In 2015, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs processed 11,400 claims for Gulf War Illness — an umbrella term for medical conditions among veterans who served in Southwest Asia since 1990 — which is more than double from the 4,800 processed in 2010.
Recently, questions have been raised about the efficacy of the VA in processing these claims.
A report released Monday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommends the VA to take certain steps to better processes these claims. The time period of the study was from 2010-2015 when the VA processed 42,000 of these claims.
According to the VA, 44 percent of veterans who served in the Gulf War have Gulf War Illness.
Unlike other diseases, it is largely unknown what the cause of the symptoms or illness is as many of the veterans who served in the Gulf War were exposed to pesticides, oil fires, and depleted uranium, all of which can have detrimental medical effects.
“There is this whole range of exposures they experience, and it is really unclear what is exactly causing their particular illnesses,” said Melissa Emrey-Arras, the report’s author and the director of education, workforce, and income security at GAO.
“One of the challenges with this is that there weren’t good records to what people were exposed to when they were deployed.”
The report recommends that the VA improve some of their internal processes, such as requiring Gulf War Illness training for VA medical examiners. The training for medical examiners is 90 minutes, and is offered online.
It is also recommended that the VA improve the clarity of their decision letters sent to veterans that have filed Gulf War Illness claims. Confusing and cryptic language can slow down and clog up the appeals process at the VA, as veterans who have been denied claims appeal decisions, sometimes unnecessarily.
“They are often times very confusing in terms of how they are written, especially for claims that are denied,” Emrey-Arras said. “If you look at the language VA has, it’s not clearly stated the specific reason for the denial.”
Additionally, the report recommends a plan to establish a single definition of Gulf War Illness, which could help in the treatment of the illness and its diagnosis.