ATA Comments on VA’s Proposed Rule on Veterans’ Disability Benefits

The American Tinnitus Association (ATA) has posted a letter on its website, commenting on the Veterans Administration (VA) proposed rule that could reduce payments to veterans for conditions such as tinnitus and apnea. sleep (Schedule for Rating Disabilities Docket Number VA-2022-VBA-0009, February 15, 2022).

Related article: VA has an update for Disability benefits for tinnitus

An excerpt appears below:

For scientific and ethical reasons, the ATA strongly opposes the VA’s proposed rule that would eliminate tinnitus as a stand-alone disability by linking it to hearing loss for disability benefit purposes. The proposal would deny benefits to veterans with tinnitus unless they have non-compensable hearing loss. Veterans with tinnitus and compensable hearing loss would not receive compensation for their tinnitus. This proposed change would effectively reduce tinnitus as an independent condition, which is debilitating – distinct from hearing loss – for millions of people, while significantly reducing the future number of veterans with tinnitus who are eligible for benefits. Over time, the proposed change would reduce the number of VAs for tinnitus as a disability, without significantly addressing the needs of veterans with tinnitus, which continue to grow. Because the proposed change does not reflect current scientific understanding of the condition and research (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27995315/), it appears to be a blatant attempt to cut costs at the expense of our veterans with tinnitus who depend on and deserve disability benefits.

The letter authored by ATA Board Chairman David Hadley goes on to cite that more than 2 million veterans are receiving service-related disability for tinnitus as of 2020, making it the “main disability” for veterans after hearing loss. Tinnitus, on an autonomic basis, is also linked to sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression and concentration, according to the ATA. Hadley concludes by noting:

It is imperative to note that VA hospitals currently do not have adequate clinical services for tinnitus, which means veterans must seek services elsewhere, or they languish without proper care and support.

There is valuable federal, state, and private research being done on the causes of tinnitus and potential cures. Tinnitus must continue to be a stand-alone disability so that the search for cures and better treatments can continue based on accurate data on the number of veterans with tinnitus. By arbitrarily linking tinnitus to disability related to hearing loss, the number of tinnitus sufferers eligible for disability benefits would decrease even if the problem persists. This amounts to deliberately sweeping under the rug an important issue arising from military service.

Again, from a scientific and ethical point of view, it is wrong to classify tinnitus as hearing loss. The American Tinnitus Association strongly recommends that you continue to treat tinnitus as an independent disability. Our veterans deserve nothing less.

To read the letter in its entirety, please click here.

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