What Is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus occurs when someone experiences ringing or other noises in one or both ears. It is usually caused by an underlying condition, such as injury to the inner ear due to persistent exposure to loud sounds. This cause of tinnitus is part of the reason it is the most prevalent service-connected disability among veterans, with eight percent of all veterans who claim VA disability benefits gaining service connection for this condition. Some examples of events that can cause tinnitus are consistent exposures to gunfire, explosions, and jet engines. Military service members are regularly in close proximity to these sounds, putting them at greater risk for developing tinnitus.
Tinnitus most commonly presents as ringing in the ears, despite the absence of external sound. Some other phantom noises that can be indicative of tinnitus are:
These sounds can occur in one or both ears of someone with tinnitus. In some cases, the sound can be so loud that it is difficult to concentrate on other tasks. Many individuals with tinnitus also develop psychological conditions such as depression secondary to tinnitus because of the condition’s effect on one’s mental functioning.
Getting Service Connection For Tinnitus
Due to service members’ exposure to many of the common causes of tinnitus on a daily basis, service personnel records showing where a veteran was stationed and the status of his or her Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) can be the most important evidence in establishing service connection for tinnitus. Most cases of tinnitus are subjective, meaning only the individual with tinnitus can hear the sound. If the veteran does not have proof of his or her tinnitus having been diagnosed in service, he or she will need to prove to the VA that exposure to sounds or events encountered in the military at least as likely as not caused his or her current tinnitus.
How The VA Rates Tinnitus
Under 38 CFR § 4.87, recurrent tinnitus (Diagnostic code 6260) has a maximum schedular disability rating of ten percent. A maximum of ten percent may seem low when considering the extremely detrimental effects tinnitus can have on one’s daily functioning, but this evaluation can also be combined with evaluations under diagnostic codes 6100 (hearing loss), 6200 (chronic suppurative otitis media, mastoiditis, or cholesteatoma), 6204 (peripheral vestibular disorders) and other diagnostic codes, except when tinnitus is supporting the evaluation under one of those diagnostic codes (such as for Meniere’s disease). Tinnitus, as with other conditions, can also be evaluated by the VA on an extra schedular basis if the condition severely impacts the veteran’s earning capacity. An extra schedular disability rating would allow the veteran to receive a greater than ten percent schedular disability rating for his or her tinnitus.
Objective tinnitus, where the ringing can be heard by an examining doctor, will be evaluated under the diagnostic code for the underlying condition causing the ringing.
Help With Your Tinnitus Claim
If you are looking to appeal a recent denial of service connection for tinnitus or simply want help filling out your initial tinnitus claim, please contact us. Our veterans disability lawyers are experts at handling tinnitus claims before the VA and will help you get the compensation you deserve.