Gulf War Syndrome is a prominent condition affecting up to 30 percent of Gulf War Veterans even decades later. The cluster of medically unexplained chronic symptoms can include fatigue, headaches, joint pain, indigestion, insomnia, dizziness, respiratory disorders, and cognitive difficulties like memory problems.
The majority of patients experience a post-exertional malaise, meaning symptoms worsen after physical or mental exertion.
The VA presumes certain chronic, unexplained symptoms existing for 6 months or more are related to Gulf War service. Disabled veterans can file disability claims after seeking medical attention and have their documents in order.
For assistance in filing claims or appeals, and to get the best chance for benefit success, speak to a VA Disability Claims attorney. Up to 80 percent of veterans who apply for Gulf War Syndrome benefits are denied compensation.
Joe Lyon is a Cincinnati, Ohio VA claims reviewing military toxic exposure cases and related veteran disability claims.
What Caused Gulf War Syndrome?
There are only theories at the moment, because researchers have not identified what caused hundreds of thousands of veteran illnesses. One known incident involving potential exposure to chemical weapons was the destruction of Iraqi weapons at Khamisiyah in March 1991, which included ammunition depots that contained sarin nerve gas). Up to 100,000 soldiers may have been exposed to very low levels of the chemical agent.
The VA calls Gulf War Syndrome a group of “unexplained” and “presumptive” illnesses. However, the regional environmental hazards may have included:
- Toxic smoke from over 750 Kuwaiti oil well fires
- Pesticides and insecticides
- Indigenous infectious diseases (leishmaniasis)
- Toxic Solvents
- Ingestion of pyridostigmine bromide as a nerve gas antidote
- A combined effect of multiple vaccines and prophylaxis
- Exposure to Chemical Weapons
- Psychological factors, including PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
Gulf War Syndrome Symptoms
Gulf War illnesses have two distinct forms, depending on which part of the brain has been affected. As a result, not all Gulf War veterans have the same symptoms and disabilities. Researchers note several subgroups of Gulf War Syndrome patients.
Among one group, there are significant cognitive disabilities that affect a veteran’s thinking, memory, and judgment, that looks eerily similar to other neurodegenerative disorders and Alzheimer’s disease symptoms. Brain stem atrophy has been seen in some test subjects. This helps explain why some veterans suffer from central nervous system dysfunction.
Common Gulf War Syndrome Symptoms include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Skin rashes
- Memory Loss
- Chronic Fatigue
- Severe joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Cardiovascular disease
- Sleep Disorders
Am I Eligible for Disability Benefits?
According to a report released by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), about a third of Gulf War veterans suffer from chronic multi-symptom illness, with a series of symptoms that cannot be medically explained.
The “presumptive” illnesses that the VA includes in their benefit list must have appeared during active military duty in the Gulf Region, or by December 31, 2021, and must be at least 10 percent disabling.
Veterans who meet these criteria do not need to prove a connection between their prior military service and illnesses to qualify VA disability compensation. The illnesses that the VA offers disability to include:
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: long-term and severe fatigue that cannot relieved by rest and is not directly caused by other existing conditions.
- Fibromyalgia: widespread muscle pain, and possibly insomnia, stiffness, headache, and memory issues.
- Functional gastrointestinal disorders: chronic or recurrent gastrointestinal tract issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), functional dyspepsia, and functional abdominal pain syndrome.
VA Benefits for Gulf War Veterans
War Veterans, dependents and survivors may be eligible for VA benefits. Over 650,000 U.S. military personnel were involved in the Gulf War, Desert Shield and Desert Storm veterans operations, from Aug. 2, 1990, to July 31, 1991. Anyone who served on active duty from August 1990 to present is considered a Gulf veteran.
Those individuals eligible for extensive VA benefits following toxic exposure and other injuries including the following:
Is there a Treatment for Gulf War Syndrome?
There is no specific treatment for Gulf War Illness, though research suggests that an approach called cognitive-behavioral therapy may help patients manage their symptoms.
On behalf of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the IOM conducted a study and concluded that for veterans who are experiencing symptoms related to CMI, an integrated, long-term management and treatment approach should be implemented.
Gulf War Illness Disability Benefits
From 2010 to 2015, the VA approved 17 percent of claims for health care and disability compensation for veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness. VA medical staff may be lacking in training in diagnosing veterans properly. Many VA medical examiners do not know how to conduct medical exams, and the VA has made the training optional.