The Department of Veteran’s Affairs announced that they will extend benefits for illnesses linked to the toxic warfighting conditions of the Gulf War to the year 2021, on Monday. These illnesses are generally referred to “Gulf War Illness” and consist of a variety of debilitating, and medically unexplainable, conditions such as chronic fatigue and Fibromyalgia. The dangerous conditions created by the use of chemical weapons and the oil fires that characterized the conflict caused the VA to presume a connection between Gulf War service and these illnesses. This connection has made it easier for service members that participated in Gulf War operations to receive disability ratings and benefits more efficiently.
Prior to the extension, veterans seeking treatment after December 2016 for Gulf War-induced illness would have been denied the presumed connection between Gulf War service and specific illnesses and may have been denied treatment altogether. Medical professionals agree that symptoms or illnesses caused by being exposed to toxic fumes can develop at any point in a veteran’s life. Meaning that many of the 700,000 service members deployed to the Gulf War in 1990 and 1991 would not have received the treatment they earned by serving their country.
Extending the deadline is a major victory for Gulf War veterans but the war has not been won. Approximately 36.5 percent of Gulf War veterans report symptoms of Gulf War illness. Up to 80% of the claims filed by Gulf War veterans were denied in the first half of 2015. VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald told reporters that he has extended the deadline as far as he could but would need congress to remove the deadline altogether.