Gulf War Illness Presumptive Conditions
Gulf War Syndrome impacts thousands of veterans who deployed to the Persian Gulf during their service. Also known as Gulf War Illness, the term refers to a list of disabilities that can be claimed. In this article, we explain the Gulf War presumptive conditions recognized by the VA, and share how to file a successful VA disability claim to receive disability benefits related to your Gulf War service.
As veterans began returning from service in the Gulf War, many began experiencing a cluster of otherwise unexplained illnesses. Sometimes these illnesses manifested during active duty, but in many cases, Gulf War-related symptoms developed years after exposure. Many veterans today may be suffering from health conditions and disabilities that stem from their Gulf War service.
If you served in the Gulf War (or know someone who did) and are dealing with chronic illness or infectious disease, you may qualify for disability benefits by filing a VA claim with one or more Gulf War presumptive conditions. We encourage you to investigate whether you qualify, so you can get all the benefits you deserve!
Plus, there’s a new deadline to qualify for presumptive disability benefits for Gulf War veterans, thanks to the VA’s recent Gulf War presumptive extension. That deadline is now December 31, 2026. You’ll definitely want to take advantage of this if you haven’t already filed a claim for disabilities that qualify for the Gulf War presumptive.
Throughout this article, we reference Gulf War Syndrome. Keep in mind that Gulf War Syndrome is slang for Gulf War Illness. Both refer to presumptive disability benefits for Gulf War veterans who experience specific symptoms. The VA does not award disability compensation for Gulf War Syndrome, but instead for the disabilities that result from Gulf War service.
Read on to learn the essentials of filing a VA claim for disabilities that qualify for the Gulf War presumptive!
- Gulf War Illness Presumptive Conditions
- What is Gulf War Syndrome?
- What are the common symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome?
- What infectious diseases are associated with the Gulf War?
- How does presumptive service connection work?
- Who qualifies as a Persian Gulf War Veteran?
- The VA has extended the Gulf War Syndrome deadline by 5 years!
- Is depression a Gulf War presumptive?
- Why does the VA deny Gulf War-related claims?
- When is the deadline to qualify for Gulf War Syndrome?
- Get help with your claim—and the compensation you deserve.
- About the Author
What is Gulf War Syndrome?
Nearly 1 in 4 veterans who served in the 1991 Gulf War during Desert Shield and Desert Storm experience chronic illness. That’s about 250,000 veterans! Even though the Gulf War was over 30 years ago, nearly 25 percent of those who served suffer from challenges related to their service there.
In addition, veterans continue to deploy to the region today, and even now many of them experience new symptoms as a result of their service.
While the exact causes of Gulf War syndrome are unknown, veterans who served during the Gulf War were exposed to many different environmental hazards in Southwest Asia. That exposure isn’t limited to veterans during the Gulf War; veterans deployed to the region since are still experiencing similar illnesses.
In particular, there are suspected links between Gulf War illness and oil well fires, pollution, pesticides, depleted uranium, experimental vaccinations, and anti-nerve gas tablets.
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What are the common symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome?
The VA classifies Gulf War Syndrome into two categories of qualifying chronic disabilities.
- Medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illnesses (MUCMI)
- Undiagnosed illnesses
Let’s break down both categories into common disabilities and symptoms so you can identify which one potentially impacts you.
- Medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illnesses and Gulf War Illness
Medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illnesses (MUCMI) are conditions where there is a diagnosed illness, but that illness either has an unknown cause or the process by which the illness works in the body is unknown.
In order to be classified as a MUCMI, the illness must also have overlapping symptoms and signs that cause fatigue and pain. Additionally, the severity of your symptoms and resulting lab tests can’t be explained by medical examination.
MUCMIs include but aren’t limited to a diagnosis of one of these conditions:
- Chonic fatigue syndrome
- Gastrointestinal conditions resulting from abnormal GI tract function, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (not caused by tumors or genetic diseases)
2. Undiagnosed illnesses
Undiagnosed illnesses are conditions that can’t be attributed to a known clinical diagnosis. In these cases, a doctor may run physical exams and labs and go over your medical history, but still be unable to determine a diagnosis.
Symptoms of undiagnosed illnesses or medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illnesses
In order to receive disability benefits from the VA for an undiagnosed illness or a MUCMI related to Gulf War service, you must have a medical diagnosis or claim a MUCMI. The following symptoms are all approved, but the law states that symptoms not on this list may also be considered.
Any of the following symptoms may be signs of an undiagnosed illness or a MUCMI:
- Chronic fatigue
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Skin symptoms
- Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
- Dizziness and other neurological symptoms
- Cardiovascular symptoms
- Memory problems
- Weight loss
- Menstrual disorders
The chronic requirement for unexplained illnesses and MUCMIs
In order to get your condition classified as either a MUCMI or an undiagnosed illness, it must be considered chronic. The VA defines chronic as a disability that’s existed for six months or more or a disability with symptoms that get better and worse over a six-month period.
