There are thousands of veterans living in the UK, and around the world, with “Gulf War syndrome” following their deployment to the first Gulf War between 1990 and 1991. There has long been speculation about what has caused veterans to suffer from the illness, but a recent study published in the USA suggests that Gulf War veterans may have been exposed to low-level doses of the nerve agent sarin.
Researchers studied a group of 1,061 veterans and focussed on the PON1 gene. The gene helps to break down toxins in the body and there are two variants: Q and R. The Q variant can break down sarin, but the R variant cannot. Each person carries two copies of the PON1 which means they are either a QQ, RR, or QR genotype. The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives in May 2022, concludes that veterans who were exposed to sarin and who had the RR genotype were more than seven times more likely to develop Gulf War syndrome.
It is hoped that the study will assist in the effective treatment and management of Gulf War syndrome.
What is Gulf War Syndrome?
The term Gulf War syndrome is used to refer to the various chronic symptoms suffered by veterans of the first Gulf War. These include, but are not limited to, chronic fatigue, muscle pain, memory and cognitive problems, skin rashes, dizziness and respiratory disorders, though each patient may present differently. Gulf War syndrome is not itself a medically recognised condition in the UK, despite the Royal British Legion estimating that 33,000 veterans are living with the illness in the UK.
Can you claim compensation for it?
In order to bring a successful claim, a claimant must firstly prove that the defendant has been negligent, and that the negligence has caused their injury. In 2004, legal aid funding was withdrawn from a group claim of over 2,000 veterans for civil compensation for Gulf War syndrome after it was decided that there was not enough scientific evidence to show that Gulf War syndrome had been caused by their service in the Gulf War. It was also difficult to evidence that the MoD had been negligent in exposing the veterans to harmful substances that might have caused their symptoms.
However, claimants can claim through the War Pension scheme. The scheme is a “no fault” scheme, meaning that claimants do not have to prove that the MoD is at fault for their injury, unlike a civil claim. The burden of proof is also reversed, meaning that the Secretary of State must show that the illness has not been caused by the claimant’s service.
In 2005, the Pensions Appeal Tribunal held that Gulf War syndrome should be used as an umbrella term to recognise the variety of chronic symptoms suffered by veterans and which are attributable to service, following an appeal by Mr Daniel Martin.
How to make a War Pension claim
Claimants who have left service are able to complete a claim form. It is not possible to claim for a War Pension if you are still serving in the forces.
Claimants are able to complete the application form themselves, or there may be charities including the Royal British Legion who can assist.
If a claimant wishes to instruct a solicitor, then Hugh James are also be able to help with War Pension and Armed Forces Compensation Scheme claims on a no win no fee basis.