Rating Gulf War Syndrome for Military Disability

The key to rating Gulf War Syndrome for Military Disability is that it isn’t really a condition at all—just a catch-all term used to identify seemingly random and unrelated symptoms/conditions that many service members who served in the Gulf War started experiencing after their return.
These symptoms/conditions can range from memory problems to diarrhea to skin conditions to headaches. There is no real rhyme or reason to the symptoms.
The only benefit to having Gulf War Syndrome officially diagnosed is that then each of the symptoms/conditions that fall under that title are automatically considered service-connected and thus qualify for VA Disability (see our VA Presumptive List for complete details on what Gulf War Syndrome symptoms qualify for VA Disability). They also qualify for DoD Disability, but only if they make the service member Unfit for Duty and are present at the time of discharge from the military.
Beyond making a symptom service-connected, there is no benefit at all to an official diagnosis of Gulf War Syndrome. Regardless of the title, physicians would still treat headaches the same way whether or not they were part of Gulf War Syndrome.
Similarly, each symptom/condition under the Gulf War Syndrome label would be rated independently of the other symptoms just as they would anyway. A higher or increased rating is not given just because a group of symptoms is united under the Gulf War Syndrome title.
When deciding how to rate your Gulf War Syndrome symptoms, it is essential to remember the Pyramiding Principle: no single symptom can be rated twice. So if a vet has a migraine headaches and meningitis, he would not get two separate ratings since a common symptom of meningitis is a headache. A rating for meningitis would already include the headache. It can then not be rated separately.
So, ultimately, when deciding how to rate Gulf War Syndrome, each condition/symptom can be rated separately as long as now two share the same symptoms.
One final point: We recently had a vet contact us about whether or not it would be beneficial for him to have Gulf War Syndrome officially diagnosed. Looking at his symptoms, we found that they were all already listed in his service medical record and thus already considered service-connected. He was simply never officially diagnosed with Gulf War Syndrome.
Since service-connection is the only real benefit to the title, in this case it would have been a waste of time and effort to get it officially diagnosed. It simply would not make a single difference to his overall rating. He was already getting fair compensation for all his symptoms/conditions.
The only time it may be beneficial to get Gulf War Syndrome diagnosed after leaving the military would be if additional symptoms appear after separation that need be determined service-connected in order to get a rating.
For further info on Gulf War Syndrome, visit our website.


  • Sir,

    I was made aware recently when I had a CAT scan done of my abdomen area that I have 2 surgical clips that were left behind in my abdomen from an appendectomy that I had over 4 years ago. My question is if I should claim that on my VA claim anywhere? I don't know what to claim it as, or if it is even worth claiming. I do have pain sometimes in the area where one of the clips was left behind.

    Thank You

  • Hi Eric –

    Was the original surgery done while you were in the military or done on a service-connected condition? If so, then any problems the clips create definitely qualify for VA Disability. You can just list it simply as "Pain (and any other symptoms) caused by clips remaining in abdomen post service-connected appendectomy". Make sure to include the results of the CAT scan with the proof of the clips along with proof that the appendectomy is service-connected.

    Now, whether or not it is worth claiming them… If all you have right now is mild, occasional pain, then you won't qualify for more than a 0% rating at this point. Regardless, it still might be worth going ahead and getting the clips on the VA's records. Even if they only give you a 0% rating now, they will have definitely made any future problems caused by the clips to be automatically considered service-connected and thus eligible for compensation.

    Now the clips may never cause any condition serious enough to get a rating, but they might. It's impossible to say at this stage. If they do cause problems in the future, though, already having them on your VA disability records will make it much easier to get the proper compensation you need at that time. It may not pay up now, but it would be a kind of insurance if anything develops in the future.

    Hope this helps.

  • Sir,

    I'm currently on active duty and I had a CT scan done because I was having problems with my digestive tract. Part of the CT scan results state the following "There are two short areas of narrowing in the sigmoid, one at the recto- sigmoid junction and a second in the proximal sigmoid, just above the bladder." My question is: should I list this on my VA claim? If I should list it, what would I list it as or call this abnormality?

    Thank You

  • Hi Eric –

    It seems to me that you need to meet with a specialist to get everything fully diagnosed. The CT results show strictures, but are they the result of a disease, etc? You still have some questions to have answered before your ready to claim these conditions.

    Since they were diagnosed while you were still on active duty, yes, you can definitely include them on your claim, but it's a bit premature to submit a claim already since you're still on active duty. Have you been referred to the MEB yet? If so, then you should be working with someone as a part of the Integrated Disability Evaluation System to prepare your VA Claim. They can help you figure out how best to list things once they are fully diagnosed.

    I'll be happy to guide further, but you need to do further work with your physician at this stage to fully diagnose everything. Once that is done, though, yes, definitely include this on your claim.

  • Dr. Johnson,

    Thank you for the quick response back. I did have a Colonoscopy to ensure that there was no cancer there, but there was no reason given to me for the narrowing of the 2 areas of the colon. Once they saw that cancer was not present, they said I was fine.

