndrome claims because there’s no nexus requirement,” Evans said. “It means you don’t have to have a doctor say that your illness is related to your time and service. So the VA will allow you to skip that element of proof.”
VA benefits for Gulf War Syndrome
The VA doesn’t have a rating specifically for “Gulf War Syndrome” because symptoms vary.
The VA presumes that several multi-symptom chronic conditions are also related to serving in Afghanistan if they have persisted for six months or more and are rated at least 10%:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Functional gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), dyspepsia, and abdominal pain syndrome
- Undiagnosed illnesses with symptoms that may include but are not limited to: abnormal weight loss, fatigue, cardiovascular disease, muscle and joint pain, headache, menstrual disorders, neurological and psychological problems, skin conditions, respiratory disorders, and sleep disturbances
To receive VA benefits for Gulf War Syndrome, veterans may need to complete a compensation and pension (C&P) exam. For this type of C&P exam, a medical professional will review evidence, ask questions, and perform medical tests to determine the severity of your symptoms and assign a rating. Because veterans with Gulf War Syndrome often have multiple symptoms, they may need to complete more than one C&P exam.
Infectious diseases common in Afghanistan veterans
Afghanistan veterans and other Gulf War veterans are also more likely to become infected with several diseases linked to the unique conditions of their service.
The National Academy of Sciences has listed nine infectious illnesses related to Gulf War veterans’ military service. Afghanistan veterans with these diagnoses are eligible for VA disability benefits with a presumptive service connection.
Brucellosis and Campylobacter jejuni in Afghanistan veterans
Brucellosis and Campylobacter jejuni are bacterial diseases caused by eating raw dairy products or contact with infected animals. Symptoms of Brucellosis include joint and muscle pain, profuse sweating, and fever. Campylobacter jejuni can also be caused by unsafe drinking water. Its symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. Veterans with either disease must be rated at least 10% disabling within one year of military separation to be eligible for VA benefits.
Malaria, Visceral Leishmaniasis, and West Nile Virus in Afghanistan veterans
Malaria, Visceral Leishmaniasis, and West Nile Virus are all parasitic diseases spread to humans. West Nile Virus and Malaria symptoms both include chills, fever, headache, muscle pain, nausea, and sweating. Visceral Leishmaniasis symptoms also include weight loss and enlargements of the spleen and liver. West Nile Virus must be at least 10% disabling within one year of military separation to be eligible for VA benefits, while Visceral Leishmaniasis has no limiting time or severity requirements to be a presumptive condition.
Q Fever and Tuberculosis in Afghanistan veterans
Coxiella burnetii is the bacteria that causes Q Fever. People can become infected by inhaling dust from infected animal waste or milk. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, headaches, and nausea. In chronic cases, another symptom is inflammation of the heart. This condition must be at least 10% disabling within one year of military separation to qualify for VA benefits.
Mycobacterium tuberculosis is the bacteria that causes tuberculosis (TB). TB affects the lungs but can also affect the brain, kidneys, and spine. Symptoms include chest pain, cough, fever, and weight loss. There are no limiting time or severity requirements for a presumptive condition for VA benefits for TB.
Nontyphoid Salmonella and Shigella in Afghanistan veterans
Nontyphoid Salmonella and Shigella are bacteria that cause gastrointestinal infections. Symptoms can include diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. A veteran’s condition must be at least 10% disabling within one year of military separation to be eligible for VA benefits.
“They did good by me. I am sick, and the VA was stalling. They got me 100% permanent and total.“
VA benefits for non-presumptive disabilities for Afghanistan veterans
Afghanistan veterans also experience many other injuries, illnesses, and other ailments related to their service that the VA has not listed as presumptive conditions. Those veterans may still seek disability benefits but must submit evidence to prove their illness is connected to their military service.
Afghanistan veterans who cannot hold down a job due to their service-connected conditions may also want to apply for total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU) benefits through the VA.
How our VA disability lawyers can help
If you are an Afghanistan veteran and have service-connected health conditions, you may be owed disability compensation from the VA. Our team has helped thousands of veterans across the country appeal incorrect decisions from the VA. . Call us today to get started.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
The VA’s list of presumptive service connections for Gulf War and Post-9/11 veterans includes Afghanistan veterans. The VA should automatically connect conditions on this list to a veteran’s service in Afghanistan without requiring any additional medical nexus. The list of presumptive service connections for Afghanistan veterans includes conditions from exposure to burn pits, those related to Gulf War Syndrome, and nine Gulf War infectious diseases.
While there is no illness labeled by the VA as “Afghanistan War Syndrome,” Afghanistan veterans may be diagnosed with Gulf War Syndrome since they are considered Gulf War veterans. The VA defines a Gulf War veteran as anyone who served on active duty in specific locations in Africa and Central and South Asia, including Afghanistan.