Even though tinnitus is the most claimed disability among military service members, it is also often denied by the VA. In order to make sure your claim is accepted, it is vitally important to know the correct “do’s” and “don’ts” while filing with the VA. This article will take you through exactly what you need to know in order to have the best chance at getting your tinnitus claim accepted, including what tinnitus is, the different types of tinnitus, how to file your claim, what the VA looks for and how to qualify for additional help.
What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is described by the Mayo Clinic as ringing, buzzing, roaring, clicking, hissing and other auditory noises in the ears. It is often wrongly described as hearing loss. However, it is not hearing loss. It is a result of damages in the eardrum.
Currently, it’s estimated that around 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, although many of them do not report hearing loss. About 25% of those with the condition describe their tinnitus as “loud”, and around 20% claim that it is disabling.
Tinnitus affects more males than females and is more common in older populations.
Tinnitus is especially prevalent in veterans, with nearly 10% of all veterans receiving disability compensation for the condition, and many more believed to suffer from it despite not filing a claim. This is due to frequent stress on the eardrums from a large amount of loud noises veterans are exposed to both in training and in deployment, including gunfire, loud machinery, and other explosive blasts.
Types of Tinnitus
There are two different kinds of Tinnitus; Subjective and Objective. According to Merckmanuals.com, Subjective Tinnitus is described as a “perception of sound in the absence of an acoustic stimulus and is heard only by the patient. Most tinnitus is subjective”.
Subjective tinnitus is usually traceable to auditory and neurological reactions to hearing loss.
They also went on to explain that “Objective tinnitus is uncommon and results from noise generated by structures near the ear. Sometimes the tinnitus is loud enough to be heard by the examiner”. These noises can be produced by the internal functions of the patient’s body. Objective tinnitus is also very rare, occurring in less than 1% of reported tinnitus cases.
With that being said, Tinnitus can be hard to prove and is frequently hard to link to military service.
It’s also important to understand that tinnitus is not usually a permanent condition, despite how irritating or distracting it can be.
How to file a Tinnitus claim
To file any successful, fully developed claim with the VA you need to have these three pieces of documentation in place. First, a medical diagnosis of your conditions, this can be from any doctor of your choosing, but it has to be specific to your claim.
Secondly, a Nexus Letter, this is a medical letter generated by an evaluator that links your medical diagnosis to your service. It is crucial to have this link; if you cannot prove the link, you will not be awarded a rating. The best thing to do for this evaluation is to put thought into what you want your examiner to know, specifically what caused it.
Lastly, as much evidence as you can provide. The VA looks at when this happened, how it affects you, has it worsened over time, and to what extent it is impacting your quality of life.
Be sure to include exactly how often you notice experiencing your symptoms. Be specific about how serious those symptoms are, and track the timeline of when you first noticed the tinnitus, and whether or not it has remained or if there have been breaks in it (this is how “chronic” your condition is).
These are all things that must be proven by you and your medical doctor. So, it is essential to file a claim for Tinnitus as soon as you start experiencing it. With the VA, time is not on your side. The longer you are out of the service, the harder it is to prove the service connection. Also, remember that statements in support of your claim and buddy letters are crucial when submitting your evidence to support your claim as well.
DO NOT assume that your claim will be accepted with just the basic information provided. Tinnitus is not easily proven because the vast majority of the cases are subjective. Therefore the VA will be carefully examining the evidence in your claim.
Let’s take a look at what some of the causes of Tinnitus are. These can include loud environments, seniors, musicians, and military service. Here are a few examples of military causes; flight line noise, combat zones, head trauma, and training.
In addition to damage from loud noises, the condition can also be caused by infection, blockages, or head and neck injuries.
Finally, even vertigo, depression, PTSD, and everyday stressors have been shown to cause a development of tinnitus. All of these are things to consider when explaining your condition during your appointments and for your medical Nexus letter. It is essential so the doctor can determine there are no other causes of your Tinnitus, other than your military service.
Tinnitus, as explained above, is subjective. This can work for you or against you. Because only you are able to hear these noises, the doctors have to take your word for it. Meaning, you need to have all of the facts in place before your evaluations begin. Our medical team here at VA Claims Insider can help with these types of assessments and write any DBQ’s and Nexus letters in support of your claim.
Overview of Tinnitus
To wrap things up, according to ECFR- TItle 38, Part 4 VA Disabilities, code 6260; the maximum rating for Tinnitus is 10%, nothing more and nothing less. Also, Tinnitus can be claimed as a Primary disability, or it can be Secondary to other conditions as stated above. Meaning that if it is proven that you have other issues related to tinnitus, such as hearing loss, you may be entitled to a higher rating. It would need to be determined during your evaluation, as to why you have Tinnitus, to know how to file this disability.
If you have experienced any symptoms of tinnitus since your time in service, you deserve to be rated for it. Many who experience tinnitus don’t even bother to file a claim because they might believe it’s not serious enough for them to worry about. That’s just leaving money on the table! As a veteran, you are entitled to these benefits, and there is no reason to avoid receiving what is owed you.
Receiving a rating can make it easier to get benefits later if you ever begin to develop hearing loss.
For more information on this check out my Youtube video here.