“Gulf War Syndrome” is the name for the multi-symptom, undiagnosed illness that many Gulf War Era veterans (Persian Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom) suffer from. Gulf War Syndrome is believed to be caused by exposure to biological and environmental hazards. However, due to the nature of Gulf War Syndrome, it is one of the most difficult disabilities to get service-connected. Because of this, Congress has enacted special rules relating to Gulf War Syndrome.
First, to be entitled to the presumption of service connection, a veteran must qualify as a Persian Gulf War veteran. So what is the VA’s definition? The VA views a Persian Gulf War veteran as someone who served in active air, military or naval service in Southwest Asia theater of operations during the Persian Gulf War after August 2, 1990. This includes service in Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the neutral zone between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the 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 locations.
Secondly, the veteran must be suffering from a qualifying chronic disability. Qualifying chronic disabilities are as follows: a medically unexplained chronic multi-symptom illness (irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, or chronic fatigue syndrome) that is defined by a cluster of signs and symptoms; an undiagnosed illness, or any other illness the Secretary determines in the regulations warrants presumptive service connection.
Undiagnosed illnesses can be manifested in a number of ways, and one of the most obvious is the symptoms of such an illness. Symptoms can range from fatigue to muscle and joint pain, headaches, respiratory problems, neurological symptoms, sleep disturbances, cardiovascular symptoms, gastrointestinal problems or abnormal weight loss or gain. Veterans should note that he or she can rely on evidence other than medical records so long as their symptoms are able to be observed by non-medical professionals. Also important to note, the symptoms must be chronic in nature. Put another way, the symptoms must have existed for 5 or more months and the veteran must not have a diagnosis for the symptoms. This is very different from the usual rule that a veteran “must have a current diagnosis.”
The second qualifying disability is a medically unexplained chronic multi-symptom illness such as chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome (or other functional gastrointestinal disorder, or fibromyalgia. In order to qualify for disability for one of these illnesses, you must have a diagnosis. In addition to these, there are an additional nine disease that fall within the special rules for Gulf War Veterans:
- Campylobacter jejuni,
- Coxiella Burnetti (Q fever),
- Mycobacterium Tuberculosis,
- Nontyphoid Salmonella,
- Visceral Leishmaniasis, and
- West Nile.
Additionally, when a veteran is service connected for one of the preceding nine diseases, VA regulations recognize certain long-term effects which may be entitled to secondary service connection.
The last element for service connection for Gulf War Syndrome is the disability must have manifested during active military service in Southwest Asia or to a degree of at least 10 percent since the veteran’s return from service. For the nine diseases, the presumptive period varies. Because chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome all have their own diagnostic codes, it is easy to determine if you meet the requirements. However, the determination of whether or not an undiagnosed illness has manifested to at least 10 percent can be significantly more difficult. It is more difficult because it must be rated under an analogous diagnostic code. This, in turn, means that it is very important for you to look closely at the diagnostic code used, and to make sure that it is the right one. If you feel that a different diagnostic code more closely resembles your symptoms, then make sure to file an NOD to the decision and continue seeking the benefits you deserve.