Is Gulf War Syndrome Contagious to Family Members?

Is Gulf War Syndrome Contagious to Family Members?

Many Veterans of the Gulf War suffered numerous injuries, illnesses, and disabilities. Additionally, many Veterans emerged with a cluster of strange, apparently disconnected symptoms that defied traditional diagnosis. So-called Gulf War syndrome has become an intense topic of conversation for Veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In recent years, those related to affected Veterans have reported related illnesses or symptoms, leading some to wonder if Gulf War syndrome is contagious to family members. Let’s look closely at this question and the current scientific consensus.

What Is Gulf War Syndrome?

Gulf War syndrome isn’t a single “disease” or even one condition with a single set of potential symptoms. Instead, it’s a range of potential symptoms, diseases, and negative side effects that may have resulted from exposure to situations or toxins in the Gulf War.

As used in common conversations, Gulf War syndrome refers to any unexplained illnesses that occur in Veterans who served in the 1991 Gulf War. The VA refers to Gulf War syndrome as a collection of “chronic multisymptom illnesses” or undiagnosed illnesses. It doesn’t use the other title because each Veteran may have a different experience or set of symptoms.

However, the overall defining factor is the same. Gulf War Veterans have a cluster of inextricable symptoms theorized to have arisen from the Gulf War, but a single potential cause or origin has not yet been identified. 

What Are Common Gulf War Syndrome Symptoms?

Gulf War syndrome’s symptoms can vary heavily from person to person. That’s one reason why it’s very difficult for some Veterans to acquire disability compensation for their illnesses. That said, most Veterans who report Gulf War syndrome also report at least some of the following common symptoms:

  • Intense fatigue
  • Cognitive problems involving thinking, concentration, etc.
  • Musculoskeletal pain
  • Diarrhea and other digestive problems
  • Skin rashes

In some cases, manifested Gulf War syndrome symptoms can resemble other medical conditions. This can often make getting an accurate diagnosis difficult for affected Veterans and their family members.

Veterans’ Benefits for Those With Gulf War Syndrome

The VA does provide benefits, including disability benefits, for Veterans with Gulf War syndrome. In fact, like with Agent Orange benefits, the VA has a presumptive condition list for Veterans who served in the Gulf War and have chronic, unexplained symptoms related to certain diseases. A Veteran with one of these illnesses or conditions may automatically qualify for disability compensation.

The VA presumes that chronic and unexplained symptoms that exist for six months or more are related to Gulf War service if a Veteran served in the Gulf War. The VA does not consider the direct cause. Presumptive illnesses of this type should have appeared during a Veteran’s active duty before or by December 31, 2026, and have a disability rating of at least 10%. The illnesses that qualify under the presumptive condition list include:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Functional gastrointestinal disorders
  • Myalgic encephalomyelitis or chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Undiagnosed illnesses with symptoms that include abnormal weight loss, muscle and joint pain, cardiovascular disease, fatigue, headaches, menstrual disorders, neurological and/or psychological problems, sleep disturbances, skin conditions, and respiratory disorders

Should a Veteran qualify for the presumptive conditions list, they may also qualify for various VA benefits. These can include:

  • A Gulf War registry health exam
  • Healthcare
  • Disability compensation for diseases related to one’s military service

Furthermore, dependents and survivors may be eligible for benefits such as tuition aid, home loans, etc. However, note that these benefits are not disability compensation, or at least the same compensation offered to disabled or ill Veterans.

Is Gulf War Syndrome Contagious?

The family members of Veterans with Gulf War syndrome — such as spouses, biological children, and dependent parents — have sometimes claimed to have similar Gulf War syndrome symptoms. As early as 1994, survey results indicated that mysterious illnesses afflicting Gulf War Veterans could be contagious.

According to one of the earliest surveys of Veterans affected by Gulf War syndrome, approximately 78% of Veterans’ spouses and 25% of Veterans’ children experienced at least some similar symptoms. Furthermore, of those who responded to the survey, 65% of the children born after the Veterans returned to the US suffered from chronic health problems.