The “start date” of this six-month period is the earliest date of evidence of signs or symptoms of the disability.
Report your symptoms to a doctor to start the clock. You’ll need to wait at least six months from the date you report your symptoms to a doctor to receive a diagnosis that satisfies the chronic requirement for both undiagnosed illnesses and MUCMIs.
What infectious diseases are associated with the Gulf War?
The VA has identified nine infectious diseases associated with the Gulf War. However, in order to receive disability benefits from the VA based on presumptive service connection, you must have a diagnosis of one of these within the VA’s timeframe shown below.
The below-listed Gulf War presumptive conditions must be diagnosed within one year from the date of your military separation in order to qualify for VA benefits for disabilities resulting from your Gulf War service:
- Campylobacter Jejuni
- Coxiella Burnetii (Q Fever)
- Nontyphoid Salmonella
- West Nile Virus
The below-listed Gulf War presumptive conditions can be diagnosed at any time after you leave military service to qualify for disability benefits:
- Visceral Leishmaniasis
- Mycobacterium Tuberculosis
If you’re experiencing conditions from any of the above chronic qualifying disabilities, you can schedule a free Gulf War Registry health exam with the VA. This exam can help identify long-term health problems related to your service. You can also use any diagnoses resulting from the exam when filing your VA claim.
How does presumptive service connection work?
The VA presumes that certain conditions are caused by military service. Gulf War-related disabilities such as medically unexplained chronic multi-symptom illness are only one group of presumptives. Examples of other presumptive conditions include veteran exposure to Agent Orange or burn pit exposure and respiratory cancers (added in April 2022 to the updated gulf war presumptive list).
When there’s accumulated evidence of repeated associations between specific medical conditions and specific service environments, the VA presumes that these links are not coincidental and that the disability was caused by military service. The VA created the VA Presumptive List to address this and make it easier for affected veterans to pursue their disability claims and receive benefits.
Disabilities become “presumed” disabilities and are added to the list when the VA observes trends in medical conditions that veterans develop after serving in certain circumstances at particular times and places. If you served in certain places/times and develop a correlating condition on the list, it’s presumed to be caused by that service and is thus eligible for disability.
(Any claim will still require documentation that you do have the disability/condition and that you were indeed in that location/circumstance at that time, as well as any other criteria for that presumption).
Presumptive service connection for Gulf War illnesses was granted by the VA to make it easier for Gulf War veterans to obtain service connection for their disabilities.
In order to explain presumptive service connection, let’s first cover what you need to include in a typical VA claim to prove service connection.
For a normal VA claim (that isn’t for a presumptive condition), you’d need all three elements below to prove service connection:
- A current diagnosis of an illness,
- An in-service injury or illness, AND
- A link between your illness and your diagnosis (also known as a medical nexus)
Your medical nexus, or the link between your illness and diagnosis, is best established using an independent medical opinion. Common practice is to add a statement from your doctor that your condition is “at least as likely as not” caused by military service, and that the statement is rationalized by supporting medical evidence and/or scholarly research.
(At VA Claims Insider we believe that an independent medical opinion or nexus letter is one of the most critical—and overlooked—elements of a winning VA claim. One way we help veterans is by connecting you to an independent network of medical providers who are adept at “speaking the VA’s language” in providing these statements. Take advantage of a FREE VA Claim Discovery Call with us to explore if this is what your claim is missing.)
A presumptive service connection only satisfies the requirement to prove the link or medical nexus. Instead, the VA assumes the link, or nexus—in this case, that your service in the Gulf War is causing your illness. (The other claim requirements still apply.)
In order to qualify for a presumptive service connection, your illness must also be considered chronic. The VA defines chronic conditions as those lasting for at least six months. Additionally, your symptoms must be at least 10 percent disabling.
It’s important to note that you won’t receive disability compensation for a diagnosis of Gulf War Syndrome overall. You’ll receive disability compensation for your diagnosed disability or MUCMI based on how your symptoms impact your ability to work and function in everyday life. When filing your claim, you’ll want to file for each diagnosed disability or a MUCMI.
Even if you were exposed to environmental hazards and/or served in one of the qualifying areas below in Southwest Asia, this alone is not enough to qualify for a presumptive service connection. You must have a diagnosed disability or claim a MUCMI when filing.
Who qualifies as a Persian Gulf War Veteran?
In order to win a VA disability claim that includes Gulf War presumptive conditions, you must be a Persian Gulf War veteran.
Although the Gulf War only lasted several months during 1991, U.S. troops have deployed to the region for decades. Veterans continue to return home from Southwest Asia with chronic unexplained illnesses to this day.
