New VA Regulation on Gulf War Syndrome

Gulf War Veterans are the subject of a special compensation benefit if they suffer from a qualifying chronic disability that arose during service during the Persian Gulf War. Alternatively, it can arise within around 10 years of the first Persian Gulf military conflict at a level of at least 10% debilitating. This benefit is most interesting since it appears to have arisen based on the pervasive use of environmental toxins during the first Persian Gulf War. These toxins included smoke from oil well fires, extremes of hot and cold weather, petroleum products and fumes, depleted uranium, pesticides, and endemic infectious diseases.

Such qualifying illnesses include any undiagnosed illness, a medically unexplained mulitisymptom illness such as Chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and irritiable bowel syndrome. Apparently there is some confusion because the examples mentioned above are not an exclusive list but are merely examples. This is reflected at 38 C.F.R. 3.317(a)(2)(i)(B). The amendment is designed to prevent Veterans from being confused that the list of diseases is an exhaustive list. Studies on British Veterans from this conflict show that there have been a number of reported symptoms including fatigue, headaches, joint pains, rashes, shortness of breath, sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, and forgetfulness. The participants reported multiple common medical symptoms, including affective problems (50%) , fatigue (42%), joint and muscle aches (40%), cognitive problems (26%), headaches (26%), respiratory complaints (24%), gastrointestinal problems (22%), sleep disturbances (21%), and skin problems (19%). Participants often had multiple symptoms, and most had more than one diagnosis. Musculoskeletal disorders, respiratory conditions, and post-traumatic stress disorder were diagnosed in 18%, 16%, and at least 12%, respectively. Similar adverse health effects have been reported among other groups of UK, US, and Canadian Gulf War veterans. There is growing recognition that many of today’s military conflicts do not necessarily result in combat related injury in the traditional sense. These illnesses perhaps have not been properly studied since there were unknown sources perhaps causing illnesses that are not well understood.

The amendment from the VA will read The revised section will read: ‘‘(B) A medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illness that is defined by a cluster of signs or symptoms, such as: (1) Chronic fatigue syndrome; (2) Fibromyalgia; (3) Irritable bowel syndrome.’’ This change eliminates language that could imply that the list is exhaustive. VA adjudicators will have the authority to decide whether other diseases besides the ones mentioned above qualify as a “medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illness”. The examples such as fibromyalgia usually have no conclusive etiology, have overlapping symptoms and features fatigue, pain, and disability out of proportion to physical findings. This would appear to be a pro Veteran regulation amendment as it does make it consistent with Congress’ intent of granting this type of benefits to a variety of impairments that are of an unknown origin.

New VA Regulation on Gulf War Syndrome by

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