Veterans' Compensation

Evidence Considered in Persian Gulf War Undiagnosed Illness Claims Gao ID: HEHS-96-112 May 28, 1996

More than 700,000 men and women served in the Middle East during the Persian Gulf War. Some of these veterans began experiencing symptoms, such as fatigue, weight loss, and skin conditions, that could not be diagnosed or associated with a specific illness. Congress passed legislation in 1994 allowing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to pay compensation to veterans for undiagnosed illnesses connected to their service during the Persian Gulf War. As of July 1995, VA had denied nearly 95 percent of the 4,144 claims that it had processed for Persian Gulf veterans claiming such disabilities. In response to congressional concerns about the high denial rate, GAO reviewed the procedures VA used to process Persian Gulf War undiagnosed illness claims. This report discusses (1) the evidence standards that VA has established to process Persian Gulf claims, (2) the evidence in the claim files that VA considered in reaching its decisions, and (3) VA's reporting of the reasons for denial.

GAO found that: (1) before VA will provide benefits, veterans must provide it with evidence of a chronic disability and verifiable evidence of time lost from work, prior medical treatment, or changes in appearance, physical abilities, or psychological condition; (2) both denied and approved claims consist primarily of service medical records and VA medical examinations, but approved claims usually include an independent medical history and sometimes include nonmedical evidence; (3) denied claims lacked sufficient evidence because of poor VA procedures and veterans' failure to collect relevant information; and (4) while VA reports that most denied claims were denied because the alleged disability did not become evident during active duty or the subsequent 2-year presumptive period, it stated in denial letters to veterans that their claims lacked sufficient evidence.

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