What is Gulf War Syndrome? Do I Have It? Can I Be Compensated for It?

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After the 1991 Gulf War, veterans began reporting a wide range of unexplained symptoms and were often told that it was “all in your head.”  People started referring to this phenomenon as “Gulf War Syndrome.”  It has since come to light that these veterans were not imagining or inventing their symptoms but suffer from very real illnesses without fully defined causes or effects.  Once the studies were done, and these illnesses were recognized as being related to service in the Gulf, VA began to compensate veterans for these disabilities.   Just because you were once turned down by VA for benefits because your symptoms were thought to be psychological rather than physical does not mean that you are not, now, entitled to those benefits.

VA does not really use the term “Gulf War Syndrome” anymore because the word “syndrome” indicates a disease which has a defined set of symptoms.  The Gulf War veterans, however, suffer from widely varying symptoms, all of which do not necessarily occur in every veteran.  These symptoms include fatigue, rashes or other skin problems, headaches, joint and muscle pain, respiratory problems, sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal problems, heart problems, abnormal weight loss, neurological problems, neuropsychological problems, and menstrual disorders.  VA refers to these symptoms as “undiagnosed illnesses” or “medically unexplained chronic multi-symptom illnesses.”  As of yet, there is no definitive answer as to the cause of these illnesses though exposure to toxins or chemical weapons is thought to be a possibility.

Who is entitled to these benefits?  Veterans who served in the Southwest Asia theater of military operations (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) during the Persian Gulf War and developed medically unexplained signs and symptoms such as those listed above are entitled to compensation.  If a veteran develops these medically unexplained symptoms or develops a chronic, multi-symptom illness, he is entitled to a presumption that such illness is related to service.

At one time, veterans struggled to have these illnesses compensated due to regulations which specified that only undiagnosed illnesses would qualify for the presumption of service connection.  Doctors, however, are trained to provide a diagnosis for a patient’s symptoms and would assign a diagnosis to the veteran’s symptoms of fatigue, pain, or gastrointestinal problems. Once a diagnosis, such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, had been assigned to the veteran’s symptoms, VA no longer considered the illness to be “undiagnosed.”  Many veterans were, then, denied benefits.   VA later recognized this error and amended the regulation to included chronic, multi-symptom illnesses as well as undiagnosed illnesses.  If you were denied service connected compensation for Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or another illness which includes the symptoms identified as “Gulf War Syndrome,” be aware that these disabilities are now recognized by VA as related to service in the Gulf.  You are entitled to this compensation.

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