The VA presumes certain conditions to be related to service in the Southwest Asia theatre of operations any time during the first Gulf War starting August 2, 1990, through Iraq war and subsequent reduced operations in Iraq. In addition to enduring psychological stressors, service members were exposed to a wide range of biological and chemical agents, prophylactic drug treatments, pesticides, contaminated food and water, and air pollutants during this period.
A lot of service member’s health issues stem from burning fuel also known as “burn pits”. As Iraqi forces withdrew from Kuwait, they set fire to over 650 oil wells and damaged almost 75 more, which then spewed crude oil across the desert and into the Persian Gulf. Nearly 700,000 U.S. troops were deployed to the Persian Gulf region and many were in the region while the fires were burning. Fires burned for ten months. The release of 1.5 billion barrels of oil into the environment is the largest oil spill in human history. The last fire was extinguished in November 1991. However, about 300 lakes of oil remained, as well as a layer of soot and oil that fell out of the sky and mixed with sand and gravel to form ‘tarcrete’. The massive pools of standing crude oil released large amounts of organic vapors into the atmosphere. These vapors and smoke can cause a multitude of problems, including respiratory problems. Reports have also shown that these fumes contain some carcinogenic components.
One does not have to be an expert to understand the likelihood of long-term health complications from such devastating exposure. The Court determined that Gulf War veterans who develop any of the presumptive illnesses do not have to prove a connection between their illnesses and military service to be eligible to receive VA disability compensation. VA presumes certain chronic, unexplained symptoms existing for 6 months or more are related to Gulf War service without regard to cause. These “presumptive” illnesses must have appeared during active duty in the Southwest Asia theater of military operations or by December 31, 2016. These illnesses include:
- 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 (i.e. irritable bowel syndrome and functional dyspepsia); or
- any other illness that the Secretary determines meets the criteria for a medically unexplained chronic multi-symptom illness.
There is still a lot of confusion about what a “medically unexplained chronic multi-symptom illness” entails. The VA has determined that this term means a “…diagnosed illness without conclusive pathophysiology or etiology, that is characterized by overlapping symptoms and signs and has features such as fatigue, pain, disability out of proportion to physical findings, and inconsistent demonstration of laboratory abnormalities.” [38 CFR 3.317]
These chronic symptoms include, but are not limited to: fatigue, skin rash, headaches, muscle pain, joint pain, indigestion, insomnia, dizziness, respiratory disorders, abnormal weight loss, impaired concentration, forgetfulness, and menstrual disorders.
Many veterans who fall under this category still have to fight for the benefits they deserve. If you feel you have an “unexplained” chronic illness that appears to be causing a decline in your functional status or quality of life, then you may be entitled to receive disability compensation benefits.
If you served in Southeast Asia and have been diagnosed with one of the above named diseases or have symptoms associated with the disease, you may qualify for presumptive service connected benefits.