“Gulf War Veterans’ Medically Unexplained Illnesses”

The VA Denied my Gulf War Syndrome Claim. What do I do?

Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm lasted a little over six months, from August 1990 to February 1991.

The continued Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) has kept our service members in the Middle Eastern Theater of Operations (Southwest Asia) since early 2003.

As a result, for VA benefits eligibility purposes, the Gulf War period is still in effect. This means that anyone who served on active duty from August 2, 1990, to present is considered a Gulf War Veteran.

Our Gulf War service members were exposed to depleted uranium, toxic gases and chemicals from burning Kuwaiti oilfields, and nerve agents from destroyed Iraqi weapons bunkers. They were also exposed to infectious diseases and any number of vaccines.

That exposure has long-term effects, and some of the effects don’t show up for years after.

As a result, many Gulf War veterans have suffered for years with otherwise unexplained health problems that the VA is just now starting to admit were caused by military service.

People often call it “Gulf War Syndrome.” The VA calls it–

VA defines it as : A prominent condition affecting Gulf War Veterans is a cluster of medically unexplained chronic symptoms that can include fatigue, headaches, joint pain, indigestion, insomnia, dizziness, respiratory disorders, and memory problems.

The VA presumes you have Gulf War Syndrome if you served on active duty in theater and have one of the following:

  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a condition of long-term and severe fatigue that is not relieved by rest and is not directly caused by other conditions.
  • Fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by widespread muscle pain. Other symptoms may include insomnia, morning stiffness, headache, and memory problems.
  • Functional gastrointestinal disorders, a group of conditions marked by chronic or recurrent symptoms related to any part of the gastrointestinal tract. Functional condition refers to an abnormal function of an organ, without a structural alteration in the tissues. Examples include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), functional dyspepsia, and functional abdominal pain syndrome.
  • Certain Infectious Diseases
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) (For any veteran who served 90 or more consecutive days of active duty)
  • 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.

But even if you don’t have one of these “presumptive” conditions, you can still prove to the VA that your chronic illness is a result of your service in the first gulf war, and you may be eligible for disability benefits if you succeed in your claim.

How does the VA Handle Gulf War Syndrome Claims?

In short–not well. Recent outside investigations and internal audits indicate the VA denies Gulf War Syndrome claims at rates two to three times higher than other claims. At some VA regional offices, the denial rate for Gulf War Syndrome is extremely high. Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Gulf War Syndrome Claim denial rate was recently reported as over 92%.

The VA has admitted that this is in part because many of the VA’s own claims processors have not taken the VA’s own course on recognizing Gulf War Syndrome symptoms. The VA plans to have its claims processors trained soon. But in the mean time, the VA keeps denying veterans’ claims.

The process for a Gulf War Syndrome claim is essentially the same as the process for any other Veterans Affairs Disability Benefits claim. But there are two important differences. One is the fact that certain conditions are presumed to be service-connected disabilities (discussed earlier in this post). Second is the VA’s requirement that you have an exam by a VA physician for your claim. But other than that, the claims process is generally the same–confusing, long, and difficult.

I have Gulf War Syndrome. What Should I do?

If you have Gulf War Syndrome and served in or near the middle eastern theater of operations from August 2, 1990, to today, contact Holmes Law Firm to speak with our accredited VA disability attorney. We’ll evaluate your claim and case at no charge to you, and if we take you on as a client, there will be no fee unless we win your case and get you the benefits and back pay you deserve.

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