Administration says Gulf War `undiagnosed illness' relatively

Tuesday, October 26th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A higher percentage of Gulf War veterans are
receiving disability compensation than veterans of any other
period, the Clinton administration said Tuesday. The No. 1
complaint is knee injuries.

Of the 700,000 Gulf War veterans, roughly 16 percent are
receiving disability compensation, said Joseph Thompson, Veterans
Affairs undersecretary for benefits.

That compares with 8.6 percent of the remaining World War II
veterans, 5 percent of Korean veterans and 9.6 percent of Vietnam
era veterans, Thompson told the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
Benefit checks also go to 9.5 percent of veterans who served during

Of the total 202,272 Gulf War claims processed, Thompson said in
prepared testimony, only 11,407 -- under 6 percent -- have been for
"undiagnosed illness."

Veterans' groups and advocates for those suffering from Gulf War
ailments complained that the report continues an administration
practice of understating the problem.

Of the processed claimed for "undiagnosed illness," 3,077 were
granted and 8,330 denied, Thompson said.

"Most denials resulted from a finding of no disability, a
diagnosis that was not service-connected or a diagnosis that was
service connected," he said.

The number one service-connected condition claimed is
"impairment of the knee," he said, followed by skeletal system
disability, lumbosacral strain, arthritis due to trauma, scars,
hearing loss, hypertension, intervertebral disc syndrome, tinnitus
and osteoarthritis.

Joy Ilem, associate director of the Disabled American Veterans,
suggested that many physicians, reluctant to provide a report of
"undiagnosed illness" because of pressure within the Department
of Veterans Affairs health care system, enter a diagnosis they
believe is a "reasonable probability."

"The plight of Persian Gulf War veterans suffering from
unexplained illnesses related to the service in the Persian Gulf
continues to be one of our foremost concerns," Ilem said.

"The bottom line is that thousands of Gulf War veterans with
serious physical illnesses and conditions have been left unattended
to," said William Frasure, deputy director for the Vietnam
Veterans of America.

Congress passed legislation in 1994 granting Veterans Affairs
the authority to compensate those with difficult-to-diagnose and
ill-defined illnesses.

"VA has failed to implement the law, and thousands of Gulf War
veterans remain without compensation for these service-connected
disabilities," said Matthew Puglish, a representative of the
American Legion.

A presidential panel looking into Gulf War illnesses said in
August that it couldn't pinpoint causes of the ailments and
recommended further studies into whether genetic reasons caused
some troops to get sick while others did not.