The VA recognizes that many Gulf War veterans experience a number of unexplained chronic symptoms including headaches, fatigue, insomnia, dizziness, memory problems, joint pain, digestive problems, and respiratory disorders. Veterans may know this as Gulf War Illness or Gulf War Syndrome, but the VA refers to these illnesses as chronic multisymptom illness and undiagnosed illnesses. The VA has made it easier for veterans with these conditions to qualify for disability compensation by providing for special handling of their claims.
To win a service-connection claim for these disabilities, the veteran does not have to show the condition manifested during active service. Rather, the disability is presumed to be service-connected if it manifested within a prescribed period determined by the VA, and it is at least 10% disabling. Additionally, there must be no cause for the disability or illness other than service in the Southwest Asia theater of military operations, and the disability must have existed for 6 months or more.
Gulf War Disability Claim Eligibility Changes
Recently, changes have come about that affect when the disability must manifest and who qualifies as a Gulf War veteran with service in the Southwest Asia theater.
The presumptive period
Noting that Congress has not established an end date for the Gulf War and scientific uncertainty regarding the cause and time of onset of these illness, the VA has found it necessary to extend the prescribed period for presumptive service connection. Currently, the presumptive period is scheduled to expire December 31, 2021, five years later than the previously scheduled expiration date.
Who is eligible?
Eligible veterans are those who discharged under conditions other-than-dishonorable and who served in the Southwest Asia theater of military operations from August 2, 1990, to present. The Southwest Asia theater includes Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the neutral zone between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, the waters of the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, the Red Sea, and the airspace above these areas. A recent case decided by the Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims has clarified that service in the Southwest Asia theater does not include service in Afghanistan. Thus, veterans who served in Afghanistan are not eligible for the presumption regarding chronic multisymptom illness and undiagnosed illnesses. Nonetheless, veterans who served in Afghanistan on or after September 19, 2001, may be entitled to disability compensation for certain presumptive diseases.
Impact for Veterans
The extension of the prescribed period for presumptive service connection is, of course, good news for Gulf War veterans who may later show signs of these illness that have not yet manifested. It is important for veterans, particularly those who served in Afghanistan, to understand that presumptive service connection for Gulf War veterans is only one of many factors in a complicated VA disability compensation process. Also, keep in mind that, while it is valuable to be aware of special rules that may assist you in securing your benefits, it does not mean you are not eligible for compensation simply because the rule does not apply to you. Even where the presumption is not available, veterans can still establish service connection for disabilities that are shown, by medical evidence, to be related to military service.
If you are a veteran who served in Southwest Asia and need assistance with a VA benefits claim, we are here to help. Call Veterans Help Group at (855) 855-8992 or complete our free veterans benefits case evaluation form.