What is Gulf War Syndrome?

Gulf War Syndrome Is One of The Most Common Disabilities Suffered by Gulf War Veterans 

Gulf War Syndrome (GWS), also known as Gulf War Illness, is an illness that is generally characterized by fatigue, chronic headaches, respiratory problems, skin problems, and many other symptoms seen in Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield Veterans. This unexplained illness is often associated with active duty in Southwest Asia from August 2, 1990, to the present — the condition is extremely common in Veterans of the Gulf War during this period. Gulf War Syndrome is described as a “chronic multi-symptom illness” by the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care branch.

This description is accurate — Gulf War Syndrome can manifest itself in a wide variety of ways in former U.S. troops. Some Veterans may experience only a few of the symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome, while others might suffer from multiple physical and psychological issues associated with the condition. Because Gulf War Syndrome can vary in its symptoms and severity, the VA gives a wide range of disability ratings to Veterans suffering from the condition.

Although lesser known than other service-connected illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), approximately 250,000 of the 697,000 U.S. Veterans who served in the 1991 Gulf War have been affected by the syndrome. Because the list of symptoms associated with Gulf War Syndrome is long and diverse, the condition can be used as more of an umbrella term to describe symptoms that Gulf War Veterans commonly suffer from.

Some of the theorized causes of Gulf War Syndrome include exposure to pesticides and other dangerous chemical agents. Chemical warfare tactics were used extensively during the Gulf War, and many service members were required to take pills containing pyridostigmine bromide, an anti-nerve agent medicine. While this medication protected service members from nerve gas and deadly chemical weapons, it also potentially had side effects that led to the development of unexplained diseases. Other potential causes for Gulf War Syndrome include exposure to oil well fire emissions and toxic smoke from burn pits.

What Are the Symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome?

Because Gulf War Syndrome is a multifaceted condition, it may manifest differently in everyone. According to recent medical research, some of the possible symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome exhibited by military personnel include, but are not limited to:

  • Chronic fatigue or exhaustion
  • Headaches or migraines, particularly when triggered by loud sounds
  • Muscle pain
  • Skin rashes, unusual hair loss, and other symptoms involving the skin or hair
  • Neurological symptoms, such as nervous system disorders or numbness in the arm
  • Neuropsychological symptoms, such as memory loss or PTSD
  • Sleep disturbances or insomnia
  • Upper or lower respiratory system-related medical conditions
  • Gastrointestinal system diseases and conditions like diarrhea or constipation
  • Menstrual disorders
  • Cardiovascular symptoms, including heart disease

Since the increased prevalence of these conditions can also be linked to other negative health effects or conditions, it can be difficult to prove that they arose because of your service in the Gulf War. 

Knowledgeable Veterans law attorneys can help you connect these conditions or diseases to your service in the Gulf War and help you acquire the compensation you deserve for your service to our country.

Getting Service-Connected for Gulf War Syndrome 

It can be difficult to pinpoint all of the possible Gulf War Veterans’ illnesses that can stem from Gulf War Syndrome, but medical ailments associated with the condition have been recognized by both the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Both of these departments recognize Gulf War Syndrome as a legitimate, service-connected condition, one that can easily qualify a Veteran to receive monthly disability benefits. However, there are several obstacles that a Veteran may run into when applying for disability benefits for Gulf War Syndrome.

One of the unique aspects of Gulf War Syndrome is that there is no consensus on the official cause. Some of the alleged causes have included depleted uranium, sarin gas, smoke from burning oil wells, vaccinations, combat stress, and psychological factors, although some are in dispute. All of these factors can have long-term effects on your mental and physical well-being, and all of them may be grounds for being recognized by the VA as having a service-connected disability. However, it can be difficult to narrow down what factors were the primary causes of each case of Gulf War Syndrome. Because the condition is so diverse in its symptoms and causes, the VA often must approach Gulf War Syndrome on a case-by-case basis.

