Are you a veteran suffering from tinnitus, hearing loss, and PTSD? If so, you are not alone.
Tinnitus, hearing loss, and PTSD are common VA disabilities. In 2018, over 2 million veterans received a VA disability rating for tinnitus, and there were at least 233,000 disability claims for both tinnitus and/or hearing loss. Additionally, tinnitus can trigger secondary conditions such as PTSD, which is also a common disability among veterans.
Unfortunately, the VA disability rating for tinnitus is quite low, capping at a 10% disability rating and a low monthly payment. Therefore, if you suffer from both tinnitus and PTSD, understanding the link between these conditions is the key to receiving a combined disability rating that could increase your monthly VA benefit payments.
What We Cover in This Article on PTSD and Tinnitus:
- What is Tinnitus?
- Causes of Tinnitus
- What is PTSD?
- What is the Link Between Tinnitus and PTSD in Veterans?
- Disability Rating for Tinnitus and PTSD
- The VA Disability Rating for Tinnitus is:
- The VA Disability Rating for PTSD is:
- Combined Disability Rating
- Preparing Evidence for Hearing Loss or Tinnitus and PTSD Benefits
- Evidence to Provide for Hearing Loss or Tinnitus and PTSD VA Disability Benefits Claim
- We Can Help You Get VA Benefits for Hearing Loss or Tinnitus and PTSD
What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus, not to be confused with hearing loss, is the sensation of ringing, hissing, clicking, buzzing or some other sound in your ears although there is no external noise. This sound may be sporadic, or it may be constant, affecting your ability to focus or even sleep.
Tinnitus differs from hearing loss because this condition causes you to hear sounds that don’t exist, whereas hearing loss diminishes your ability to hear sounds that do exist.
There are two types of Tinnitus:
This type is where only you hear the phantom ringing noises, triggered by issues in your middle, inner, or outer ear, with the nerves that allow you to hear sound or with the auditory interpretation section of your brain. This kind of tinnitus is the most common.
This type is where someone else, such as your doctor, can hear the noises upon assessing your ears. Muscle conditions, issues with the middle ear bone, or your blood vessels can lead to this rare kind of tinnitus.
Disability ratings do not apply to objective tinnitus, therefore, you would need to complete a medical exam and receive a diagnosis for subjective tinnitus before being able to claim VA disability.
Causes of Tinnitus
Tinnitus can be caused by long-term exposure to loud noises that over time damages the cells within the cochlea that allows us to hear sound.
This condition can also be caused by:
- Hearing loss
- Heart disease, high blood pressure, allergies, or other medical issues
- Ear infection or earwax buildup or blockage
- Head injuries
- Neck or jaw issues
- Aging, which can lead to a damaged ear or cochlea over time
- Meniere’s disease, which is an inner ear disorder that can lead to vertigo and loss of hearing
- Prescription or over-the-counter drug (i.e., aspirin, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories) side effects
- Otosclerosis, which is abnormal bone growth in the middle ear
In veterans, this condition is usually triggered by prolonged exposure to explosions, gunfire, or other loud sounds that damage their hearing cells causing auditory trauma. You can see where this would then lead to long-term disabilities like tinnitus and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In this video, one of our certified VA disability lawyers explains how the VA rating for tinnitus is important to your VA disability application:
What is PTSD?
PTSD is a mental health disorder that an individual can develop after they have been through or seen a traumatic event. For example, surviving an accident or rape, experiencing war or combat, or even receiving violent threats.
Someone with PTSD may experience the below symptoms in reaction to past trauma.
- Flashbacks of the traumatic event
- Intrusive thoughts of the traumatic event
- Feelings of fear, sadness, or anger
- Negative sensitivity to loud noises or physical touch
- Self-harm or suicidal thoughts
PTSD is an extremely common condition, impacting an estimated 3.5% of adults in the US yearly. This condition is also especially common among veterans who regularly experience trauma in war or combat or from military sexual trauma (MST), including sexual assault or sexual harassment.
PTSD is Different for Everybody
The impact of PTSD on veterans varies based on the war they served in:
- Vietnam War: About 30% of Vietnam war veterans experienced PTSD in their lifetime.
- Gulf War (Desert Storm): About 12% of Gulf War veterans have PTSD.
- Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF): About 11-20% of OIF and OEF veterans have PTSD.
If you are a veteran, who has any of the symptoms listed above, then you may be experiencing PTSD. Even if you have none of these symptoms, keep in mind that they can materialize years after a traumatic experience. Therefore, be sure to check in with a medical professional if you experience them down the line.
What is the Link Between Tinnitus and PTSD in Veterans?
Tinnitus and PTSD can both be caused by acoustic trauma such as loud explosions and gunfire that veterans experience during military service. This trauma can lead to auditory dysfunction in the ear, causing tinnitus or anxiety because of PTSD and sound sensitivity.
In fact, tinnitus is frequently worsened by the same type of sounds that set off PTSD-related anxiety. Accordingly, many veterans who suffer from tinnitus also suffer from PTSD. One study showing that 34% of 300 veterans with tinnitus also have PTSD. Whereas, another study finds that tinnitus may be an important contributor to worsen PTSD.
So, why does this matter?
- If you have both tinnitus and PTSD, you may be eligible for a combined disability rating which would make you eligible for more disability compensation.
- Many veterans with tinnitus are denied PTSD benefits. Recognizing the link between both conditions can help you prepare stronger evidence for your disability application and improve your chances for approval.
Therefore, understanding the link between both conditions is key to maximizing your VA benefits.
