Chronic Fatigue Syndrome VA Rating- Understanding Qualifying Conditions

Chronic fatigue syndrome, common among Gulf War veterans, is not only challenging to define but also difficult to diagnose. 

If you’re a veteran and diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome during or after your service, you might qualify for VA disability benefits. 

Unfortunately, defining, diagnosing, and proving chronic fatigue for VA disability is more difficult than ever. 

This guide covers all you need about chronic fatigue syndrome and qualifying conditions. 

Overview of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome 

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, often abbreviated as CFS, is a debilitating medical condition characterized by persistent and unexplained fatigue that lasts for more than six months. Individuals with CFS often experience extreme exhaustion that isn’t alleviated by rest and can worsen with physical or mental activity. 

Alongside fatigue, CFS is typically associated with a variety of other symptoms, such as muscle pain, impaired memory or concentration (often referred to as “brain fog”), headaches, and unrefreshing sleep. These symptoms can significantly impair those affected’s daily functioning and quality of life.

When it comes to veteran affairs (VA), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is categorized as a service-connected disability. This means that veterans who developed CFS during or after their military service may be eligible for benefits and support from the VA. Understanding how the VA assesses and rates CFS is key to seeking compensation and assistance for this medically complex and challenging condition.

Understanding Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), is a complex and often misunderstood condition that affects millions of individuals worldwide. Despite its prevalence, CFS remains poorly understood, and there is ongoing debate within the medical community regarding its underlying causes, diagnosis, and treatment. 

Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

At the core of CFS lies the hallmark symptom of profound and persistent fatigue that is not alleviated by rest and significantly impairs daily functioning. This fatigue is often accompanied by other symptoms that vary widely among individuals. Common symptoms of CFS include:

Muscle Pain: Many individuals with CFS experience widespread muscle pain, which can range from mild discomfort to severe and debilitating.

Cognitive Dysfunction: CFS often causes cognitive impairment, commonly referred to as “brain fog.” This can manifest as difficulties with memory, concentration, and processing information.

Headaches: Recurrent headaches are a frequent complaint among individuals with CFS, further adding to the burden of their condition.

Unrefreshing Sleep: Despite spending prolonged periods in bed, individuals with CFS often wake up feeling unrefreshed and fatigued, exacerbating their daytime symptoms.

Sore Throat and Tender Lymph Nodes: Some individuals may experience a persistent sore throat and tender lymph nodes, though these symptoms are not present in all cases.

Criteria for Diagnosing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Diagnosing CFS, especially when determining eligibility for VA disability benefits, can be challenging due to the absence of specific diagnostic tests or biomarkers.

 Instead, healthcare providers rely on a set of criteria established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  (,severe%20fatigue%20and%20sleep%20problems) 

to identify individuals with the condition. These criteria typically include:

Persistent Fatigue: The primary criterion for diagnosing CFS is the presence of unexplained, persistent fatigue lasting for six months or longer.

Exclusion of Other Medical Conditions: Healthcare providers must rule out other medical or psychiatric conditions that could explain the individual’s symptoms.

Presence of Specific Symptoms: In addition to fatigue, individuals must experience at least four of the following symptoms: impaired memory or concentration, sore throat, tender lymph nodes, muscle pain, multi-joint pain without swelling or redness, headaches, unrefreshing sleep, and post-exertional malaise lasting more than 24 hours.

Potential Causes and Triggers of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

The exact cause of CFS remains unknown, and researchers continue to explore various factors that may contribute to its development. While no single cause has been identified, several potential triggers and predisposing factors have been proposed, including:

Viral Infections: Some individuals develop CFS following viral infections such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6), or enteroviruses. However, not all individuals with CFS have a history of viral infection, suggesting other factors may also be involved.

Immune Dysfunction: Dysregulation of the immune system has been implicated in the development of CFS, though the precise mechanisms remain unclear. Abnormalities in immune function, including elevated levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, have been observed in some individuals with CFS.

Genetic Predisposition: There may be a genetic component to CFS, as evidenced by higher rates of the condition among family members of affected individuals. However, more research is needed to elucidate the specific genetic factors involved.

Psychological and Environmental Factors: Psychological stressors and environmental factors may also play a role in triggering or exacerbating symptoms of CFS. Stressful life events, trauma, and exposure to toxins or pollutants, which are common among veterans, have been implicated as potential contributors to the development of the condition.

Challenges Faced by Veterans with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

The impact of CFS on veterans’ lives can be profound, affecting virtually every aspect of their functioning and well-being.

