Local veterans worried about change in disability benefits for tinnitus, sleep apnea, mental health

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Local veterans are concerned over the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' proposal to remove tinnitus as a stand-alone disability and to change the language surrounding a sleep apnea disability.

The VA made the announcement in February and said in an email to veterans, "The proposed updates to the rating schedule for these conditions will enable VA to incorporate modern medical data and terminology to provide Veterans with more accurate and consistent decisions. Veterans who currently receive compensation for a service-connected condition in these body systems will not have their disability rating impacted when the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities is updated."

The VA projects it will save $57.1 billion over a 10-year-period with the updates to the tinnitus and sleep apnea language.

"It doesn't sit right with us that these changes are about to occur and we are left to believe that nothing's going to happen to us," said Army veteran John Rodriguez.

Patrick Donohue, founder of veteran's outreach group Project 9 Line in Islip, said he has been trying to get more information from the VA about what medical studies they used to make the decisions and how the VA is proposing to save tens of billions of dollars while also, "more accurately compensating veterans for their service-connected disabilities."

Donohue fears that fewer veterans will be able to get disability benefits under the new rules.

"To take that away or make it more difficult for any vet to get these benefits is unfair," he said. Donohue said he is troubled by the fact that he said he knows veterans who had sleep apnea tests performed recently, but the VA is not issuing a decision on their cases.

Long Island veteran Shaun Thompson said he had a sleep apnea test performed two months ago. He just received a letter from the VA saying a decision about whether he should receive compensation is being "deferred."

Eyewitness News reached out to the VA requesting the various medical studies on which they based their proposals, but the VA said they could not get us the information by our deadline.

The VA is also proposing a reevaluation of mental health conditions based on "a more robust and holistic approach that assesses how impactful the disability is to cognition, interpersonal relationships, task completion, life activities and self-care."

The proposals cannot be approved until they go through a 60-day public comment period, which ends April 18.

More information on the proposals can be found here https://www.regulations.gov/document/VA-2022-VBA-0009-0001 and here https://www.regulations.gov/document/VA-2022-VBA-0010-0001

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