Tinnitus and VA Disability Claims

Tue Nov 14 2023


Veteran Legal Editors

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Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is an unfortunately common condition among veterans who faced frequent and prolonged exposure to loud noises during their military service. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers monthly disability benefits for tinnitus. However, many veterans find their claims denied even when medical records clearly show a connection between their tinnitus and noise exposure during their service.

The appeals process can be long and frustrating, leaving deserving veterans without assistance. This is where veterans disability lawyers can provide invaluable help. Firms like Veteran Legal have the expertise to guide veterans through the process and can help you build strong arguments to establish service connection for tinnitus.

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the perception of noise or ringing in the ears. Different people experience it in different ways – you might hear it in one ear or both, as a high-pitched ringing, buzzing, roaring, clicking, hissing or even as musical tones. The sounds can be sporadic or continuous. Sometimes, external noises make tinnitus temporarily quieter or louder.

While tinnitus sometimes stems from age-related hearing loss or cerumen (ear wax) build-up, one of the most common causes is excessive noise exposure. Loud concerts, machinery operation, or gunfire during military service can all contribute to or trigger tinnitus. This happens when sound damages the delicate hair cells in the inner ear. Traumatic brain injuries and some medications have also been linked to tinnitus.

For many, tinnitus symptoms come and go, allowing them to carry on with daily life. But for others, the persistence of disruptive phantom sounds can lead to sleep deprivation, trouble concentrating, anxiety, and depression. Learning effective ways to cope is crucial.

Did My Military Service Cause My Tinnitus?

The inherently noisy nature of military service, often over many years, increases the risk that veterans will develop tinnitus. Weapons and machinery produce extreme noise levels well above the 85-90 decibel threshold that can cause permanent hearing damage from a single exposure.

When combined with repetitive exposure, it’s easy to see why veterans experience tinnitus at much higher rates than the general public. Those who worked on flight decks or as aircraft crew members face some of the highest risks. Even with protective gear, excessive noise can overwhelm and injure the auditory system.

Over time, veterans with severe tinnitus may develop other medical complications like chronic fatigue, memory problems, dizziness, tremors, and emotional distress. Managing reactions to the disruptive phantom sounds is crucial for maintaining quality of life.

Is Tinnitus a VA Disability Claim?

Tinnitus is currently the most prevalent service-connected disability addressed by the VA. However, it is only ratable at 10 percent as a recurrent condition under VA regulations. To claim disability compensation for tinnitus, you need to provide a current diagnosis from an audiologist or other medical professional.

You must also establish sufficient evidence proving that excessive noise exposure during service caused or worsened your tinnitus. Even with medical records clearly showing hearing damage from service-related noise, you could face denial of claims.

Service Connection

The VA determines monthly compensation based on service connection – essentially, whether an injury or condition stems from, or was aggravated (made worse) by, your active duty service. Given the delayed onset of hearing loss and tinnitus symptoms, plus the VA’s complex rules around documentation, establishing service connection can be a major obstacle for filing disability claims.

Without strong evidence linking current medical issues to circumstances surrounding your service, claims for tinnitus and other conditions will likely face denial. Unfortunately, the VA adjudication process often fails to account for what physicians recognize as clear medical links between military noise exposure and your later development of auditory conditions.

How Can I Establish a Service Connection for Tinnitus?

This is where consulting a veterans disability law firm like Veteran Legal can help turn around wrongful denials. Our attorneys thoroughly examine clients’ military records, post-service medical history and current lifestyle to build supportive rationales proving service connection.

If needed, they can help obtain expert witness opinions from medical professionals to explain why, for example, a veteran’s tinnitus likely stems from working on loud aircraft for a decade in service. When appropriate, they invoke legal precedents requiring the VA to provide veterans the benefit of the doubt when records or recollections have gaps.

Evidence like performance evaluations describing prolonged exposure to extreme noise, notations of temporary hearing loss or tinnitus during service, post-service medical records tracking hearing decline, lay statements from fellow service members, and well-reasoned arguments from experts together compel the VA to reasonably conclude that military noise levels caused later tinnitus symptoms.

What Are the Potential Monthly Benefits for VA Disability with Tinnitus?

The VA rates level of disability on a scale from 0 to 100 percent – including increments of 10 – in order to determine the amount of monthly compensation. So while private audiologists may diagnose mild, moderate or severe tinnitus, the VA assigns tinnitus claims a simplified 10 percent rating.

However, keep in mind that a Veteran’s tinnitus can result in other conditions, such as headaches or mental health disorders which may receive independent disability ratings, and Veteran Help will examine these additional conditions with you to fight for your highest possible rating.

For 2024, a 10 percent rating entitles a veteran with no dependents to $171.23 in monthly tax-free compensation. Veterans with spouses, children or dependent parents may qualify for Special Monthly Compensation, bringing the monthly amount up. These payments increase slightly each year.

So while a 10 percent rating may seem low given the real impact of severe and persistent tinnitus, the tax-free supplemental income over many years provides helpful compensation if you’re facing service-related difficulties.

We Can Help

The VA disability process poses many hurdles for veterans experiencing hearing loss, ringing ears and related conditions stemming from their military service. But with medical records, supporting lay statements, and skillful legal guidance, you can prevail with your tinnitus claim.

At Veteran Help Legal, we level the playing field by working with you to gather strong evidence and craft powerful arguments to show service connection for your disabilities. If you’ve struggled through the process alone, get a free case evaluation from our experienced veteran disability attorneys. Together, we can fight for the monthly assistance you and your family deserve.