Many service members deployed to Iraq or Kuwait came back with this undiagnosed illness caused by mysterious factors. Fortunately, the VA presumes that a Veteran’s Gulf War Syndrome symptoms are service-connected if they served in southwest Asia from 1990 onward. Because of the presumed association between Gulf War Syndrome symptoms and military service, it is much easier for Gulf War Veterans with unexplainable symptoms to qualify for disability benefits. 

Eligibility for Gulf War Syndrome Benefits

To receive disability benefits for Gulf War Syndrome, you must fulfill certain eligibility requirements. First, you must have served in the Southwest Asian theater during the Persian Gulf War. Southwest Asia in this context includes:

  • Iraqi Territories
  • Kuwait
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Bahrain
  • Qatar
  • The United Arab Emirates
  • Oman
  • The Gulf of Adan and the Gulf of Oman
  • The Persian Gulf
  • The Arabian Sea
  • The Red Sea
  • The neutral zone between Iraq and Saudi Arabia
  • Any airspace above these geographic locations

You must also have been within these areas after August 2, 1990. There is no set date, according to the VA.

Qualifying Chronic Disabilities

You must also experience a qualifying chronic disability. This can include one of the following or any combination of the following:

  • An undiagnosed illness
  • A medically unexplained or chronic multisymptom illness. These include fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, or chronic fatigue syndrome. The illness has to be defined by clusters of signs or symptoms, which are either self-reported by a Veteran or recognized by a doctor at a VA medical center
  • A diagnosis that the Secretary agrees warrants a presumption of service connection

Note that these illnesses or diseases aren’t the only ways in which you could receive compensation benefits. You may ascribe your condition to a different service-related event. Talk to attorneys to determine how best to file your claim for disability benefits.

Additionally, your qualifying chronic disability must manifest itself to a degree of at least 10 percent disabling within the timeframe established by the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Given the lack of specificity surrounding Gulf War Syndrome, there’s no fully defined manifestation timeframe. Essentially, you just need to have your disability rating at 10 percent or higher because of your undiagnosed illness or unspecified condition.

If you can get this disability rating, you may qualify for disability benefits because of Gulf War Syndrome. Veterans law attorneys can help you prove this by gathering appropriate medical evidence, lay statements, and other information that can bolster or substantiate your claim for compensation.

Filing A Claim for Gulf War Syndrome: What Does the Process Look Like? 

Although the VA will presume that Gulf War Syndrome symptoms are service-connected for Veterans who served in the Gulf War since August 1990, every Veteran must still go through the standard procedures when applying for disability benefits. This means presenting the VA with all required documentation — military medical records, personnel records, and other necessary information — as well as getting a Compensation & Pension Examination.

Once a Veteran has filed a claim and met all the requirements, they will receive either an approval, denial, or deferral of their claim. An approved claim means a Veteran’s Gulf War Syndrome symptoms were disabling enough to warrant at least a 10 percent disability rating and that their condition could be verifiably connected to their time in the military.

A denied disability claim means that a Veteran’s condition was either not seen as disabling enough to qualify them for benefits or that a service connection could not be established. However, if your claim has been denied, it does not mean you need to give up on fighting to receive the benefits that you need. In some cases, the VA will rule inaccurately regarding a Veteran’s claim for Gulf War Syndrome disability benefits. If you believe that the VA has made the wrong decision regarding your claim, you can make an appeal with the help of an attorney.

If the VA has deferred your claim, it means your application for benefits was not yet approved or denied. A deferred claim is typically missing important evidence or documentation that can have an impact on the VA’s decision. Sometimes, a Veteran’s claim may also be denied if they have not met the VA’s requirements after filing a claim. This might mean not showing up for a Compensation & Pension Exam or missing other important dates and appointments. If your claim has been deferred, make sure to do whatever is necessary to get the decision-making process started again. 

