That ringing or buzzing sound in your ears could be tinnitus, and might be a service-related condition entitling you to compensation from the VA.
By Raymond F. Gustavson, Jr.
Tinnitus is a subjective condition that is described as either a ringing or buzzing in the ears, or head noise with no external source. It may be heard in one ear, both ears, in between the ears, or with no exact location pinpointed. It is usually associated with high frequency hearing loss. The Merck Manual defines tinnitus as the “perception of sound in the absence of an acoustic stimulus.”
The Merck Manual defines tinnitus as the “perception of sound in the absence of an acoustic stimulus.”
Here are some causal examples of tinnitus: Repeated noise exposure from flight-line duty, artillery explosions, or rifle/machine gunfire (on the range or in combat). This is only a partial list, but the common factor is repeated noise exposure.
Despite a lengthy court fight between the VA and veterans’ service organizations (the fight ended when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a federal appeals court ruling), tinnitus is still rated as a single disability regardless of whether it is heard in one or both ears.
Filing a claim
To make a claim for tinnitus, write a letter to the VA and tell them you want to establish service connection for this disability. With your claim you should submit current medical evidence showing you have tinnitus.
If you do not have a current medical report, the VA will send you a release form (VA Form 21-4142) for you to list your doctor’s name and address and date(s) of treatment. Return the form to the VA, and they will obtain the necessary medical report. Failure to do this relieves the VA of any obligation to secure your private medical records.
If you were treated at a VA Medical Center, or other U.S. government facility, the VA must obtain these records.
What happens next?
After the VA has received all medical evidence, the Rating Specialist will schedule you for a VA examination to determine the severity of your tinnitus.
The examiner must state that it is as likely as not that your tinnitus was due to acoustic trauma experienced during military service.
At the examination the physician will review your claims file and ask you questions about your tinnitus. When he is finished he will submit a summary of his findings. Of note, the examiner must state that it is as likely as not that your tinnitus was due to acoustic trauma experienced during military service. This statement is what is called a nexus, and without it, your claim will be denied. The rating specialist in the VA Regional Office will review the VA examination, and either grant or deny your claim.
What if your claim is denied?
If your claim for tinnitus is denied, read the VA letter in its entirety. Look specifically at the reasons why the claim was denied. If you think the denial was unfair, send a one-sentence letter to the VA stating that you disagree with the decision. This protects your appeal rights; however, the VA must receive your letter within one year of the denial. In your letter, you may submit any additional evidence you feel is relevant to your claim, or any information the VA requested but you failed to send.
Since the VA appeals process is a precise yet often confusing process to understand, I would strongly advise contacting a local service organization or a local County Service Officer. One of their representatives will explain exactly why your claim was denied and help you process your appeal. Sometimes, it’s as simple as not sending in that one piece of information you thought was a waste of time. Don’t lose hope.
Retired VA Rating Specialist Raymond F. Gustavson, Jr. served with the U.S. Army in Vietnam, and is writing a self-help book to help veterans understand the complexities of the VA claims process. His first novel, “A Thirst for War,” was a semi-finalist in the 2009 William Faulkner Competition. The sequel, “In the Hands of the Wolf,” was a semi-finalist in the 2011 William Faulkner Competition, and won Third Prize at the 2012 Florida Writers Association convention.