Tinnitus is the number one disability among Veterans and it affects at least one in every 10 American adults.
Before I get started, if you are suffering from tinnitus there are some management techniques offered here <– click for a handbook. My goal for this post is to shed some light on the challenges and suffering that come with tinnitus as opposed to the reasons why people have tinnitus. The driver for this post comes from some recent discussions with other veterans who suffer in silence about it because they believe there is nothing they can do about it.
While on active duty, I was exposed to a lot of noise. The Navy did have safety measures and they did have hearing protection offered through most conditions but there were many occasions when I didn’t have protection. It was a vastly different time in the early 1990s. The Navy was transforming but there were a lot of older leaders that didn’t have time for the safety concerns of young sailors. I noticed after a few months of exposure to loud noise that I had a high-pitched whine in the background that never went away. I reported it to medical but they just wrote it down and sent me back to my shop. If you went to medical, you needed to be very sick or dying unless they called you up for a shot or examination. After my time in the service, the ringing never went away. It was fairly low and I could manage with some sporadic occasions where it would get louder. Over the years, the sound would increase as a baseline. In recent years, I can hear the sound over other sounds. In fact, I hear the noise all the time and it is about as loud as you would play a car radio to listen to music.
What I have come to realize through research is that tinnitus is very common and that most veterans have some form of it. While the VA recognizes the issue of tinnitus, I don’t think the VA knows the extent of suffering associated with it. The rating for tinnitus today is generalized and only 10%. The VA is revamping the disability rating system and making it more difficult to claim tinnitus as an independent disability setting the bar higher. https://www.militarytimes.com/veterans/2022/02/15/vets-disability-benefits-for-tinnitus-mental-health-issues-may-change/ – “Similarly, veterans diagnosed with tinnitus — a high-pitched ringing caused by damage to the ears — would face a higher bar for higher levels of disability compensation. More than 1.5 million veterans are currently receiving disability benefits for the condition.”
There is no cure for tinnitus. It can leave you in a place where you cannot escape from the sound. There have been many days that I asked myself if I’d rather not hear at all. There is no trade-off that works in this case. The sound disrupts life. It can disrupt sleep, cause anxiety and depression. I can’t imagine why the VA wouldn’t do more for this condition overall. https://www.kpbs.org/news/military/2022/02/18/tinnitus-most-common-ailment-among-veterans (another post about it).
The new criteria will come to pass after review and public comment, see the link below. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2022/02/15/2022-02049/schedule-for-rating-disabilities-ear-nose-throat-and-audiology-disabilities-special-provisions
If you are a veteran suffering from tinnitus, you need to at least understand what the VA is changing. You also have the right to make a comment on the changes. As I personally understand the struggle, I am hoping for a resolution. I am working with an acupuncturist today along with trying some diet and vitamins to see if I can make it better. I believe with the help of the acupuncturist I will find relief. With permission, I’ll share my experience in a coming post.