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Blumenthal & Tester Urge VA to Reject Proposal Removing Tinnitus as a Stand-Alone Disability

“This is not an area VA should look to implement cost-saving measures but rather use the utmost diligence in reviewing a policy that will impact millions of veterans; concern among service members and veterans in our states is immense.”

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Today, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Jon Tester (D-MT) raised serious concerns about a proposed rule currently being considered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which would make it more difficult for veterans diagnosed with tinnitus to receive benefits and treatment for the condition, and urged the agency to refrain from adopting it.

“VA must not pencil-whip its way through a substantial proposal to transform its decades-long treatment of what is now its most commonly diagnosed service-connected disability,” wrote the senators to VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “If the proposed change proceeds down this path, many veterans will be left without VA recognition for tinnitus and access to earned benefits and treatment options, namely the hearing aid technologies so many veterans rely upon.”

Tinnitus—a high-pitched ringing caused by damage to the ears—is currently one of the most common service-connected disabilities recognized by VA, with an estimated 1.5 million veterans receiving VA benefits for the condition. VA has historically recognized tinnitus as a consequence of head injury, concussion, or acoustic trauma from loud sounds common in garrison or war zones. The proposed rule, which primarily relies on a single, outdated 1990 medical research report, would change the disability rating system for the condition, removing it as a stand-alone disability. Consequently, VA would stop compensating veterans for tinnitus by itself and impose a greater burden on veterans to prove their tinnitus is linked to another service-connected disability.

Although the proposed rule would not impact veterans currently covered for tinnitus, Blumenthal and Tester voiced concerns over the staggering impact the proposed change would have on veterans in the future and urged the agency to ensure veterans continue to receive coverage for the condition, writing: “[T]innitus negatively impacts millions of veterans who otherwise would not suffer but for their sacrifices on behalf of our nation. We cannot deny veterans the health care and benefits for service-connected suffering on medical semantics alone.”

The full text of today’s letter is available here.