Key lawmakers said Wednesday that they are considering blanket disability benefits for Persian Gulf War veterans suffering from mystery ailments.
The senior members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee said such a blanket disability measure may be the only way of dealing fairly with the tens of thousands of veterans who complain of ailments such as fatigue, muscle aches and memory loss.
“It may be that we have to come to the conclusion of presumptive disability as we did in the Agent Orange case,” said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the committee chairman. Agent Orange, a chemical defoliant used by U.S. forces in the Vietnam War, was determined many years later to be linked to cancer and other ailments.
Scientists have yet to establish a single cause or even group of causes for the cluster of unexplained illnesses sometimes referred to as “Gulf War syndrome.”
Veterans and active-duty service members who served in the Gulf are already covered for medical treatment. Those with diagnosable ailments linked to Gulf service, such as wounds, can receive disability payments.
The Department of Veterans Affairs also provides disability payments to those with undiagnosed diseases, provided they can show they developed the ailment no more than two years after the war. The measure under consideration would automatically extend disability payments even if an illness cannot be specifically linked to Gulf War service.