Vet disability benefits for tinnitus and mental health issues may change

Proposed changes to the Department of Veterans Affairs disability rating system will result in lower payouts for veterans with sleep apnea and tinnitus in the future, but higher payouts for veterans facing mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

The changes are part of a months-long review of the department’s disability ratings schedule, which governs how VA staffers assess and compensate veterans with service-related injuries.

In a statement, Thomas Murphy, the VA’s acting undersecretary for benefits, said the purpose of the work was not to reduce or increase the number of veterans receiving disability benefits, but rather to ensure that “veterans receive decisions based on the most up-to-date medical knowledge regarding their condition.”

For veterans currently receiving these payments, the changes will not remove any existing benefits or reduce their disability rating. They could see their ratings increase depending on the changes, if the new rules prove to be more advantageous for their health.

But veterans applying for benefits in the future will have a different set of standards applied to their cases than their older peers, and that could have significant financial ramifications for those people.

Under VA rules, a disability rating of at least 10% can mean monthly payments of more than $140 for a veteran. A person who receives a 100% disability rating — either from a single service-related condition or a combination of injuries and illnesses — can get about $3,100 a month in disability compensation.

VA has not provided any information on how the changes will affect its budget.

Outside critics have lamented that the current scoring system too often compensates veterans for treatable conditions and does not prevent them from maintaining full-time employment.

But veterans’ advocates said the system is still cumbersome and difficult to navigate, often leaving veterans waiting months or years for compensation for crippling conditions that are obvious even to those who don’t. medical degree.

The number of veterans receiving compensation for sleep apnea – interrupted breathing during sleep – has risen sharply in recent years, from less than 1 million people in fiscal year 2015 to more than 1.3 million in fiscal year 2019, according to the department’s inspector general.

Under proposed changes outlined in the Federal Register on Tuesday, VA officials could for the first time offer a “0% rating” for asymptomatic sleep apnea, allowing the department to officially recognize the condition of a former fighter without requiring any compensation if the condition is easily controlled with treatment.

Veterans would receive ratings of 10% or higher for sleep apnea “only when treatment is ineffective or the veteran is unable to use prescribed treatment due to comorbid conditions.” Currently, veterans can receive a rating of 10% or higher for the condition even though treatments are effective in treating the condition.

Likewise, veterans diagnosed with tinnitus — a high-pitched ringing noise caused by damage to the ears — would face a higher bar for higher levels of disability compensation. More than 1.5 million veterans currently receive disability benefits for this disease.

Instead of assessing veterans solely on frequencies they can discern on hearing tests, assessors in the new plan would examine whether veterans can understand specific words or whether the condition is “a symptom of an illness under -lying, rather than an autonomous disability.

Officials said the changes would likely reduce the number of veterans eligible for disability ratings by 10% or more, though they noted that the number of veterans whose condition was listed on their records for future reference would not change.

In contrast, veterans struggling with mental health issues would see a lower bar for increased disability ratings under the changes.

Conditions such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder would be assessed for their impact on the veteran’s ability to perform daily functions, with even a mild impairment eligible for compensation.

The proposed rules set out the changes to better recognize the impact of mental health on the well-being of individuals “with greater emphasis on a disabled veteran’s ability to function in the workplace, rather than focusing solely on the symptoms “.

Previous VA studies have estimated that one in eight veterans may suffer from post-traumatic stress or related mental health issues, but outside experts have said the requirements to prove impairment under the current system disability assessment remain difficult.

VA officials do not have an expected implementation date for the rating changes. The public has 60 days to comment on the proposals before final deadlines can be set.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, DC since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned him numerous accolades, including a 2009 Polk Award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism Award, and the VFW News Media Award.

About Antoine L. Cassell

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