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What is Gulf War Syndrome?

Gulf War Syndrome is a group of unexplained chronic multisymptom illnesses experienced by a group of military veterans.

Symptoms Associated with Gulf War Syndrome

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) prefers to call Gulf War Syndrome or Gulf War Illness “chronic multisymptom illness” or “undiagnosed illnesses” because the symptoms “vary widely.”

There are several symptoms VA associated with Gulf War Syndrome. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Signs or symptoms involving skin
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • gastrointestinal signs or symptoms
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Joint pain
  • Cardiovascular signs or symptoms
  • Neurological signs or symptoms
  • Respiratory signs or symptoms
  • Neuropsychological signs or symptoms
  • Muscle pain
  • Abnormal weight loss
  • Menstrual disorders

Potential Causes of Chronic Multisymptom Illness

For years, researchers could not find a cause of Gulf War Syndrome. However, according to research published in Cortex, Gulf War Syndrome results from toxic exposure. The researchers found that exposure to pesticides and pyridostigmine bromide (pills that protect troops against nerve gas) are “causally associated with [Gulf War Illness].”

Researchers also found a link between neurological problems and exposure to oil well fire emissions and nerve agents such as sarin and cyclosarin.

VA Presumes Service Connection for Certain Unexplained Illnesses

If you meet the following criteria, VA will presume service connection for your chronic multisymptom illness without requiring a medical nexus opinion:

You Are a Gulf War Veteran

According to VA, you are a Gulf War veteran if you served in active military, navy, or air service in the Southwest Asia theater of operations between August 2, 1990, and now (The period of the Persian Gulf War currently extends to December 31, 2021).

The Southwest Asia theater of operations includes the following locations:

  • Bahrain
  • Gulf of Aden
  • Gulf of Oman
  • Iraq
  • Kuwait
  • Oman
  • Qatar
  • Saudi Arabia
  • The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.)
  • The neutral zone between Iraq and Saudi Arabia
  • The Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, and the Red Sea
  • The airspace above any of these locations

Your Symptoms Must Meet Certain Criteria

For VA to presume service connection, your symptoms must have:

  • No other explanation (the term medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illness is defined by the VA to mean a diagnosed illness without conclusive pathology or etiology, that is characterized by overlapping symptoms and signs which have features such as fatigue, pain, disability out of proportion to physical findings, and inconsistent demonstration of laboratory abnormalities.
  • Lasted for at least six months
  • Either appeared during active duty in the Southwest Asia theater of operations or to a degree of 10% or more by December 31, 2021

Presumptive illnesses include:

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (severe, chronic fatigue that does not result from another condition and is not relieved by rest)
  • Fibromyalgia (symptoms may include headaches, insomnia, memory problems, and morning stiffness)
  • Functional gastrointestinal disorders (must have chronic or recurrent symptoms, disorders can consist of functional abdominal pain syndrome, functional dyspepsia, functional vomiting, functional constipation, functional bloating, functional dysphagia, and irritable bowel syndrome)
  • Undiagnosed illnesses and medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illnesses that may include abnormal weight loss, cardiovascular problems, fatigue, headaches, joint and muscle pain, menstrual disorders, neurological and psychological problems, respiratory problems, skin problems, and sleep disturbances
  • Infectious diseases (e.g., Malaria, Brucellosis, Campylobacter Jejuni, Coxiella Burnetti/Q Fever, Mycobacterium Tuberculosis, Nontyphoid Salmonella, Shigella, Visceral Leishmaniasis, West Nile Virus).
    • The infectious diseases listed above have different requirements for timing of onset:
      • The following must have become manifest to a degree of 10% or more within one year from the date of separation from a qualifying period of service: Brucellosis, Campylobacter Jejuni, Coxiella Burnetti/Q Fever, Nontyphoid Salmonella, Shigella, West Nile Virus
      • Malaria must have become manifest to a degree of 10% or more within one year from the date of separation from a qualifying period of service OR at a time when standard or accepted treatises indicate that the incubation period commenced during a qualifying period of service.
      • Visceral Leishmaniasis and tuberculosis do not have a time limit for when they have to become manifest to a degree of 10% or more.
  • In addition to the Southwest Asia theater of operations locations listed above, active military, naval, or air serviced on or after September 19, 2001, in Afghanistan also qualifies for these infectious disease presumptions.

Compensation will not be paid for an undiagnosed illness, a medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illness or infection disease in the following circumstances:

  • There is affirmative evidence that the disability or disease was not incurred during a qualifying period of service;
  • There is affirmative evidence that the disability or disease was caused by a supervening condition or event that occurred between the veteran’s most recent departure from a qualifying period of service and the onset of the disability or disease; or
  • There is affirmative evidence that the disability or disease is the result of the veteran’s own willful misconduct or the abuse of alcohol or drugs. ,

VA Offers a Free Health Exam to Find Potential Related Illnesses

VA offers qualifying veterans a free health exam to determine whether they suffer from any illnesses related to Gulf War Syndrome.

To schedule an exam, contact your local VA Environmental Health Exam Coordinator.

This exam is not required to obtain disability benefits.

Gulf War Syndrome and Burn Pit Illness Are Not the Same Thing

Many people confuse Gulf War Syndrome and burn pit illnesses because they are associated with the same area of service. While symptoms may overlap, the conditions and their causes are different.

Learn more about burn pit illnesses here.

Getting Benefits for Gulf War Syndrome Is Difficult

If VA denied your claim, do not lose hope. While the odds can seem stacked against you, you do not need to handle this process alone.

A veterans’ disability lawyer can help you build a compelling appeal for Gulf War Syndrome veterans’ benefits. Get veterans’ disability legal help today: (888) 392-5392. The consultation is free.*