The VA has made it easier for Gulf War veterans to qualify for disability compensation. Just like all veterans, Gulf War veterans can receive disability compensation for disabilities that occurred in service or were aggravated during service. But, there is a special rule that allows Gulf War veterans to receive disability compensation without proving their disability is related to service. All veterans who have served in Southwest Asia since August 2, 1990 are entitled to presumptive service connection for qualifying chronic disabilities. Veterans that are entitled to this presumptive service connection include: veterans who served in the Persian Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom, or Operation Iraqi Freedom. For veterans serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom, they must have served after September 19, 2001.
First, what is a qualifying chronic disability? A qualifying chronic disability includes: an undiagnosed illness (for example, fatigue, unexplained rashes, headaches, muscle pain, joint pain, etc) a medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illness (for example, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome); and certain infectious diseases (for example, malaria, mycobacterium tuberculosis, and West Nile virus). For certain infectious diseases, veterans serving in Southwest Asia during the Persian Gulf War, and those who served in Afghanistan after Setember 19, 201 are entitled to presumptive service connection for certain infectious diseases.
The next step for a Gulf War veteran trying to get presumptive service connection is to show that the disability/condition they are suffering from manifested during the presumptive period. The presumptive period for an undiagnosed illness and medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illness has been extended through December 31, 2016. Additionally, the presumptive period will vary depending on the disease or condition.
If a Gulf War veteran has a qualifying chronic disability that manifested within the presumptive period, they are entitled to presumptive service connection for their disability. This means that the veteran can get service connection for their disability even if their disability can’t be service connected under the regular rules. However, sometimes a Gulf War veteran may meet all of the requirements needed to be eligible for presumptive service connection, but they are still denied benefits. This can occur when: something occurred after service that caused the disability, there is any evidence at all that the disability wasn’t caused during service, or the disability was caused by the veteran’s willful misconduct (for example, alcohol or drug abuse).
Gulf War veterans should be aware that once a doctor diagnoses the disability that has caused the veteran’s symptoms, the veteran is no longer eligible for presumptive service connection. However, that does not mean the veteran can’t get service connection using the regular procedures. Additionally, the veteran could find a second doctor who gives a medical opinion stating that the veteran was misdiagnosed. If this happens, the veteran still has a chance to receive presumptive service connection. Also, Gulf War veterans should be aware that the VA offers a free physical examination for those veterans that are concerned about their health because of their service in the war.