Like all veterans, Gulf War veterans are eligible for disability compensation for service-connected disabilities that first occurred or were worsened during military service. But there is an additional way for Gulf War vets to become eligible for compensation without having to prove their disability is directly connected to their service. It is called Presumptive Service Connection.
Many Gulf War veterans have developed multi-symptom diseases that have been either misdiagnosed or classified as undiagnosed illnesses. These vets were exposed to chemical hazards as well as vaccines whose effects are pretty much unknown. Until there is more medical and scientific research on the health consequences of these hazards and vaccines, the resulting illnesses of Gulf War vets may continue to be misunderstood.
For this reason, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) allows Gulf War veterans to be eligible for disability compensation under a rule called Presumptive Service Connection.
What Is Presumptive Service Connection?
Being presumptively service-connected is a way of qualifying for disability compensation without proving that an illness was caused or aggravated by military service. When Gulf War vets have what is called a “qualifying chronic disability” (explained below), their illness is presumed to be service connected. This makes it easier to obtain disability benefits.
Requirements for Presumptive Service Connection
You will have to show that:
- You qualify as a Gulf War veteran.
- You have what is called a "qualifying chronic disability," and
- Your disability arose while you were in service, or, your disability arose after you came home and can be rated at 10% or more.
Do I Qualify as a Gulf War Veteran?
You will qualify as a Gulf War veteran if you served on active duty in Southwest Asia during the Persian Gulf War in the following countries and/or areas, including airspace above these areas:
- Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Afghanistan, or the United Arab Emirates
- the neutral zone between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and/or
- the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf, or the Red Sea.
If you served in Turkey or other areas not included in the above list, the VA does not presently consider you a Gulf War veteran.
What Is a Qualifying Chronic Disability?
The VA defines a qualifying chronic disability as one or more of the following:
- an undiagnosed illness
- a chronic illness with multiple symptoms that can’t be medically explained, and
- infectious diseases.
Undiagnosed Illness. There are several sets of symptoms without medical explanations that the VA recognizes as being entitled to presumptive service connection. These symptoms are so common to Gulf War veterans that they are commonly referred to as Gulf War Syndrome.
Symptoms of qualifying undiagnosed illnesses include:
- cardiovascular signs or symptoms
- joint pain, muscle pain, headache
- neurological symptoms
- neuropsychological conditions
- skin problems
- respiratory system problems
- menstrual disorders
- fatigue and/or sleep disturbances
- abnormal weight loss, and
- gastrointestinal symptoms
These symptoms must be chronic, meaning they have lasted for six months or more or have periodically gotten better or worse during a six-month period.
Your physician must identify these symptoms as undiagnosed. If your physician gives you a specific diagnosis for your symptoms, you are not entitled to presumptive service connection, and you will have to prove direct service connection to obtain benefits.
To qualify, your symptoms must have begun while you were in service or during the "presumptive period" after you came home. Currently the presumptive period is anytime between the time you left the Gulf and December 31, 2016. This deadline has previously been extended and may be extended again.
You can still apply for disability benefits on the basis of an undiagnosed illness even if you have symptoms not yet included by the VA in the above list. The only requirement is that your symptoms be both chronic and undiagnosed.
Chronic Multisymptom Illnesses. Chronic multisymptom illnesses include fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and irritable bowel syndrome. The VA will make decisions on a case-by-case basis for other illnesses with multiple symptoms that cannot be medically explained.
These symptoms must be chronic, meaning they have lasted for six months or more or have periodically gotten better or worse during a six month period.
Your illness must have begun while you were in service or during the "presumptive period" after you came home, which is currently anytime between the time you left the Gulf and December 31, 2016. (This period may be extended again.)
Infectious Diseases. The VA recognizes several infectious diseases as linked to service in the Gulf. You are eligible for presumptive service conditions for the illnesses below regardless of when your symptoms first arise.
- Mycobacterium Tuberculosis, and
- Visceral Leishmaniasis.
The following infectious diseases must have started while you were in service or be rated at 10% or higher within a year after you left the military.
- Nontyphoid Salmonella
- West Nile Virus
- Campylobacter Jejuni, and
- Coxiella Burnetii (Q Fever).
Exceptions to the Presumptive Service Connection Rule
In some cases, you may meet the requirements for presumptive service connection but still be denied benefits under an exception. This can happen if:
- There was some event or condition that occurred after service that caused the disability.
- There is any evidence at all the disability wasn’t caused during service, or
- The disability was caused by your willful misconduct or alcohol or drug abuses.
If this happens, or if you don’t have a qualifying chronic illness as described in this article, you can still apply for disability compensation by showing a direct service connection.
Social Security Disability Benefits
If you cannot work due to your medical condition(s), you should apply for Social Security disability benefits. You can collect VA compensation and Social Security at the same time. For more information, see Disability Secrets' article on Social Security disability for gulf war vets.