The term Gulf War Illness–commonly called Gulf War Syndrome–is used to describe a range of chronic, unexplained symptoms affecting Persian Gulf War veterans. Although Gulf War Syndrome does not have a diagnostic code in the VA disability rating schedule, you can receive VA disability benefits if you are a Gulf War veteran who is diagnosed with certain conditions.
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In this article about VA disability for Gulf War Syndrome
- Is it Gulf War Syndrome or Gulf War Illness?
- Gulf War Syndrome diagnosis
- VA disability claims for Gulf War Syndrome
- Health problems caused by Persian Gulf sand
- Free Gulf War Registry health exam
- Applying for VA Disability benefits for Gulf War Syndrome
Is it Gulf War Syndrome or Gulf War Illness?
When veterans who served in Iraq and Kuwait in the early 90s returned from deployment, they began reporting a variety of unexplained symptoms at increasing rates. The symptoms ranged from fatigue, rashes, and muscle and joint pain to gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and respiratory issues.
Veterans and the medical community commonly call it “Gulf War Syndrome,” but the VA refers to it as Gulf War Illness. You might also hear it called a MUCMI, which is a term used for any medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illness.
More than 650,000 troops served in the Gulf War theater of operations from 1990 to 1991. Between 175,000 and 250,000 veterans of that war have experienced Gulf War Syndrome.
A federal advisory committee report found that the symptoms are “a result of neurotoxic exposures during Gulf War deployment” and that many symptoms do not improve over time.
The following is an incomplete list of symptoms reported by Gulf War veterans:
- 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
Who are Gulf War veterans?
In the years since the first Gulf War, the VA has expanded its definition of a Gulf War veteran.
You are considered a Gulf War veteran if you served in the following locations from Aug. 2, 1990, to the present.
- Saudi Arabia
- The neutral zone between Iraq and Saudi Arabia
- The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.)
- Gulf of Aden
- Gulf of Oman
- Waters of the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, and the Red Sea
- The airspace above these locations
Gulf War Syndrome diagnosis
Many veterans with Gulf War Syndrome have similar stories that involve conflicting medical evidence and difficulty receiving a definitive diagnosis.
“The veterans who are dealing with these ailments don’t really have a good explanation from a medical professional as to exactly what has been going on with them since they returned home from the military,” said Zack Evans, a VA-certified disability benefits attorney.
“Maybe your primary care physician doesn’t give you a migraine diagnosis for your headaches or suggests it could be migraines without giving you a hard diagnosis,” he said. “And let’s say you went to see a specialist, and he thought maybe there was a neurological component to your headache problem, and he sent you for some MRIs and your MRIs came back negative.”
Evans said in this example the veteran might be sent to another specialist, then another, and on and on with no result.
The challenge for a veteran seeking VA disability benefits is trying to get a doctor to make a connection between symptoms and service–a concept called the medical nexus.
The medical nexus requirement is not necessary, however, when the VA acknowledges a list of presumptive conditions related to a particular area of service, which it has done with Gulf War Illness.
VA disability claims for Gulf War Syndrome
The VA presumes that if the following symptoms are related to Gulf War service if they have persisted for 6 or more months and are at least 10 percent disabling:
- 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
The conditions must have appeared during active duty in the locations previously mentioned in this article. There is no limit to the degree of the disability nor is there an end date for when such claims can be filed.
“The reason that presumptive service connection is so important with Gulf War Syndrome claims is that 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. The VA will allow you to skip that element of proof.”
Multiple competing diagnoses can also be favorable for a veteran as it shows disagreement on the nature of the condition. This essentially allows for an argument that the symptoms remain unexplained or inadequately diagnosed. The lack of adequate research on Gulf War Illness is one of the reasons medical professionals often disagree on the diagnosis.
A good lawyer with experience in handling Gulf War claims will understand these nuances and how to review medical evidence within the context of conditions unique to Gulf War veterans.
Fibromyalgia appears in the musculoskeletal system section of the Schedule of Ratings. It is described as “widespread musculoskeletal pain and tender points.” It is rated at 40%, 20%, and 10% depending on the frequency of symptoms.
|Constant symptoms that don’t respond to therapy||40%|
|Symptoms come and go but are present more than one-third of the time||20%|
|Requires continuous medication for control||10%|
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome (diagnostic code 6354) is listed under infectious diseases, immune disorders, and nutritional deficiencies in the Schedule of Ratings. It is described as “debilitating fatigue, cognitive impairments (such as inability to concentrate, forgetfulness, or confusion), or a combination of other signs and symptoms.”
|Nearly constant symptoms and so severe as to restrict routine daily activities almost completely||100%|
|Nearly constant and restrict routine daily activities to less than 50 percent of the pre-illness level; |
or symptoms that come and go resulting in periods of incapacitation of at least six weeks total duration per year
|Nearly constant symptoms and restrict routine daily activities from 50 to 75 percent of the pre-illness level; |
or symptoms that come and go resulting in periods of incapacitation of at least four but less than six weeks total duration per year
|Nearly constant and restrict routine daily activities by less than 25 percent of the pre-illness level; |
or symptoms that come and go resulting in periods of incapacitation of at least two but less than four weeks total duration per year
|Symptoms that come and go but result in periods of incapacitation of at least one but less than two weeks total duration per year; |
or symptoms controlled by continuous medication
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
The diagnostic code for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is 7319. The VA rates severe IBS (more or less constant abdominal stress) at 30%, moderate IBS (frequent episodes of abdominal stress) at 10%, and mild IBS (occasional episodes of abdominal stress) at 0%.
Health problems caused by Persian Gulf sand
Veterans who served in the Persian Gulf region have also experienced symptoms caused by continuous exposure to sand. Gulf War vets have reported rashes on the skin, varieties of pneumonia, and infections to wounds.
While there aren’t VA ratings for these general conditions, the VA would rate the condition based on the diagnostic code that most closely matches the veteran’s symptoms.
For example, if exposure to sand dust caused eczema or a skin condition similar to eczema, the general rating schedule for skin conditions would be used to assign a rating. The ratings on this schedule range from 0% to 60% based on the amount of skin affected and the frequency of therapy needed to treat the condition.
Free Gulf War Registry health exam
If you are considered a Gulf War veteran, as described earlier in this article, you are eligible for a free Gulf War Registry health exam. It includes an exposure and medical history, laboratory tests, and a physical exam.
You do not need to be enrolled in VA’s health care system to receive the free exam. If you have already had your exam but are experiencing new problems, you are eligible for additional registry exams.
Applying for VA Disability benefits for Gulf War Syndrome
If you are a Gulf War veteran who has experienced symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome, contact a VA-certified attorney at Woods and Woods for a free consultation. The call is free, and we won’t charge you a single fee unless we win your case.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
The VA presumes the following symptoms are related to Gulf War Syndrome if they persist for 6 or more months and are at least 10 percent disabling: chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and functional gastrointestinal disorders. The list also includes 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.
Yes. Veterans and the medical community commonly call it “Gulf War Syndrome,” but the VA typically refers to it as Gulf War Illness. You might also hear it called a MUCMI, which is a term used for any medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illness.