VA to Take Another Look at Gulf War Disability ClaimsFeb 26, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP
Nearly 20 years after the conclusion of the Gulf War, the Veterans Affairs Department (VA) will be reviewing the disability claims of veterans who reported illnesses they blame on their service, said The Associated Press (AP). This review could be a preliminary step in arranging veteran compensation, the AP added.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki called the agency’s decision a "fresh, bold look" his department is taking to assist veterans suffering from so-called "Gulf War illness," explained the AP. According to the VA, it will initiate plans to improve medical staff training for those working with Gulf War veterans; for instance ensuring staff do not tell veterans their symptoms are in their imagination, wrote the AP. "I'm hoping they'll be enthused by the fact that this ... challenges all the assumptions that have been there for 20 years," Shinseki told the AP in its exclusive interview.
Approximately 700,000 veterans served in the Gulf War and upwards of 210,000 have complained of a series of symptoms such as, said the AP, “rashes, joint and muscle pain, sleep issues, and gastrointestinal problems,” citing findings from a 2008 committee mandated by Congress. The symptoms’ source remains unclear; however, independent research has considered pesticide and pyridostigmine bromide pills, said the AP. The pills were given to American troops to protect them from the effects of nerve agents, explained the AP. The report stated that since 1994, a whopping $340 million has been spent on government research into the illness’ source, but not its treatment, reported the AP.
The new focus at the VA should better enable a clearer understanding of from what veterans are suffering and is expected to ensure veterans don’t have to wait tens of years for answers, wrote the AP. Shinseki has talked publicly about the open issues with Gulf War veterans and Gulf War illnesses, especially given that the condition has worsened with time, noted the AP.
"We're talking about a culture change, that we don't have a single clinician or benefits person saying 'you really don't have Gulf War illness, this is only imaginary' or 'you're really not sick,'" said Shinseki’s chief of staff, John Gingrich, a retired Army colonel who commanded a field artillery battalion in the Gulf War and led a task force into Gulf War illness, explained the AP.
Veterans are legally eligible to receive compensation from the VA for some “chronic disabilities from illnesses” that are can not be diagnosed by the agency, said the AP, adding that that over 3,400 Gulf War veterans qualify for these benefits and the number of veterans whose claims were rejected, but who could be eligible for benefits, could number in the thousands, reported the AP. Some 300,000 Gulf War veterans submitted claims and about 14 percent were rejected; the remainder received some sort of compensation, said the AP.
Meanwhile, a 2006 report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) pointed to a potential connection between military service and another disease, the onset of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS is a progressive, usually fatal, nervous system disorder that affects 20,000 to 30,000 people in the United States, with roughly 5,000 newly stricken annually. According to the 2006 IOM report, several epidemiologic studies reported a link between development of ALS and prior service in the U.S. military.