By Aniela Szymanski
VA plans to change how it rates tinnitus. Currently, tinnitus is a standalone disability with a 10% rating. That means that even if a veteran does not have any other service-connected disability except for tinnitus, he or she can receive a 10% rating solely for the tinnitus.
VA wants to change that to only grant a claim for tinnitus when it is related to another service-connected disability such as hearing loss or traumatic brain injury. In its statement in the Federal Register announcing the rule change, VA stated tinnitus is not a stand-alone disability. “It is a symptom associated with an underlying condition, such as hearing loss, Meniere's disease, traumatic brain injury and cerebral atherosclerosis, not an independent disease.”
VA's explained this interpretation will “restore the medically-supported relationship between tinnitus and an underlying pathology, consistent with current medical practice.” Consequently, VA proposes to evaluate tinnitus only as part of its underlying pathology and to delete the stand alone diagnostic code for tinnitus entirely.
The practical effect of this is that it will be hard for veterans to prove their claims for tinnitus because it will be a two-step process. First, they will need to prove they have an underlying condition caused by service, such as hearing loss. Then, they will have to prove they also have tinnitus and that the two are related.
This is problematic, however, because it is traditionally very difficult for veterans to prove hearing loss was caused by service, particularly when a veteran waits several years after leaving service to file a claim with VA. Many veterans do not think to make claims for hearing loss right when they leave service because they do not notice the impact that the hearing loss has on their lives yet. When the claim is made some time later, VA can easily deny the claim by blaming noise exposures outside the military as the cause, such as lawnmowers or concerts.
This will also result in lower overall ratings for veterans, too, because VA will no longer grant a standalone rating for tinnitus. For example, if a veteran has service-connected hearing loss rated at 10% and has tinnitus, the tinnitus does not add any additional disability percentage because VA asserts that the veteran has not suffered any additional loss of earning capacity by having the tinnitus on top of the hearing loss. Under the current version of the rating criteria, the veteran would receive 10% for hearing loss plus 10% for tinnitus.
Under the proposed new rating criteria, the only way a veteran would receive 10% for tinnitus associated with hearing loss is when hearing loss is rated at 0%. Only then will VA grant the veteran a standalone 10% rating for tinnitus.
VA states that, if this change is finally approved, it will not impact veterans currently receiving disability compensation for tinnitus, only new claimants.
As required by law, VA must allow members of the public to comment on this proposed rule change. If you would like to comment, go to
The comment period closes April 18, 2022.
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