Gulf War Syndrome 

Nearly two decades after the end of the Gulf War, our U.S. veterans who fought there are still suffering from the effects of Gulf War Syndrome, also known as Gulf War Illness.  Until recently, our Indianapolis social security attorney explains, most Gulf War vets weren't given serious consideration by the VA in terms of the effects the illness has on their health.  In fact, some veterans were told that "Gulf War Syndrome appears to be a myth." Well, times are changing. 

There has been a recent push to recognize Gulf War vets who suffer from Gulf War Illness and award them the disability payments that are long overdue to them.  Now that much-needed attention is finding its way back to the subject of Gulf War Syndrome, we thought, as veterans disability lawyers, that it would be a good service to explain the history of Gulf Way Syndrome and hopefully reach vets that are still suffering from its symptoms.

Conduct even a shred of research on Gulf War Illness and you will notice the word "controversial" appearing over and over.  Critics of the syndrome's existence note that the symptoms Gulf War vets display are not dissimilar to those that veterans of other conflicts have also experienced.  As such, many groups are quick to suggest that Gulf War Illness is no different than "shell shock" or "post-traumatic stress disorder," and that these are simply common after-effects of wartime service.  In worst-case scenarios, some critics will simply call the disease a product of the soldier's imagination. 

The problem with these hollow claims is that their origins are traced back to Pentagon-funded studies.  And it's not hard to believe that a study performed by the Pentagon may be a bit biased.  Of course, Gulf vets and gulf war advocate groups continue to disagree with the reports released by the Pentagon.  Eventually, the voice of our vets was heard and an official federal report was released by an independent committee in 2008 that found very different findings than those of the Pentagon.  Needless to say, when our soldiers claim that they are suffering from an illness, it's highly unlikely that they're imagining this pain.

Many Gulf War vets and their loved ones assumed that chemicals, burn pits, and oil fires were strictly to blame for Gulf War Illness.  Hundreds of thousands of vets returned with similar symptoms: muscle aching, irritability, skin disorders, thickened saliva, weight loss, problems with memory, chronic fevers, vertigo, loss of balance, labored breathing, and headaches.  There are also several documented cases of birth defects as well as cases of leukemia.  However, after performing extensive studies, a very unsuspected finding was ruled as a possible cause.  

The military had supplied Gulf War soldiers with pills to help ward off the effects of long-term illnesses associated with the effects of chemical weaponized nerve agents, and from the use of pesticides during deployment.  In the 2008 independent Gulf War Illness report it was discovered that the use of these pills in conjunction with exposure to deadly nerve agents, was most likely the cause of the symptoms related to Gulf War illness.

Today, there are approximately 210,000 Gulf War veterans who remain ill after serving in the 1991 Gulf War.  Each of these veterans deserves healthcare and disability benefits.  Advocate groups such as Veterans For Common Sense have slowly begun to see their efforts pay off, as the VA reopens ill Gulf War vet disability claims for Gulf War Syndrome.

As a Gulf War Veteran, How Do You Know If You Have Gulf War Illness?

First, it's important to understand the definition. Gulf War Illness/Syndrome is the name given to a variable combination of psychological and physical complaints and conditions experienced by veterans of the Persian Gulf War.

Second, you should know the statistics:  Approximately 700,000 soldiers served in the Persian Gulf War, and 1 out of 4 soldiers were afflicted with Gulf War Illness.  (The vast majority of our men and women serving in the armed forces are honorable people.  It's shocking to think that people actually believe 1 in 4 of our soldiers would "imagine" their symptoms.

The symptoms of Gulf War Illness (or Syndrome) are as follows:


  • Skin Conditions (rashes)
  • Problems with joints (arthritis)
  • Gastro-intestinal problems (Gi problems)
  • Respiratory problems
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Chronic multi-symptom illness
  • Terminal tumors

General symptoms related to Gulf War Illness (or Syndrome) that may become chronic include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Problems with memory
  • Muscle Pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Dyspepsia/Indigestion
  • Neurological problems

It's possible that you have already applied for veterans disability benefits and been denied.  It's also possible that you never applied because you were told that your illness was not related to the war, or was psychosomatic in nature.  Whatever the reason you're not receiving Gulf War disability benefits, you need to contact a veteran's disability lawyer.  A qualified veteran's disability lawyer will be able to give you an honest, non-biased assessment of your potential claim.  Remember, we don't work for the government, nor are we a special interest group, we work for our veterans.

Has Research Ruled Out Possible Causes for Gulf War Syndrome? Yes.

Because so much controversy surrounded Gulf War Illness, researchers not only had to prove that the symptoms were authentic and explain their origin, they also needed to rule out several potential causes.  The 3 main causes that have consistently been ruled out are:

Oil well fires:

The famed images of blazing oil wells can be viewed across the internet and seen in pictures chronicling the Gulf War.  It was an act of desperation performed by the retreating Iraqi army as our soldiers pushed through Kuwait.

Researchers point out that the oil well fires did cause pulmonary problems and long-term breathing difficulties for troops, but they were not a factor related to Gulf War Illness.  The primary determination was attributed to the fact that firemen who did not see combat, yet were tasked with putting out the fires, did not report any of the symptoms related to Gulf War Illness.

Combat Stress:

A VA review committee has consistently offered up proof that mental illness, combat (war-time) experience, or other deployment-related stressors, do not explain Gulf War Illness in the majority of cases.

Anthrax vaccinations:

There was a legitimate fear regarding the Iraqi Army's large stockpile of various weapons that contained anthrax loaded missiles and artillery shells.  In preparation for this contingency, the military vaccinated nearly half of our soldiers so that the effects would be neutralized should Iraq launch these weapons.  

There was never a large scale clinical trial performed before our soldiers were administered this vaccine.  And though the USFDA approved its use, there were still questions.  Ultimately, the drug was determined to be largely responsible for temporary reactions, e.g., skin rashes, etc., however, it was determined that the vaccination was not the cause for the majority of the cases in which soldiers developed Gulf War Illness.  In fact, the vaccination is still administered today to our troops involved in present day Iraq and Afghanistan. 
James R. Keller
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