The Department of Veterans Affairs has extended the time limit for Gulf War veterans to claim presumptive disability for certain chronic illnesses related to their military service.
The illnesses, commonly referred to as "Gulf War Syndrome," are considered "presumptive" by the VA, meaning veterans claiming a disability related to them are not required to prove they were caused by military service.
While there is no time limit for claiming disability benefits from the VA in normal circumstances, some presumptive conditions do come with time restrictions.
According to the Disabled Veterans Of America (DAV) Gulf War Syndrome affects approximately 200,000 veterans of the 650,000 service members who served in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
To qualify as disabling, a covered illness must have caused illness or symptoms in the veteran for at least six months and:
- Occurred during service in the Southwest Asia theater of military operations from Aug. 2, 1990, to the present. This also includes Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-2010) and Operation New Dawn (2010-2011), or;.
- Been diagnosed as at least 10% disabling by the VA after service.
Originally the VA was scheduled to stop awarding benefits to new Gulf War veterans with a related disability diagnosis that was given after Dec. 31, 2021. However, the VA has extended that cutoff date to Dec. 31, 2026.
In a Sept. 14, 2021, Federal Register posting, the VA gives two major reasons for this change:
- As yet, no end date for the Persian Gulf War has been established;
- Medical evidence is still unclear as to how long illnesses caused by Persian Gulf service take to show up in affected veterans.
Normally, for a disability or illness to be considered "service-connected" by the VA it must have either occurred, or been diagnosed while the member was in the service. However, the group of illnesses covered by this ruling may develop after leaving the service, even if there were no symptoms while on active duty.
This is similar many Vietnam veterans seeing new health conditions related to Agent Orange exposure decades after the fact. It took years before researchers could connect those illnesses to military exposure.
According to the VA, Gulf War Syndrome can manifest itself in various ways in affected veterans. The VA currently lists the following illnesses as related to Gulf War service:
- Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome -- a condition of long-term and severe fatigue that 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 -- a group of conditions marked by chronic or recurrent symptoms related to any part of the gastrointestinal tract. Functional condition refers to an abnormal function of an organ, without a structural alteration in the tissues. Examples include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), functional dyspepsia and functional abdominal pain syndrome.
- Undiagnosed illnesses with symptoms that may include but are not limited to: abnormal weight loss, fatigue, cardiovascular disease, muscle and joint pain, headache, menstrual disorders, neurological and psychological problems, skin conditions, respiratory disorders and sleep disturbances.
If you have any of these, or other, unexplained illnesses and served in the Gulf War, or related area, contact the VA for a medical exam to see whether you may be eligible for free health care or disability benefits related to your service.
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