Rating Schedules for Gulf War Veterans 

A Veteran can receive disability compensation for undiagnosed illnesses as long as they exhibit symptoms and show that they served in the Persian Gulf or southwest Asia during specific time frames – during or after 1990. The VA presumes that certain chronic, unexplained symptoms existing for six months or more are related to Gulf War service without regard to cause. According to the VA, these illnesses include:

  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a condition of long-term and severe fatigue that is not relieved by rest and is not directly caused by other conditions. It is one of the most common symptoms associated with Gulf War Syndrome. CFS can be disabling enough to qualify a Veteran for monthly compensation from the VA. If your fatigue is making it difficult for you to stay awake throughout the day, fulfill the requirements of your job, or accomplish everyday tasks, make sure to let your doctor know and inform the VA during your C&P exam.

  • Fibromyalgia is a condition characterized by widespread muscle pain and is also associated with Gulf War Syndrome. Other symptoms may include insomnia, morning stiffness, headache, and memory problems. These symptoms can have a significant long-term effect on a Veteran’s health and ability to function in everyday life. If you developed fibromyalgia during or after Gulf War duty, you might qualify for significant disability benefits.

  • Functional gastrointestinal disorders, a group of conditions marked by chronic or recurrent symptoms related to any part of the gastrointestinal tract, are also associated with Gulf War Syndrome. One of the most common gastrointestinal disorders that is connected to Gulf War Syndrome is IBS. Many Veterans do not know that they can qualify for disability benefits due to IBS, but this condition can easily increase your disability rating when it can be connected to your service in the Gulf War. 
  • 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. These conditions can all be connected to Gulf War Syndrome, and they can also increase your disability rating.

It may be an uphill battle with the VA trying to qualify for service connection with any other symptoms. However, the VA continues to research the causes and symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome. This ongoing research will hopefully simplify the process of applying for and qualifying for disability benefits related to Gulf War Syndrome.

If you are wondering whether or not you have Gulf War Syndrome, the VA has a Gulf War Registry Health exam that can alert you as to whether or not you have any symptoms that are present. This exam is:

  • Free to eligible Veterans with no co-payment necessary.
  • Not a disability compensation exam or required for other VA benefits.
  • Based on Veterans’ recollection of service, not on their military records.

Research on Gulf War Veterans’ illnesses

Research into the effects of service on Gulf War Veterans has been ongoing. In 1998, Congress created the Research Advisory Committee (RAC) on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses to make recommendations to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs about government research into the health effects of military service members during the Gulf War.

VA and other researchers continue to study how a Veteran’s service in the Gulf War is linked to illnesses they have experienced. The research includes a Multiyear health survey of Gulf War-era Veterans, the largest and longest-running study among Veterans who served during the 1990-1991 Gulf War. This study aims to discover how Gulf War Veterans’ health has changed over time.

Some research from this comprehensive study includes:

Other recently published research related to the health effects of the Gulf War include:

Veterans Serving Veterans 

If you’re asking yourself, “What is Gulf War Syndrome?” and are displaying symptoms, you may be entitled to VA compensation. Are you receiving the Veterans’ disability compensation you are entitled to receive by law? If so, you may be able to add symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome to your disability claim to increase your monthly compensation. 

If you need assistance appealing VA Rating Decisions for mental health conditions or physical disabilities that occurred in service, please contact Berry Law. We can support you throughout the appeals process and work with you to get the disability benefits you need and deserve. Many of our skilled attorneys are Veterans themselves, having served in the Army, Marines, Air Force, and Navy. Our team knows the struggle that disabled Veterans can face when trying to get the disability benefits they deserve, and we want to do what we can to ensure every Veteran receives all the disability benefits they earned through their military service.

Click here to schedule a time to talk to a member of our team to determine if we can help you with your VA appeal.

For more information regarding Gulf War Syndrome, follow the link provided: Gulf War Syndrome


Chronic fatigue syndrome | Mayo Clinic 

Fibromyalgia | CDC

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) | NIDDK 

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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