The Impact of Gulf War Syndrome on Veterans’ Lives – A Deep Dive


For decades, experts were at a loss to explain what Gulf War veterans experienced. Scientists have found that those with a weak gene variant are nine times more likely to show symptoms related to low-level nerve gas exposure. Most studies of Gulf War syndrome have used self-report questionnaires, increasing the risk of recall bias and inadvertent endorsement of symptoms. They also fail to adjust for medical factors like physical activity, obesity and dietary differences.


There are numerous symptoms associated with Gulf War Syndrome. These can range from fatigue and mood problems to musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, respiratory, and neurologic problems. Some signs are more common in Gulf War veterans than non deployed veterans. The Gulf War Syndrome was first used by a government panel in 1995 to describe a group of disorders appearing in a cluster of Gulf War veterans. It includes chronic multi-symptom illness, fibromyalgia, depression, rheumatoid arthritis, and other conditions. 

Many veterans recall exposure to chemical substances during the Gulf War. They may have smelt the burning oil well fires or smelled a skunky scent from a recently vacated bunker. Some may have been exposed to pesticides or solvents; others may have received the pyridostigmine bromide anti-nerve agent pill. This medication may have caused several symptoms, including gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea and loose stool. Other symptoms include skin rash, which can be come-and-go; generalized itching; and sleep problems.


Despite three decades of frustration, a treatment research effort is now starting to produce promising leads. The research is based on epidemiologic studies comparing Gulf War-era symptom rates among deployed troops to non deployed troops who served in the same era. Symptoms can range from chronic fatigue to muscle and joint pain, fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal problems, mental health issues and sexual dysfunction. Many of these illnesses are medically unexplained, and it took VA years to even recognize them as a syndrome that could qualify veterans for presumptive disability benefits. But getting those benefits can be difficult: The Government Accountability Office has found that GWV cases are approved at a rate much lower than other disability claims and take about four months longer to complete. Those delays can have devastating financial and personal impacts on the affected veterans, their families and communities.

Psychiatric Issues

The trauma of Gulf War Syndrome can have a serious impact on the mental health of veterans. The symptoms can be debilitating, and some veterans experience depression and anxiety. The anxiety can lead to irritability, aggression, and difficulty concentrating. Many families of veterans have suffered as a result of these issues as well. Research has found that the mental illnesses of Gulf War veterans are linked to physical conditions. 

The psychiatric problems that often accompany Gulf War Syndrome include fatigue, joint pain and memory problems. Veterans can be awarded benefits for a Gulf War illness diagnosis when they have had symptoms for six months or more and are at least 10% disabled. However, the VA admits it is difficult to prove a link between the symptoms and Gulf War service. This can be complicated because some veterans have skin rashes and come-and-go itching symptoms. 

There is also no concrete evidence of a biological cause for the condition, and the symptoms can be mistaken for other illnesses.  If a veteran believes they have Gulf War syndrome, seeking assistance from an attorney can be crucial in helping them obtain the benefits they rightfully deserve. An attorney with expertise in veterans’ issues can provide invaluable service in securing the necessary medical care and benefits for a veteran suffering from Gulf War syndrome, ensuring they receive the support they deserve.

Legal Issues

Some former troops have suffered from chronic fatigue, PTSD, joint pain, memory problems, breathing issues and mood swings since their return from the Gulf War. Several scientists have blamed the illnesses on various environmental toxins and hazards, such as sarin gas in tanks, depleted uranium, oil well fires and pesticides. A recent study found that veterans with a weak PON1 gene are nine times more likely to show Gulf War Syndrome symptoms. 

PON1 is a protein that usually protects people from low-level nerve gas exposure. Despite this, many veterans have struggled to get proper treatment and benefits. In 1994, Congress passed a law stating that if a veteran served in the Gulf War with certain signs or symptoms, the VA could presume that their service caused them. But, the law has not always been enforced, and some veterans have had to file legal claims to receive adequate medical care.