Link Between Gulf War Illness and VA Ratings Explained

The Link Between Gulf War Illness and VA Ratings Explained

Many Gulf War veterans suffer from unexplained symptoms, commonly called Gulf War illness.

Despite a long history of VA stiff-arming claims, advocates believe the agency may finally be paying attention to the issue. Veterans with medically unexplained chronic symptoms can qualify for service connection based on a presumptive diagnosis.


Gulf War Syndrome (GWS) encompasses various symptoms and illnesses. It is believed that these conditions are linked to the exposures experienced by veterans during operations of Desert Shield and Desert Storm. These exposures include chemical nerve agents, pesticides, and pyridostigmine bromide pills.

Congress passed laws to simplify obtaining benefits and treatment for veterans with unexplained ailments. The laws, called presumptive service connection, ensure that veterans who suffer from these disorders and can prove they served in certain locations between specific dates may be eligible for compensation without demonstrating that their service-connected disabilities are directly related to military service.

But to get the benefits you need, you must undergo a Compensation and Pension exam with a VA-approved practitioner who asks questions, reviews evidence, and performs tests to establish your diagnosis. The C&P exam will also determine your symptoms’ severity and whether they merit a rating.


For a veteran to receive benefits, their symptoms must meet specific criteria. They must have unexplained chronic multisymptom illnesses, including fatigue, joint or muscle pain and stiffness, memory problems, gastrointestinal issues, sleep disturbances, and skin signs or symptoms.

Congress passed laws to ensure Gulf War veterans suffering from several ailments would automatically receive healthcare and compensation. But many veterans are still waiting for answers.

During a Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam, a VA-approved medical practitioner will ask questions and perform tests to determine your condition’s severity. They may also give you a Gulf War illness VA rating based on how much your condition limits your ability to lead an everyday life and hold gainful employment. This rating is how much compensation you will receive. For most people, a rating of at least 10% is necessary to receive benefits. For some, however, higher ratings are possible. The more severe your condition, the higher your rating and the more money you will receive.


More than two decades after the end of the Gulf War, many veterans continue to experience unexplained symptoms referred to collectively as Gulf War illness (GWI). 

VA determines disability ratings based on symptom severity and impact on daily activities. Those ratings are used to determine your service-connection eligibility for benefits. VA requires all diagnosed GWI claimants to receive a Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam with a VA-approved practitioner. 


Whether or not Gulf War syndrome is medically diagnosed, veterans with the symptoms can qualify for disability benefits. These benefits include pension, disability compensation, education and training, home loans, insurance, health care, and burial.

Some veterans claim that the VA has avoided the issue of Gulf War illness because it fears a flood of new disability claims and costly payouts. Others have even accused the VA of hiding the link between Gulf War service and these illnesses. However, the PACT Act and the VA’s presumptive list of illnesses are helping many veterans to receive the benefits they deserve. A diagnosis of one or more Gulf War syndrome symptoms will result in a disability rating ranging from zero to 100 percent. A rating of at least 10% is needed to qualify for benefits.

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