The VA considers anyone who served in the Southwest Asia area of operations between August 1, 1990 and the present to be eligible for benefits if they’re experiencing Gulf War presumptive conditions. If you served in the Southwest Asia theatre of operations after August 1, 1990,, you’re considered a Persian Gulf War veteran.
The VA considers these locations to be part of the Southwest Asia theatre of operations:
- Saudi Arabia
- The neutral zone between Iraq and Saudi Arabia
- The United Arab Emirates (UAE)
- The Gulf of Aden
- The Gulf of Oman
- The waters of the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, and the Red Sea
- The airspace above these locations
If you served in these areas and are have a qualifying diagnosed disability (or are claiming MUCMI) related to Gulf War Syndrome, you qualify for presumptive service connection.
The VA has extended the Gulf War Syndrome deadline by 5 years!
Big news for 2022! The VA recently extended the Gulf War presumptive deadline to December 31, 2026. Congress has given you five additional years to file!
Before the extension,you would have had to meet a December 31, 2021 deadline if claiming Gulf war presumptives. This meant that you had to have symptoms begin by December 31, 2021 (you also had to have a diagnosis and file by that date).
For all the veterans out there who are dealing with symptoms but haven’t seen a doctor for a diagnosis—this extension is for you! You still have time to build a claim and get VA disability benefits. In addition, some Gulf War veterans may not have developed symptoms yet.
Is depression a Gulf War presumptive?
At VA Claims Insider, we hear this question a lot. According to a VA study of 15,000 Gulf War veterans, 33% of Gulf War veterans report symptoms of depression.
Unfortunately, depression is not listed as a presumptive condition for Gulf War Syndrome.
When filing a VA claim for depression, you’ll need to prove the link, or nexus, using medical evidence to connect your depression to your military service.
You do have another option if your depression is resulting from a condition that falls under Gulf War Syndrome: secondary service connection. Many of the presumptive conditions for Gulf War Syndrome result in chronic pain or sleeplessness for veterans, which can cause or exacerbate depression.
You can learn more about secondary service connection for depression in our post “Secondary Service Connection for Depression.”
Why does the VA deny Gulf War-related claims?
In the last decade, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that over 80 percent of all disability claims relating to the Gulf War have been denied—a staggering figure! At the same time, more and more veterans are filing claims for disabilities associated with Gulf War symptoms.
We want to help you improve your chances of winning your VA claim for disabilities and symptoms stemming from Gulf War service the first time around! Let’s dive into what we know about why the VA denies these claims.
On average, Gulf War-related claims involve twice as many medical issues as other claims. This makes sense, given that one of the presumptive categories is called “medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illnesses.”
This adds complexity to many Gulf War claims. These claims are therefore more difficult for the VA to process and can take the VA longer to reach a decision—by about four months on average.
A few trends the GAO found include:
- Most VA staff who are processing claims don’t receive Gulf War illness training. (As of 2017, only 10 percent of the medical examiners had taken Gulf War-specific training.).
- Many VA medical examiners performing Gulf War exams don’t accurately communicate symptoms in a medical diagnosis.
- Many VA denial letters don’t explain why the claim was denied (or what the veteran can focus on for an appeal).
When is the deadline to qualify for Gulf War Syndrome?
Thanks to the VA’s recent Gulf War extension, the new deadline to qualify for disability benefits connected to Gulf War Presumptives is December 31, 2026.
Before this deadline, make sure you:
- Get your medical diagnosis for one or more chronic illnesses or infectious diseases listed above.
- Collect all your service records to prove your deployment to the Southwest Asia theatre of operations.
- File your VA claim!
Get help with your claim—and the compensation you deserve.
Regardless of whether or not you qualify for compensation for presumptive disabilities resulting from Gulf War Syndrome, it’s important to pursue monthly compensation and benefits for any disabilities connected to your military service.
Most veterans are underrated for their disabilities and therefore not getting the compensation they’re due. At VA Claims Insider, we help you understand and take control of the claims process, so you can get the rating and compensation you’re owed by law.
Our process takes the guesswork out of filing a VA disability claim and supports you every step of the way in building a fully-developed claim (FDC)—so you can increase your rating in less time!
If you’ve filed your VA disability claim and have been denied or have received a low rating—or you’re unsure how to get started—reach out to us! Take advantage of a FREE VA Claim Discovery Call. Learn what you’ve been missing—so you can FINALLY get the disability rating and compensation you deserve!
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About the Author
About VA Claims Insider
VA Claims Insider is an education-based coaching/consulting company. We’re here for disabled veterans exploring eligibility for increased VA disability benefits and who wish to learn more about that process. We also connect veterans with independent medical professionals in our referral network for medical examinations, disability evaluations, and credible independent medical opinions and nexus statements (medical nexus letters) for a wide range of disability conditions.