Disability Claimed By More Than 25% of Gulf War Vets
Disability Claimed By More Than 25% Gulf War Vets
Gulf Vet Disability Claimed By More Than 183,000 Vets
Payments to Vets Cost $1 Billion Annually, More Are Applying
By Tom Nugent
One in four of U.S. service personnel who participated in the nine-month Operation Desert Storm is now officially classified as "disabled," according to Department of Veterans Affairs figures obtained by FedBuzz.
The percentage of Gulf War veterans granted disabled status -- 26 percent -- is now higher than for any modern U.S. combat experience and is two and one half times the disability rate from the 10-year-long Vietnam War, according to VA sources.
VA Public Information Officer Jim Benson told FedBuzz that more than 183,000 veterans have been granted "disability status for one or more conditions" resulting from Operation Desert Storm between August of 1990 and April of 1991.
Benson said that another 36,782 disability claims by Gulf War vets are now pending and are being evaluated. About 700,000 members of the U.S. Armed Forces took part in the nine-month military campaign that decided the outcome of the Gulf War.
The cost of the disabilities: $1 billion annually.
The revelations come in the midst of a continuing controversy over the cause and scope of sickness and injury to Gulf War veterans. While VA has not recognized what some experts call a "Gulf War Syndrome," pressure builds on the government to determine whether or not chemicals from Iraqi sources harmed large numbers of troops.
However, one VA official has told Congress that the largest number of service-connected conditions claimed by disabled Gulf War veterans deal with knee problems.
VA's Benson speculated on several reasons for a Gulf disability rate that in comparison to other wars might surprise the public.
"So many things have changed," he said. "Number one, we have a much greater ability now to assess combat and theater-related injuries. Number two, we have a much greater communications ability as far as communicating the availability of benefits to the veteran population at large."
According to the latest VA data, 183,037 -- or 26 percent -- of the 700,000 troops who served in Operation Desert Storm now receive disability compensation from the VA. The disability-rate for World War II was 8.6 percent -- while the rate for the Korean conflict ran even lower, at 5 percent.
The rate for the ten-year-long Vietnam War, where 58,000 U.S. soldiers died and many others were injured or developed war-related illnesses, was 9.6 percent. By comparison, fewer than 150 U.S. soldiers were killed in the Gulf War, which lasted about six months.
VA, which is currently paying annual benefits of more than $1 billion to compensate the 183,000 disabled vets, has gone to "great lengths" to help Gulf War veterans, said Benson.
But neither VA nor the U.S. Department of Defense has concluded what various veterans lobbying groups are seeking -- the recognition of a specific, diagnosable disease that could be defined as "Gulf War Syndrome."
Added Benson: "We're trying to get the word out to the vets about the many efforts that are being made on their behalf. But what's made it difficult is that so many people have a variety of symptoms. So far, we haven't been able to group all of them into a single illness."
During recent congressional testimony, VA Under Secretary for Benefits Joseph Thompson told a subcommittee of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs that the "number of disabilities per veteran" in the Gulf War was higher than the number of disabilities in any earlier American war.
According to Under Secretary Thompson, the disabled Gulf War veterans averaged 3.2 disabilities each -- compared to 1.79 each for World War II disabled; 2.01 each for Korean conflict disabled, and 2.76 each for Vietnam War disabled.
Thompson also noted during his testimony last October that the most prevalent cause of disability during the Gulf War was "injury to the knee," followed by injuries to the skeleton. Thompson's list of a dozen different types of injury made no reference to "Gulf War Syndrome," or to "undiagnosed illnesses" of any kind.
Since the Gulf War ended in late 1991, VA has reported that disabilities from "undiagnosed illness" account for only a few thousand of the 183,000 total Gulf War disabilities. During the same period, health researchers at VA have repeatedly announced that they cannot find verifiable evidence of any specific medical condition known as "Gulf War Syndrome."
Describing the injuries and illnesses that have been documented as major causes of disability, Thompson told Congress: "With respect to the prevalence of service-connected conditions among Gulf War veterans, the number-one service-connected condition claimed is impairment of the knee, followed by skeletal system disability, lumbar-sacral strain, arthritis due to trauma, scars, hearing loss, hypertension, inter-vertebral disc syndrome, tendinitis and osteoarthritis."
As the Gulf War Syndrome controversy grows, the stream of Gulf War vets seeking disability status continues to pour into VA.
"There have been huge changes in communications technologies," said Benson, pointing to the Internet and other tools as a reason for heightened awareness of benefits among veterans. "There's no doubt that veterans know a lot more today about how to access the support system at VA."
For "Gulflink," the website operated by the U.S. Department of Defense Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses: Gulflink.
For the Veterans Affairs website: Veterans Affairs
For the National Gulf War Resource Center website (a private, comprehensive listing of information resources and links to support groups): National Gulf War Resource Center, Inc.
-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), June 02, 2000