USAVA Extends Coverage for Gulf War Veterans

WASHINGTON — Vet­er­ans of the first Gulf War as well as cur­rent oper­a­tions in Iraq and Afghanistan now have a smoother path toward receiv­ing health-care ben­e­fits and dis­abil­i­ty com­pen­sa­tion for nine dis­eases asso­ci­at­ed with their mil­i­tary ser­vice, Sec­re­tary of Vet­er­ans Affairs Eric K. Shin­se­ki announced today.

A final reg­u­la­tion pub­lished in today’s Fed­er­al Reg­is­ter relieves vet­er­ans of the bur­den of prov­ing these dis­eases are ser­vice-relat­ed: Bru­cel­losis, Campy­lobac­ter jeju­ni, Cox­iel­la Bur­netii (Q fever), Malar­ia, Mycobac­teri­um tuber­cu­lo­sis, Non­ty­phoid Sal­mo­nel­la, Shigel­la, Vis­cer­al leish­ma­ni­a­sis and West Nile virus.

Shin­se­ki added the new pre­sump­tions after review­ing a 2006 Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences Insti­tute of Med­i­cine report on the long-term health effects of cer­tain dis­eases suf­fered among Gulf War vet­er­ans.

He also extend­ed the pre­sump­tions to vet­er­ans of Afghanistan, based on NAS find­ings that the nine dis­eases are preva­lent there as well.

The new pre­sump­tions apply to vet­er­ans who served in South­west Asia begin­ning on or after the start of Oper­a­tion Desert Shield on Aug. 2, 1990, through Oper­a­tion Desert Storm to the present, includ­ing the cur­rent con­flict in Iraq. Vet­er­ans who served in Afghanistan on or after Sept. 19, 2001, also qual­i­fy.

For Shin­se­ki, who pledged to hon­or the 20th anniver­sary of the Gulf War by improv­ing health-care access and ben­e­fits for its 697,000 vet­er­ans, the new pre­sump­tions rep­re­sent a long-over­due step in address­ing the med­ical chal­lenges many face.

“This is part of his­toric changes in how VA con­sid­ers Gulf War vet­er­ans’ ill­ness­es,” he said. “By set­ting up sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly based pre­sump­tions of ser­vice con­nec­tion, we give these deserv­ing vet­er­ans a sim­ple way to obtain the ben­e­fits they earned in ser­vice to our coun­try.”

The new pre­sump­tions ini­tial­ly are expect­ed to affect just under 2,000 vet­er­ans who have been diag­nosed with the nine spec­i­fied dis­eases, John Gin­grich, VA’s chief of staff, told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice. He acknowl­edged that the num­bers are like­ly to climb as more cas­es are iden­ti­fied.

With the final rule, a vet­er­an needs only to show ser­vice in South­west Asia or Afghanistan dur­ing the spec­i­fied time peri­ods to receive dis­abil­i­ty com­pen­sa­tion, sub­ject to cer­tain time lim­its based on incu­ba­tion peri­ods for sev­en of the dis­eases.

“It gives them eas­i­er access to qual­i­ty health care and com­pen­sa­tion ben­e­fits,” Gin­grich said. “The mes­sage behind that is that the VA is striv­ing to make access to health care eas­i­er for our vet­er­ans who have served in our com­bat zones.”

He expressed hope that by pro­vid­ing quick, easy access, VA will help vet­er­ans get the care they need ear­ly on, with­out hav­ing to fight the bureau­cra­cy.

“When we find these pre­sump­tions and we reach out and get the vet­er­ans into our sys­tem, we can help them and give them the prop­er med­ical care they need, and maybe keep their dis­ease from get­ting worse or get­ting it to go away alto­geth­er,” he said.

It also will help elim­i­nate the piles of paper­work and long claims adju­di­ca­tion process vet­er­ans had to go through to prove their cas­es to receive care and ben­e­fits. “This will help break the back of the back­log in the long run, while send­ing a reas­sur­ing mes­sage to vet­er­ans that the VA is there for them,” Gin­grich said.

He called the new pre­sump­tions part of Shinseki’s effort to “cre­ate a cul­ture of advo­ca­cy” with­in VA that builds trust as it reach­es out to vet­er­ans.

For Gin­grich, a Gulf War vet­er­an him­self, the effort is very per­son­al. He remem­bers being deployed as a 1st Infantry Divi­sion field artillery bat­tal­ion com­man­der dur­ing Oper­a­tion Desert Storm, when one of his offi­cers became very sick with an ill­ness nobody could diag­nose.

“The medics could­n’t diag­nose it. We called in the doc­tors and they could­n’t diag­nose it. And even­tu­al­ly, he had to be mede­vaced back,” he recalled. “And now here we are, 20 years lat­er, and I saw him in Dal­las in August, and he is still sick. You can’t iden­ti­fy all the rea­sons and symp­toms, but he is sick.”

Vet­er­ans deserve bet­ter, Gin­grich insist­ed. “I believe that our vet­er­ans that served in uni­form for our coun­try deserve the absolute best care and ben­e­fits that we can pro­vide,” he said.

VA pro­vides com­pen­sa­tion and pen­sion ben­e­fits to more than 3.8 mil­lion vet­er­ans and ben­e­fi­cia­ries, and received more than 1 mil­lion claims last year alone, VA offi­cials report­ed. Vet­er­ans with­out depen­dents receive a basic month­ly com­pen­sa­tion rang­ing from $123 to $2,673.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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