    I have not been referred to a MEB for this condition. I have 27 years of service though, and I retire in 9 months. I have an appointment to see my local VSO in June to file my claim 6 months prior to my separation.

    Do you think the 2 areas that show strictures could be a different disease or are even worth pursuing at this point? I just want to ensure that if it becomes an issue after I retire, everything is documented and it can be treated by the VA in a timely manner.

    Thank You

  • Hi Eric –

    Okay, so it sounds like none of your conditions make you Unfit for Duty, so you will only receive VA Disability after you retire. You are correct, then, to just be prepping for the VA.

    If you're physician does not feel that there is any dire medical need to pursue anything any further at this point, then I wouldn't worry about doing so. Since you have the strictures clearly documented while you were in the military by the CT Scan, anything that develops because of it in the future will definitely be service-connected.

    To ensure this, definitely include them on your VA Claim. Since they aren't causing any true problems at this stage, the VA probably won't rate them higher than 0%, but as long as they give it a 0%, you won't have any trouble getting medical care or getting the rating raised if something develops in the future.

    It seems as though you have gotten everything documented enough at this stage to proceed without worry. The most important thing you need to do when you retire is get a complete copy of ALL of your medical records, including test results, like the CT Scan. Then, if anything develops in the future that was originally documented while you were on active duty, it will qualify for VA Disability. You just have to have the proof.

    Otherwise that, I think you are pretty good to go. It doesn't sound like the strictures are causing any serious medical concern at this stage, or your doc would be pursing it, so I don't think you really need to do more about them right now.

    Just make sure that every medical thing you can think of has at least been looked at/documented, and you'll be as prepared as you can possibly be.

  • I had 3 MRI done with it showing white plaque on my brain and the plaque has increased. My VA doctor said it is undiagnosed illnesse due to gulf war. My claim sits at preparation for decision.

  • If the VA agrees that it is Gulf War Syndrome, then it will be rated on whatever symptoms it is causes. For example, if it is causing decreased brain function, it would be rated on whatever brain/mental condition that causes similar symptoms

  • Hello Dr. J,
    I filed and received compensation in 2014 and now will file for conditions that I feel are Gulf War related. During the Gulf war, I was sent to the field hospital for abdominal pain, which turned out to be a type of dysentery. Though this never made it into my medical records I continue to have problems with my problems.. Is this something that I can submit? Also, while looking through my medical records, I see that I was diagnosed with shingles. Not sure if my joint pain, headaches or skin condition is Gulf War related or because of having shingles in the past. Please advise. Thank you!

  • Check out our Presumptive List for Gulf War conditions. Depending on the condition/symptom, it had to have developed within a certain time and there must be medical records supporting this. Without knowing details of your conditions it's hard for me to determine whether or not they will qualify. The dysentery probably won't since it isn't on the list and it isn't in your medical record. Regardless, check the list. As long as the condition is 1. fully documented and 2. meets the timeline requirements, it'll qualify.

    Presumptive List:


  • I have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis by veteran medical clinic I went to sick bay for my back while I was on the USS BUTTE AE-27 I got out in 1994 and I had lower lumber surgery in 1997 can I get service connected from being in the neutral zone while on med cruise I also got a diagnose for ptsd by veteran mental clinic

  • Hi Dan –

    You have medical records from your time on active duty regarding your back, correct? What condition was diagnosed at that time? What condition was diagnosed when you had your surgery? If it was the same condition, then, yes, it would be considered service-connected. As for the PSTD, if the traumatic incident occurred during active duty, then, yes, this would also be considered service-connected.

  • I was diagnosed with IBS a year after I retired from AD, I put in a claim but it was determined not service connected( I deployed to Kuwait). I am now being treated for fibromyalga by my neurologist. I am wondering if it is even worth reopening my claim for IBS and should I put in a claim for fibromyalga?

  • Hi Tammy –

    If you were diagnosed with IBS more than a year after AD, and the VA determined it not service-connected, it is unlikely that the claim will be successful if reopened. You would need new evidence directly connecting it to service, and since there is a definite diagnosis, it doesn't qualify as Gulf War Syndrome.

    Fibromyalgia is in a similar boat, unfortunately. It's more than a year after separation, and without a clear connection, they won't consider it service-connected.

  • Hi Dr. Johnson, my Vet has cardiovascular disease, TIA, Migraines, severe depression, Fatigue, Prostate CA, Osteoarthritis, post renal cell carcinoma, nightmares, sleep apena and diverticulitis; could this cluster of illnesses be related to his time served in the Gulf War?

  • The VA is unlikely to link of these conditions to Gulf War service.

    Unless it a result of contracting one of the diseases noted on the Presumptive List, the VA doesn't recognize diagnosed conditions as the result of Gulf War Service.


    So any of the cancers, etc., won't be included.

    Gulf War Syndrome is a group of unrelated symptoms with no diagnosable cause. This would definitely cover some of the symptoms in your list, like fatigue, headaches, depression, nightmares, and the cardiovascular symptoms (although if this is a diagnosed disease, then maybe not).

    If it fits into a category listed under Gulf War Syndrome symptoms, then you can claim it as such, but again, if it is an officially diagnosed condition, it may not slide.

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