VA Disability Benefits for Gulf War Syndrome
Disabled veterans who served in the Gulf War since its start on August 2, 1990, qualify for a variety of VA benefits. This includes a presumption of qualification for disability compensation if you suffer from any of several medically unexplained illnesses popularly known as “Gulf War Syndrome.” Gulf War veterans who have certain infectious diseases or, among veterans with 90 days or more of continuous active military service, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) also qualify for disability benefits.
Under VA rules:
- Veterans do not have to demonstrate exposure to factors that caused a “presumptive” disease.
- Veterans need only prove military service that makes them eligible for disability benefits.
- Gulf War veterans may also seek to establish service connection for “non-presumptive” diseases and illnesses related to service in the Gulf War.
However, like all VA disability programs, the way rules are applied to veterans’ claims is not as straightforward as you might expect. Many deserving veterans find themselves short-changed. Berry Law Firm helps Gulf War veterans file for proper VA disability benefits. We have decades of experience appealing VA disability claims.
Schedule a consultation with our knowledgeable team today.
Disabled Gulf War Veterans Qualify for Benefits
If you served the U.S. military in the Southwest Asia theater of military operations any time from August 2, 1990, to the present and are suffering disabling medical difficulties, you may qualify for VA disability benefits. This includes service during Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-2010) and Operation New Dawn (2010-2011).
The Southwest Asia theater of military operations includes:
- 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
Note that the designated area covered does not include Afghanistan.
The VA “presumes” certain illnesses and diseases are related to your military service in Southwest Asia, which could entitle you to VA disability compensation. For Gulf War veterans, these presumptive diseases include:
- Medically unexplained illnesses or “Gulf War Syndrome,” which encompasses what the VA calls “certain diagnosable chronic disability patterns”
- Certain diagnosable infectious diseases
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) if the veteran had 90 days or more continuous active military service in the Gulf War theater
In addition, the Gulf War veteran must be able to demonstrate:
- Service in the Southwest Asia theater of military operations is the only cause of your disability or illness.
- The disability has existed for six months or more.
- If your disability or illness did not appear during active duty in the Southwest Asia theater of military operations, then it must be at least 10 percent disabling, according to a VA disability rating evaluation.
Also, the disability or illness must appear, as of this writing, before December 31, 2021.
What Illnesses Are Part of Gulf War Syndrome for VA Disability?
Gulf War Syndrome refers to a cluster of medically unexplained chronic symptoms that may include:
- Joint pain
- Respiratory disorders
- Memory problems
These symptoms may appear as a part of several diagnosable or undiagnosable conditions recognized as related to Gulf War service. If they exist for six months or more, the VA presumes they are related to Gulf War service. As a disability claim progresses, the VA may refer to the condition as “chronic multi-symptom illness” or “undiagnosed illnesses” instead of “Gulf War Syndrome.”
The eligible Gulf War veteran applying for disability benefits does not have to prove a triggering exposure if he or she has medical evidence of:
- 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. Examples include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), functional dyspepsia, and functional abdominal pain syndrome.
- Undiagnosed illnesses with symptoms that may include but are not limited to:
- Abnormal weight loss
- Cardiovascular disease
- Muscle and joint pain
- Menstrual disorders
- Neurological and psychological problems
- Skin conditions
- Respiratory disorders
- Sleep disturbances
Also, the VA assumes that Gulf War service either caused or aggravated certain presumptive diseases, even if there was no evidence of them during active service. All but three, as noted below, must have caused at least a 10 percent disability within one year of separation from active service. They are:
- Campylobacter jejuni
- Coxiella burnetii (Q fever)
- Nontyphoid Salmonella
- West Nile Virus
- Visceral leishmaniasis (no time limit)
- Mycobacterium tuberculosis (no time limit)
- Malaria (if not 10 percent disabling or more within one year of separation, may be 10 percent or more within a recognized incubation period that commenced during active service)
Undiagnosed illnesses presumptive for disability are not limited to those listed above or to illnesses as of yet identified by the VA. Medical understanding of disease and illness among Gulf War veterans continues to evolve.
In addition to presumptive illness, Gulf War veterans may seek to establish service connection for “non-presumptive” diseases and illnesses. This requires evidence of exposure during active duty that resulted in the veteran’s condition.
Any eligible Gulf War veteran who has medical evidence of any disability should consider a claim for VA disability benefits. If you are a Gulf War veteran and the VA has denied your disability claim or assigned an inadequate disability rating, you should appeal.
Berry Law Firm can help you seek the VA disability benefits you deserve for service in the Gulf War. We can review your existing claim file and/or medical records and determine whether they accurately reflect your disability. If you need an updated medical exam, we can help in the process of obtaining one.
Most of all, Berry Law Firm provides experience with litigating VA claims. We know the system and what’s required to get results. We know how to navigate cases through the VA appeals process efficiently and successfully. Let us put our knowledge to work for you. Schedule a consultation today.
Raising Gulf War Veterans’ VA Disability Ratings
The VA assigns a disability rating for your service-connected disability. This rating helps determine the amount of the basic monthly disability benefit you receive.
VA evaluators base disability ratings on the severity of your condition as described in the medical records that are a part of your claim. Evaluators assign ratings in 10 percent increments (10 percent, 20 percent, 30 percent, up to 100 percent or total disability) according to diagnostic codes for specific illnesses and diseases. For a veteran with multiple conditions, evaluators turn to the Combined Ratings Table to decide on a disability rating.
The VA knows it provides benefits to a population of veterans who are ill and aging. Therefore, a veteran can ask the VA to review his or her disability rating. However, he or she must provide up-to-date evidence that the medical condition has grown worse in order for the VA to increase the rating.
Here’s what you can expect when you request a disability rating review:
- Once the VA receives your request, the administration may require you to undergo an additional medical exam, known as a Compensation and Pension Examination (C&P exam), at a VA medical center.
- If evidence shows your condition has significantly worsened, the VA should approve a higher disability rating, which translates to an increased disability benefit. For example, if you have a respiratory condition and have begun to need supplemental oxygen since your VA benefit was determined, you have reason to seek an increase in your disability rating.
- However, by requesting a new disability rating, you open your entire claim file to scrutiny. It is unlikely but possible that the VA could reduce your disability rating if the medical evidence you submit, or results from your C&P exam, persuades the claim evaluator your condition is not as disabling as your current rating suggests.
Veterans can appeal reductions in disability ratings, but if the VA upholds the change, they may be required to return benefit money to the VA.