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Gulf War Syndrome

In November 1994, Congress enacted a new law that would allow presumptive service connection to veterans of the Persian Gulf War who suffer from medically unexplained illnesses and infectious diseases caused by in-service events and exposures.

The Gulf War Syndrome disability claims process is unique because it allows for benefits for undiagnosed medical conditions. This factor can complicate the process because the guidelines for multi-symptom chronic illnesses are not yet uniformly established.

The first requirement for receiving benefits is having served in Southwest Asia during the Persian Gulf War anytime between August 2, 1990 and the present day. Southwest Asia is defined as Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the neutral zone between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, the Red Sea and the airspace above these areas.

The qualifying chronic disability may be a combination of:

  • An undiagnosed illness
  • A medically unexplained multi-symptom illness defined by a cluster of symptoms or signs
  • Any diagnoses determined by the Secretary as meriting a service connection presumption

Currently, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and irritable bowel syndrome are recognized by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as medically unexplained multi-symptom illnesses; you may even be entitled to benefits for others. Signs or symptoms that may be a manifestation of an undiagnosed illness or a chronic multisymptom illness include the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained rashes or other dermatological signs or symptoms
  • Headache
  • 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


Undiagnosed Illness

An undiagnosed illness is, simply put, an illness that cannot be diagnosed. For a veteran seeking service connection under the undiagnosed illness provision, a medical opinion is very important. According to the VA, once a doctor provides a diagnosis, the veteran cannot successfully file a claim under the undiagnosed illness provisions of 38 C.F.R. § 3.317. It is possible under these circumstances, however, to seek a second opinion for a non-diagnosis as a means to rebut the initial diagnosis.


Medically Unexplained Chronic Multisymptom Illness

In 2001, Congress added “medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illness” as a qualifying chronic disability for purposes of presumptive service connection under 38 U.S.C. § 1117. These include, among others, diagnoses of chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome. The term “medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illness” is defined as follows:

“A diagnosed illness without conclusive pathophysiology or etiology, that is characterized by overlapping symptoms and signs and has features such as fatigue, pain, disability out of proportion to physical findings, and inconsistent demonstration of laboratory abnormalities. Chronic multisymptom illnesses of partially understood etiology and pathophysiology, such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis, will not be considered medically unexplained.”

In October 2010, the VA provided a way to authorize VA adjudicators to determine what is and is not a medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illness (it was limited to the VA Secretary before). This broadened the field of argument for veterans and advocates to be able to persuade the VA to grant service connection for chronic multisymptom illness.


Infectious Diseases

In October 1998, Congress enacted additional law that would provide presumptive service connection to veterans exposed to biological, chemical, or other toxic agent; environmental or wartime hazards; or preventive medicine or vaccine known or presumed to be associated with military service in Southwest Asia.

This means that if you served in the Armed Forces of the Southwest Asia theater of operations during the Persian Gulf War, you are presumed to have been exposed to chemicals and agents, and if you suffer with any of the following infectious diseases, you should be service connected for one of these diseases:

  • Brucellosis
  • Campylobacter jejuni
  • Coxiella burnetti (Q fever)
  • Malaria
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis
  • Nontyphoid salmonella
  • Shigella
  • Visceral Leishmaniasis
  • West Nile virus


Filing Your Claim for VA Benefits

You must be at least 10 percent disabled by the illness to receive benefits. An experienced veterans benefits lawyer can help you gather the necessary medical evidence for your claim.

The Berry Law Firm represents injured veterans nationwide. Attorney John S. Berry Jr. is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Joint Forge in Bosnia. The Berry Law Firm assists veterans of all wars, including those suffering from Gulf War Syndrome. For a free consultation, call (888) 883-2483 or contact us online.