Veterans who suffer from CFS face specific challenges related to their military service experiences and the unique context in which their symptoms have emerged. Many veterans develop CFS following exposure to physical or psychological stressors during their time in the military, such as combat situations, deployments, or training exercises. These high-stress environments can contribute to the development or exacerbation of CFS symptoms in susceptible individuals, further complicating their post-service adjustment and recovery.

 The persistent fatigue and accompanying symptoms can significantly impair physical, cognitive, and emotional functioning, leading to a range of challenges in daily life. Some of how CFS can impact individuals include:

Impaired Work and Social Functioning: Veterans with CFS are unable to work or participate in social activities due to the severity of their symptoms. This can lead to financial strain, social isolation, frustration, and loneliness.

Disrupted Sleep Patterns: Unrefreshing sleep is a common symptom of CFS, further exacerbating daytime fatigue and impairing individuals’ ability to function effectively.

Challenges with Activities of Daily Living: Simple tasks such as household chores, grocery shopping, or personal grooming can become overwhelming and exhausting for individuals with CFS, leading to increased dependence on others for assistance.

Mental Health Implications: Living with a chronic and debilitating condition like CFS can take a toll on individuals’ mental and emotional well-being. Feelings of frustration, depression, anxiety, and hopelessness are common among those with CFS, particularly when their symptoms are severe or poorly managed.

The impact of CFS on daily life can be severe, affecting physical health, emotional well-being, and social functioning. For veterans who may suffer from CFS, these challenges can be compounded by their military service experiences and the unique stressors they have faced during their time in the armed forces.

In addition to the challenges posed by their military service experiences, veterans with CFS may also face barriers to accessing healthcare, disability benefits, and social support services. The stigma surrounding invisible illnesses like CFS can make it difficult for veterans to receive the recognition, validation, and support they need to manage their condition and improve their quality of life effectively. Furthermore, co-occurring conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), or other chronic health conditions may complicate the management of CFS symptoms and require a multidisciplinary approach to treatment and care.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Veterans

Although VA prefers to avoid the term Gulf War Syndrome, research has found that veterans who served in the southwest Asia theater of military operations, which started on August 2, 1990, have a higher chance of developing chronic fatigue syndrome. 

 Several factors associated with military service may contribute to the development of CFS in veterans, including:

Deployment and Combat Exposure:  Veterans who have been deployed to conflict zones or exposed to combat situations may experience high levels of physical and psychological stress, which can increase their risk of developing CFS.

Infectious Diseases and Vaccinations: Military personnel are often at risk of exposure to infectious diseases and receive various vaccinations as part of their deployment preparations. Some infectious diseases, such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) or Lyme disease, have been associated with the onset of CFS symptoms in susceptible individuals.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): Veterans who have experienced traumatic brain injury (TBI) as a result of combat-related injuries or accidents may be at an increased risk of developing CFS. TBI can disrupt neurological functioning and exacerbate symptoms of fatigue and cognitive dysfunction, which are characteristic of CFS.

Chemical and Environmental Exposures: Exposure to environmental toxins, pollutants, and other hazardous substances during military service may contribute to developing or exacerbating CFS symptoms in veterans.

While the precise mechanisms underlying the association between military service and CFS are not fully understood, the unique stressors and exposures faced by veterans during their time in the armed forces likely contributed to the development of the condition.

Statistics on CFS Among Veterans

While comprehensive data on the prevalence of CFS, specifically among veterans, is lacking, several studies have provided insights into the occurrence of CFS-related symptoms and conditions within the veteran population. For example, a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology( found that Gulf War veterans were more likely to report symptoms consistent with CFS compared to non-deployed veterans. Similarly, research conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has identified a high prevalence of fatigue and related symptoms among veterans seeking healthcare services through the VA system.

However, it’s essential to recognize that CFS remains underdiagnosed and often misunderstood within the veteran population. Many veterans may struggle to receive an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment for their symptoms, leading to underreporting and potentially skewed prevalence estimates.

Personal Accounts and Studies

While personal accounts and studies specifically focusing on veterans with CFS are limited, anecdotal evidence and individual testimonies ( highlight the significant impact of the condition on veterans’ lives. Many veterans have shared their experiences of struggling with unexplained fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, and other debilitating symptoms following their military service. These individuals often describe the challenges they face in accessing healthcare, obtaining disability benefits, and undergoing the complex VA system.

