VA Extends Care For Undiagnosed Gulf War Illnesses

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VA extends care for undiagnosed Gulf War illnesses
by Rick Maze

Veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf War who have disabilities from undiagnosed illnesses will continue to qualify for veterans’ benefits and health care until Dec. 31, 2011, VA officials announced Monday.

In an item published in the Federal Register, VA officials issued an interim policy expected to be final in 60 days that continues a policy started shortly after the Operation Desert Storm.

The current policy of presuming that undiagnosed illnesses are connected to service began in 1994 in the wake of wide complaints about mysterious illnesses that acquired the collective name of Gulf War syndrome. Researchers have not been able to isolate a single illness or disease as a cause, but the VA, under pressure from Congress, has assumed that those who served in the combat theater who have chronic disabilities resulting from undiagnosed illnesses could receive disability benefits and be afforded other veterans’ rights.

Initially, undiagnosed illnesses were covered for two years. But that time limit was extended several times, with the secretary of veterans affairs getting discretion to set the period for presumptive coverage. Prior to the VA’s Monday announcement, the latest cutoff for undiagnosed illnesses among Gulf War veterans had been Dec. 31, 2006…

     

As is standard with government regulations, the VA will be accepting comment on the change until Feb. 16, when a final rule will be prepared.

VA officials said in the notice that they are pushing for the extension to provide consistency in VA adjudication policy and preserve certain rights afforded to Persian Gulf War veterans and ensure fairness for current and future Persian Gulf War veterans. By future veterans, they are referring to people still on active duty who served in the Gulf War, who would be covered by VA benefits after separation.

Research into Gulf War syndrome continues, VA officials said, with a project under way to see how deployment-related stress can affect long-term health. An ongoing study is not limited to veterans of the Persian Gulf War deployments of the early 1990s but also includes veterans of current conflicts, such as Operation Iraqi Freedom, occurring in part, within the Southwest Asia theater of operations, the notice says.


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