By Debbie Gregory.
A federal report shows that a Veterans Affairs office in New Mexico has denied 592 out of 640 of benefit claims related to Gulf War Illness (GWI), also known as Gulf War Syndrome.
Data from the U.S. Government Accountability Office shows that Albuquerque’s Department of Veterans Affairs denied about 90% of these claims in 2015.
According to the report, VA staff members noted the complexity of GWI claims, which was first identified in soldiers returning home from Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield in the early 1990s.
Lack of training on the part of the medical examiners may be to blame. There is a 90-minute training course on Gulf War illness, but currently taking the course is voluntary, and only 1 in 10 of the VA’s 4,000 medical examiners had completed it, according to the report.
Gulf War illness has two main clinical categories: medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illness and undiagnosed illness. Symptoms include joint pain, chronic fatigue syndrome and neurological problems.
There were many factors present in the Gulf during the war that could have played a role in causing illness in those present at the time. It is likely that a combination of these factors together is what led to the illness. Exposure to infectious diseases, biological and chemical weapons, as well as toxic elements, such as smoke from burning oil wells, are believed to have caused Gulf War illnesses.
Sonja Brown, acting associate director of the New Mexico VA Health Care System said that the Gulf War Examination training is currently on their curriculum for their medical.
“While I don’t have a percentage of those completed, I can tell you that the training is being taken,” Brown said.
The VA said all its pension and compensation examiners will complete the mandatory 90-minute course on GWI by November, and it will make necessary changes in the notification process by August.