In addition to personal accounts, some studies have explored the experiences of veterans with chronic fatigue or similar symptoms. For example, a qualitative study published in Military Medicine examined the perspectives of Gulf War veterans with medically unexplained symptoms, including fatigue, pain, and cognitive difficulties. The study found that veterans often encountered skepticism and disbelief from healthcare providers regarding their symptoms, leading to frustration and feelings of abandonment.

Furthermore, research conducted by the VA and other organizations has sought to understand better the prevalence and impact of CFS-related symptoms among veterans. These studies have highlighted the need for increased awareness, improved diagnostic methods, and enhanced support services for veterans struggling with CFS and related conditions.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a complex and often debilitating condition that can significantly impact the lives of veterans. While precise data on the prevalence of CFS among veterans remains limited, research suggests that veterans may be at an increased risk of developing the condition due to unique factors associated with military service. 

What’s the VA Rating for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Several factors contribute to VA disability ratings, including the impact level of the disorder on daily activities. 

To access disability rating for chronic fatigue syndrome, you must have experienced declined activity levels for at least 6 months and at least 6 associated symptoms such as sleep disturbance, joint pain, acute fever, muscle ache and weakness, and frequent fatigue post-exercise. 

The ratings are broken down below: 

100% disability rating: symptoms are serious and constant, interfering with daily activities and self-care tasks. 

60% disability rating: Symptoms are nearly constant, restricting daily activities up to 50% of the veteran’s previous routine, and they occur for at least six weeks. 

40% disability rating: Symptoms are nearly constant, restricting daily activities to 50-70% of the veteran’s previous routine and lasting at least four weeks.

20% disability rating: Symptoms remain almost constant and disrupt activities less than 25% of the veteran’s normal activity. 

Symptoms create at least two weeks of incapacitation every year but at least four weeks in total. 

10% disability rating: Symptoms remain almost constant and disrupt activities less than 10% of the veteran’s normal activity. 

Symptoms create at least two weeks of incapacitation every year but at least four weeks in total. 

Process for Securing a VA Rating for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

For veterans struggling with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), obtaining a VA rating can provide much-needed support and access to essential benefits. However, perusing the process of securing a VA rating for CFS can be complex and challenging. 

Step 1: Seek Medical Evaluation and Diagnosis:

The first step in securing a VA rating for CFS is to seek a comprehensive medical evaluation and diagnosis from a qualified healthcare provider. This evaluation should include a thorough assessment of your symptoms, medical history, and any potential underlying conditions that may contribute to your fatigue and related symptoms. Documenting your symptoms carefully and providing detailed information about how they impact your daily life and functioning is essential.

Step 2: Gather Supporting Medical Evidence:

Once you have received a diagnosis of CFS from a healthcare provider, you will need to gather supporting medical evidence to substantiate your claim for a VA rating. This may include:

Medical records documenting your diagnosis of CFS and any related conditions

Laboratory test results ruling out other potential causes of your symptoms

Statements from treating physicians or specialists regarding the severity and impact of your symptoms

Records of any treatments or medications prescribed for your CFS, including their effectiveness and side effects

It’s crucial to gather as much relevant medical evidence as possible to strengthen your claim and increase your chances of obtaining a favorable VA rating.

Step 3: Submit a Claim for VA Benefits:

Once you have gathered all necessary medical evidence, you can submit a claim for VA benefits through the VA’s online portal(, by mail, or in person at a regional VA office. When submitting your claim, include all relevant medical records, supporting documentation, and a detailed statement describing your symptoms, their onset, and their impact on your daily life and functioning.

Step 4: Undergo a Compensation and Pension (C&P) Examination:

After submitting your claim, you may be scheduled for a Compensation and Pension (C&P) examination with a VA healthcare provider. During this examination, the provider will evaluate your symptoms, medical history, and any supporting documentation to assess the severity of your condition and determine your eligibility for VA benefits. Attending this examination is essential, as well as providing honest and accurate information about your symptoms and their impact on your life.

Step 5: Await Decision and Appeal if Necessary:

Following the C&P examination, the VA will review your claim and medical evidence to decide your eligibility for benefits and the appropriate VA rating for your CFS. This process can take several months or longer, depending on the complexity of your case and the backlog of claims at the VA. If your claim is denied or you disagree with the VA’s decision, you can appeal and request a review by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA). It’s essential to carefully follow the instructions provided by the VA regarding the appeals process and submit any additional evidence or documentation to support your case.

