The Department of Veterans Affairs offers special services for Gulf War Veterans. According to the VA official site, Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm saw more than 650 thousand military members serving between Aug. 2, 1990 and July 31, 1991.
But the Gulf War era of service is at the time of this writing still ongoing. Any service member who has been commissioned as an officer or served as an enlisted member since Aug. 2, 1990 is considered a Gulf War vet.
What does this mean for those who have served during the Gulf War era? For starters, it means any military duty during this time is considered wartime service, and that makes these vets eligible for the Veterans Pension benefit which has wartime service as a basic requirement. There are also other programs the VA offers that benefit those who have served during the Gulf War era.
General VA Benefits For Gulf War Vets
Gulf War era veterans may qualify for the same range of general VA benefits open to all who serve the minimum amount of time in uniform. These benefits include general disability compensation, VA pension benefits, education, training, health care, and home loan benefits just to name a few.
Gulf War veterans who need to apply for these more general benefits may apply online at the VA official site using the eBenefits portal or use an accredited Veterans Service Organization (VSO). You can also apply via a VA regional office.
VA Research Into Gulf War-Specific Issues Affecting Veterans
The Department of Veterans Affairs has conducted extensive research into certain medical issues that affect veterans who have served in Southwest Asia during the Gulf War era including the “prominent condition affecting Gulf War Veterans” commonly known as Gulf War Syndrome.
This syndrome is described by the VA as “…a cluster of medically unexplained chronic symptoms that can include fatigue, headaches, joint pain, indigestion, insomnia, dizziness, respiratory disorders, skin problems, and memory impairment.”
The VA literature on the subject refers to such issues as “chronic multi-symptom illness” (CMI) and “undiagnosed illnesses.” The VA does not prefer or refer to these symptoms as Gulf War Syndrome, but VA literature may include these terms since researchers and caregivers commonly do use the term.
Gulf War-Specific Illnesses and Medical Conditions
There are Gulf War era medical problems that the Department of Veterans Affairs has labeled as presumptive, meaning that if you served or are serving during the Gulf War era in certain locations and display certain symptoms the VA assumes these medical problems are definitely service connected.
This can include the “medically unexplained” symptoms collectively known as Gulf War Syndrome, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) that has been “diagnosed in all Veterans who had 90 days or more continuous active military service,” plus what the VA describes as “certain infectious diseases” such as West Nile Virus, shingles, and other conditions (see below).
The VA official site reminds veterans that they may be entitled to VA disability benefits if you served in Southwest Asia during the Gulf War, did not get a dishonorable discharge, and your condition meets a list of requirements.
To be considered for VA disability benefits as a Gulf War era veteran who served in Southwest Asia, all of the following must apply to you:
- The medical issue(s) began while serving before Dec. 31, 2016
- You were sick for a minimum of six months
- You qualify for a VA disability rating of 10% or more
- The condition was caused “only by your service in the Southwest Asia theater of operations”
Furthermore, the VA requires these eligible veterans to have one or more of the following:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Functional gastrointestinal disorders
- Other “undiagnosed illnesses” including cardiovascular disease, muscle and joint pain, and headaches (but not limited to these)
“Presumed Disability Benefits” may be available to such veterans if the presumed disability began within a year of your date of separation and the presumed disability results in a VA disability rating of 10% or higher.
The VA List of Presumed Disabilities
- Campylobacter jejuni
- Coxiella burnetii (Q fever)
- Nontyphoid salmonella
- West Nile virus
What You Need To Know About VA Services For Gulf War Era Veterans
A 2016 study notes that some 44 percent of all Gulf War vets who served in the Persian Gulf during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm may have the symptoms commonly described as Gulf War Illness or Gulf War Syndrome.
What’s more, certain infectious diseases are associated with military service in that theatre of operations including malaria, shingles, West Nile Virus, and visceral leishmaniasis (just to name a few).
Those who may worry about medical conditions they might associate with their military service during the Gulf War era while stationed in or deployed to Southwest Asia are urged to participate in the VA Gulf War Health Registry Exam which is intended to help care providers and veterans determine if further attention is warranted, evaluate the veteran’s eligibility for certain VA care or benefits, etc.
The examination itself includes a physical, the review of possible exposure risks, medical history, lab tests, and discussions with VA health care professionals. The exam process is free for eligible veterans, there is no co-pay, and enrollment in the VA healthcare system is not required.
Veterans considering this process should know that the VA does not consider the Gulf War Health Registry Exam to be part of a disability compensation exam and this exam process is NOT REQUIRED to claim other VA benefits.
This exam process is, unlike the evaluation for VA compensation for service-connected medical issues, NOT based on military records but on the service member’s memory of the events that may have led to exposure, injury, etc. Veterans are free to request a second exam process if new symptoms or problems become apparent.
This exam process is only available to veterans, family members cannot use these services.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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