At first, it was thought that Veterans could have brought a virus or bacteria home with them. However, testing ruled this out shortly after the survey’s publication. Further scientific inquiry has not discovered any demonstrable, 100% certain link between Gulf War syndrome and contagion effects. Nevertheless, the idea persists.

At the time of this writing, no discernible or provable scientific link shows that Gulf War syndrome and its symptoms are transmissible or contagious in any classical way. That is to say, if a Veteran has musculoskeletal pain from their time in the Gulf War, there’s no medical cause for why their spouse should also experience musculoskeletal pain.

Because there is no scientific link connecting a contagion effect with Gulf War syndrome, military Veterans’ spouses and other dependents cannot claim disability benefits and similar compensation from the VA. This is true even if they developed their Gulf War syndromes or similar illnesses after a Veteran returned home from the front.

Medical Research Suggests Some Connection

However, some medical research has indicated a connection between military spouses and Veterans who served in the Gulf War.

A 2017 study found that there was an increased risk of chronic multisymptom illness — the same term used by the VA to describe Gulf War syndrome — in the spouses of Gulf War Vera Veterans. This higher prevalence of Gulf War-related symptoms was statistically significant.

The potential causes for this have stirred up some scientific debate and controversy. Psychosomatic illnesses are not uncommon, and it is thought by many that the spouses and close dependents of affected Veterans may have developed psychosomatic issues or conditions just by being exposed to a Veteran’s “real” Gulf War syndrome symptoms.

However, other scientists don’t rule out the possibility of an unexplained medical connection that could indeed show that Gulf War syndrome is somehow contagious to family members.

Can Family Members Get VA Benefits for Gulf War Syndrome?

Nevertheless, it remains true that family members cannot get VA benefits specifically for Gulf War syndrome symptoms. They can get benefits if they were related to a Veteran who died as a result of Gulf War syndrome symptoms and that Veteran was already receiving VA disability benefits.

Furthermore, any disabled Veteran qualifies for disability compensation if that disability occurred during or because of their military service. Usually, spouses, children, and other dependents or survivors can qualify for additional VA compensation and benefits, like educational financial aid.

What Happens If You Believe You Got Gulf War Syndrome From a Veteran?

If you believe you acquired Gulf War syndrome or related symptoms from a Veteran in your life, don’t necessarily give up the fight. It’s important to record your symptoms and continually check in with the VA’s status regarding Gulf War syndrome and symptom understanding.

The scientific literature concerning this phenomenon is always evolving. Furthermore, it may be worthwhile to connect with other spouses or dependents who have been affected by Gulf War syndrome. That way, you and the other dependents can collectively push the VA for disability benefits or other compensation if the VA ever changes its mind on Gulf War syndrome transmissibility.

It may be worthwhile to contact Veterans law attorneys. The right law firm can break down your legal options and explore what benefits you may already qualify for or what you might qualify for in the future. With their assistance, you can maximize the compensatory benefits you can receive from the VA.

Contact Berry Law Today

In the end, Gulf War syndrome disability benefits are not available to family members of affected Veterans, at least for the time being. That could change as more research completes and new scientific insights are brought to light.

However, Veterans with Gulf War syndrome or other disabilities whose claims have been denied can contact knowledgeable Veterans law attorneys. Berry Law’s legal representatives can help you get the benefits you need, so contact us today.


Gulf war syndrome | PMC

Gulf War Syndrome May Be Contagious, Survey Shows : Health: Results of government study find significant numbers of Veterans’ spouses, children exhibiting symptoms of the mysterious illnesses. | Los Angeles Times

Gulf War Veterans’ Medically Unexplained Illnesses – Public Health |

Increased Risk of Chronic Multisymptom Illness in Spouses of Gulf War Era Veterans | NCBI

Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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