Complications and Challenges

Securing a VA rating for CFS can be lengthy and challenging, and veterans may encounter various complications along the way. Some common challenges include:

Difficulty obtaining an accurate diagnosis of CFS due to the absence of specific diagnostic tests or biomarkers

Limited understanding of CFS among healthcare providers, leading to skepticism or disbelief regarding veterans’ symptoms

Delays in scheduling C&P examinations or obtaining necessary medical records and documentation

Inconsistent ratings or denials of claims due to subjective interpretation of symptoms and medical evidence

Veterans need to advocate for themselves throughout the claims process, seek support from qualified professionals and veteran service organizations, and persist in their efforts to obtain the benefits they deserve.

Securing a VA rating for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a complex and often challenging process that requires careful documentation, medical evidence, and persistence on the part of the veteran. By following the steps outlined in this guide and seeking support from qualified professionals and veteran service organizations, you can increase your chances of obtaining a favorable VA rating and accessing the benefits and support you need to manage your condition and improve your quality of life.

Tips for Veterans Seeking for VA Rating for CFS

For veterans battling with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), securing a VA rating can be a crucial step in accessing the support and benefits they need to manage their condition effectively. However, obtaining a VA rating for CFS can be complex and challenging, requiring careful documentation, advocacy, and persistence. 

Educate Yourself About the VA Claims Process:

Before starting the process of securing a VA rating for CFS, take the time to educate yourself about the VA claims process and familiarize yourself with the requirements, timelines, and potential pitfalls. The VA’s website offers valuable resources, including guides, tutorials, and frequently asked questions, to help veterans understand the claims process and prepare for what lies ahead.

 Keep Detailed Records of Your Symptoms and Medical History:

Documenting your symptoms and medical history is essential for building a strong case for a VA rating for CFS. Keep a detailed journal of your symptoms, including their onset, severity, and impact on your daily life and functioning. Additionally, gather all relevant medical records, test results, and treatment documentation to support your claim. Providing thorough and accurate documentation can strengthen your case and increase your chances of obtaining a favorable rating.

Seek Assistance from Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs)

Veteran service organizations (VSOs) such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Disabled American Veterans (DAV), and American Legion can provide valuable assistance and support throughout the claims process. VSOs offer trained service officers who can help veterans navigate the complexities of the VA system, gather necessary documentation, and advocate on their behalf. Don’t hesitate to contact a VSO for guidance and support as you pursue your claim for a VA rating for CFS.

Be Prepared for Potential Delays and Setbacks:

Securing a VA rating for CFS can be lengthy and frustrating, and veterans may encounter delays, denials, or appeals. Be prepared for potential setbacks and understand that persistence is key to success. Keep communication lines open with the VA and follow up regularly on the status of your claim. If your claim is denied or you disagree with the VA’s decision, don’t hesitate to appeal and seek assistance from a qualified attorney or advocate.

Consider Seeking Expert Medical Opinions:

In cases where the VA disputes the diagnosis or severity of your CFS, consider seeking expert medical opinions from qualified specialists knowledgeable about the condition. A comprehensive evaluation and opinion from a trusted healthcare provider can support your claim and help refute any doubts or skepticism the VA raises.

Take Care of Your Physical and Mental Health:

The claims process for a VA rating for CFS can be stressful and emotionally taxing. It’s essential to prioritize self-care and care for your physical and mental health. Practice stress-reduction techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, or yoga, and seek support from friends, family, or mental health professionals if needed. Taking care of yourself will help you cope with the challenges of pursuing your claim and improve your overall well-being.

Stay Informed and Updated:

The landscape of VA benefits and claims processes is constantly evolving, with changes in regulations, policies, and procedures occurring regularly. Stay informed and updated on the latest developments by subscribing to newsletters, following reputable sources of information, and participating in online forums or support groups for veterans with CFS. Being informed will empower you to make informed decisions and advocate for your rights and entitlements.


Understanding Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and the process of obtaining a VA rating for it is crucial for veterans facing this debilitating condition. By educating yourself about CFS and the VA claims process, you can advocate effectively for the support and benefits you deserve. Securing a VA rating can provide access to essential resources and assistance to help manage CFS symptoms and improve quality of life.

We encourage veterans to seek help and support when needed throughout their journey. Whether reaching out to veteran service organizations, seeking assistance from healthcare providers, or connecting with fellow veterans for peer support, know that you are not alone. Taking care of your physical and mental health is paramount, and resources are available to support you every step of the way.

Keep in mind that persistence and self-advocacy are key as you seek a VA rating for CFS. Your dedication to seeking support and recognition for your condition is commendable, and resources and assistance are available to help you along the way. For further reading or help, consider exploring our resources. Your well-being matters, and seeking our help is a sign of strength. Keep moving forward, and know that support is always within reach.


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