Posted by Gregory M. Rada | December 10, 2014 | Disability Compensation
It’s very common for veterans to suffer from tinnitus without accompanying hearing loss. Unfortunately, when a veteran submits a claim for service connection for tinnitus without hearing loss, VA examiners will often render a negative nexus opinion that goes something like this:
“Although the veteran served in a high hazardous noise MOS, the veteran has bilaterally normal hearing indicating intact cochlear function. Therefore, the veteran’s reported tinnitus is less likely than not caused by military noise exposure.”
In other words, the examiner denies service connection because the veteran has normal hearing and the examiner believes tinnitus must be accompanied by hearing loss. As an initial matter, this belief is wrong. The American Tinnitus Association writes that while it is common for hearing loss to accompany tinnitus, “there are many who have no measurable hearing loss but have tinnitus.” So, because it’s possible to suffer from tinnitus without hearing loss, the veteran can still win service connection in this situation.
First, it’s possible a Decision Review Officer or the Board of Veterans’ Appeals will grant service connection based solely on the veteran’s lay statements, even with the negative nexus opinion. This is because the presence of tinnitus is capable of lay observation, and the VA must take into account and consider the veteran’s lay observations. If the veteran hasn’t already, he or she should submit a sworn statement of support detailing the onset of their tinnitus, their symptoms shortly after discharge, and their current symptoms. If the positive and negative evidence of record is in approximate balance (i.e. veteran’s positive lay statements versus VA’s negative opinion) and there’s no reason to doubt the credibility of the veteran, then the VA should grant service connection under the benefit-of-the-doubt doctrine.
Second, the veteran can strengthen their case even more by obtaining a private nexus opinion addressing the absence of accompanying hearing loss. A positive nexus opinion would read something like this:
“Although the veteran’s tinnitus is not associated with measurable hearing loss, it is still at least as likely as not related to his noise exposure during military service. As is well known, the ‘cochlear reserve’ in younger people often masks the cochlear damage – and noise-induced hearing loss from his past exposure may present in future decades.”
Even though VA often denies claims for tinnitus without hearing loss, service connection is still obtainable. If you’ve been denied service connection for tinnitus because you don’t have measurable hearing loss, contact us today.
Gregory Rada is a Veterans Benefits Attorney who practices Nationwide. He graduated from the University of Connecticut School of Law, and has been practicing law for six years. Gregory Rada believes in fighting for fellow veterans. Learn more about his experience by clicking here.