Disability Rating for Tinnitus and PTSD
If you are pursuing disability compensation, you must receive a disability rating from the VA. A disability rating is a percentage that the VA assigns to a veteran according to the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD) and based on the severity of their symptoms.
For example, the disability rating for rheumatoid arthritis ranges from 20% to 100%. A veteran could receive a 20% rating if they only have 1-2 flare-ups of this condition annually. Whereas, they could receive a 100% rating if this condition leaves them completely incapacitated. After assigning this rating, the VA will then assess whether the veteran is eligible for disability based on the percentage.
The VA Disability Rating for Tinnitus is:
10% if your symptoms are recurring. This 10% rating applies singularly and is not doubled, even if you experience phantom noise in both ears. Therefore, a veteran’s compensation for this disability would be capped at $152.64 per month, based on the VA’s current compensation rates.
Therefore, even if you are experiencing severe symptoms of this condition that prevent you from maintaining focus or being productive, you will be capped at this disability amount.
The VA Disability Rating for PTSD is:
- 0% if your symptoms don’t interfere with occupational and social functions.
- 10% if your symptoms are mild or sporadic and interfere with occupational or social functions.
- 30% if you have symptoms such as anxiety, mild memory loss, or depressed mood which interfere with your occupational and social functions and reduce work efficiency.
- 50% if you have symptoms such as panic attacks, impaired judgment, or mood swings that impair your social, occupational, and productivity skills.
- 70% if you have symptoms such as depression, suicidal ideation, or obsessional rituals that impair social and occupational functions.
- 100% if you have symptoms such as persistent delusions, hallucinations, or danger of self-harm or harm to others that causes complete occupational and social impairment.
If you receive a disability rating between 10% to 100%, you may be eligible to collect anywhere between $152.64 to more than $3,332.06 in monthly disability compensation. Therefore, if you have tinnitus and you also believe that you have PTSD, you should apply to receive a combined disability rating from the VA to increase your compensation.
Combined Disability Rating
A combined disability rating is a combined percentage that the VA assigns to veterans who have multiple disabilities. This percentage is calculated based on the VA’s Combined Ratings Table. If a veteran is eligible for a combined rating, then they would receive disability compensation based on this new, higher combined amount.
For example, if a veteran receives a 10% disability rating for tinnitus and a 50% disability rating for PTSD, their combined rating would be 55%. The VA rounds that up to 60% allowing the veteran to be eligible for compensation over $1,214.03 per month – tax free.
Therefore, if you believe that you have both tinnitus and PTSD, be sure to apply for benefits for both of these disabilities.
Here is a video explaining how the VA combined ratings table works from one of our Veterans Disability Lawyers.
Preparing Evidence for Hearing Loss or Tinnitus and PTSD Benefits
Before the VA grants approval for a disability application, the veteran would need to submit evidence showing that there is a service connection between the claimed disability and military service. The veteran would need to prove that either a direct service connection or secondary service connection exists between their condition and service.
A direct service connection exists if the disability began or was aggravated during military service. Whereas a secondary service connection exists if the disability was proximately caused or the result of a direct service-connected condition.
The VA can approve disability for tinnitus or PTSD by combining their disability ratings as two direct service-connected conditions. The VA can also approve PTSD as a secondary service-connected disability linked to direct service-connected tinnitus.
Evidence to Provide for Hearing Loss or Tinnitus and PTSD VA Disability Benefits Claim
Proving a direct service connection requires you to show the phantom noises associated with tinnitus began or was aggravated during service, or that your PTSD began or was aggravated due to an in-service injury.
Alternatively, you could show that these disabilities are secondary as a result of a direct service-connected condition. For example, you could provide evidence showing that your tinnitus is secondary to a direct service-connected hearing loss. You could also prove that your PTSD is secondary to your direct service-connected tinnitus.
We suggest submitting the below evidence to prove a direct or secondary service connection:
- Medical Records: To verify that you did not have tinnitus before military service. This would help validate that the disability started during service.
- Service Treatment Records: To establish that you were exposed to prolonged noise during service or received treatment for tinnitus that developed in service.
- Doctor Reports: To explain the nexus between your condition and service. This piece of evidence is particularly helpful for proving a secondary service-connected nexus.
- Buddy Statements: Statements from fellow service members who can verify your exposure to acoustic trauma or verify the incident that may have triggered the tinnitus.
It will be crucial for a veteran to submit the above or similar evidence to get VA approval. If you need help preparing your evidence for submission, our experienced team can assist you.
We Can Help You Get VA Benefits for Hearing Loss or Tinnitus and PTSD
If you need assistance determining whether you qualify for increased benefits for hearing loss or tinnitus and PTSD, our expert VA disability team can review your case and help you apply for disability benefits.
We have been helping people since 1985, and we want to help you secure the best outcome for your VA disability claim.
Use our VA benefits calculator to help you estimate your disability rating for either of these disabilities or your combined rating for both.
Yes it is! Many veterans call us and find out that they have more service-connected medical problems than they realized. Plus, once you are on the VA disability radar, it’s easier to add more condtions later as they show up. You can read more about the benefits of a 10% rating here.
Yes. All of the hearing loss, tinnitus, and other hearing problems can trigger and exagerate PTSD. Since hearing loss is so common in veterans, we ask all of our clients to look into a service connection for it.
You want to present them in whichever order makes it more likely for you to win. If it’s easier to prove the service connection for PTSD, make it primary. If your PTSD is more a result of the ringing in your ears, then you’d want PTSD to be secondary to tinnitus. When they are added up, it doesn’t make any difference. The VA starts with the higher number and ‘combines’ it with the next highest number. Go for what wins. Whichever one is secondary won’t affect your combined rating.