Gulf War Veterans make up the majority of all Veterans living today. Almost 2 million are identified by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, and that only includes those who are enrolled in the VA system. It is estimated that as few as 36% of Gulf War Veterans have filed for VA Benefits, so that number may be much higher. Of Veterans identified by the VA system now, however, Gulf War Veterans are the majority.
Gulf War Syndrome is a term used by many Veterans to describe illnesses that are chronic and undiagnosed among those who served in the Southwest Asia Theater. These symptoms are often not associated with any official disease and can vary widely from person to person. There are four main categories that these symptoms fall under to be classified for VA benefits;
- Fibromyalgia: widespread muscle pain that may be associated with other symptoms such as insomnia; morning stiffness; headaches, and memory problems;
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: long-term and severe fatigue that is not relieved by rest or caused by another condition;
- Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders: a group of conditions that are chronic r recurrent that are related to any part of the gastrointestinal tract such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome); IBD (inflammatory bowel disease); chronic diarrhea, constipation, nausea, etc.; and,
- Undiagnosed Illnesses: this includes such issues as unexplained weight loss, cardiovascular disease, muscle and joint pain, neurological and psychological disorders, headaches, skin problems, respiratory disorders, memory problems, and sleep disturbances. This also includes any mental illness that manifests during active duty or within two years of discharge or the end of the war.
Potential Causes of Undiagnosed Illnesses among Gulf War Veterans
While the causes of these symptoms are not known, there were many attributable factors that endangered Gulf War Veterans. These include, but are not limited to:
- Infectious diseases – Some diseases are specific to the Persian Gulf area and/or may lay dormant for many years.
- Biological and Chemical Weapons – While there is no evidence these were used against US troops; there is a possibility that troops in certain areas may have been exposed by being in areas of past use or exposure to SCUD missile attacks.
- Other Chemical Agents: while these chemicals were deemed safe, the chemicals used are reported to cause symptoms. These chemicals included pesticides; drugs to combat chemical warfare agents; coatings on vehicles; petroleum-based products such as diesel and JP4 fuel; and decontamination solutions.
- Organophosphate and Other Chemical Pesticides – these are known to cause increased incidents of neurological disorders and are linked to possible cognitive dysfunctions.
- Pyridostigmine Bromide: This pill was given to Gulf War troops to protect them from possible nerve gas exposure. However, it is known now to cause such issues as respiratory and muscular problems.
- CARC – this vehicle coating was used to prevent chemical warfare agents from destroying the finish on military vehicles but chronic overexposure is known by the manufacturer to lead to asthma-like symptoms and prolonged exposure can lead to damage of the brain, nervous system, liver, and kidneys.
- Decontamination Solutions – The most widely used, DS-2 is known to be highly caustic.
- Oil Fire Smoke – Over 600 oil wells were lit on fire at the end of the Persian Gulf War by the retreating Iraqi army. The residual smoke from the 9 months of burning resulted in high rates of eye and upper respiratory problems, shortness of breath, coughs, rashes, and fatigue as well as increased rates of asthma and chronic respiratory conditions.
- Vaccinations – troops deployed starting in 1990 were given a huge amount of vaccines in a very short period of time. Many of the vaccines were experimental and not approved such as the vaccines for anthrax and botulinum toxoid.
- Depleted Uranium – this substance was used in vehicle armor and offensive munitions. Exposure is linked to CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), fibromyalgia, multiple chemical sensitivity, as well as low-level brain damage.
How to Get Help from the VA
The VA currently has several options for benefits for Gulf War Veterans including the Gulf War Registry health exam and the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry. Not only may Veterans be eligible for benefits, survivors and certain dependents may also qualify for compensation.
To be identified as a Gulf War Veteran, you must have been active duty in the Southwest Asia Theater of Operations at any time between August 2, 1990, to present. It is recommended that Veterans file their claim as soon as they identify symptoms as time limits may run out and effective dates of benefits are based on the date of filing, not the date of injury or identification of symptoms. To learn how to file a VA Claim, read our blog post entitled The VA and The Life of a Disability Claim.