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Long Island veteran advocate balks at proposed VA benefits changes for common disabilities

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The Veterans Affairs medical center in Northport on Long Island.

The Veterans Affairs Department has proposed changes for how they make disability payments for two of the most common illnesses among veterans: tinnitus and sleep apnea. Some veterans are concerned that will lead to fewer benefits.

Tinnitus, a condition that causes ringing in the ears, and sleep apnea, a respiratory condition that causes trouble breathing at night, are two of the most common medical issues among veterans. The changes proposed by the VA would require veterans to meet a higher standard to receive disability payments.

“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,” according to a VA statement at the time the proposed changes were announced. The VA also said the changes would only impact new claims.

But some veterans said the changes will result in more hurdles and fewer benefits.

“The VA is trying to change the rating schedule for these particular diagnoses and disabilities because they're costing the VA the most money,” said Patrick Donohue with Project 9 Line, an Islip-based veteran advocacy group. He said many veterans developed these diseases from exposure to loud noise and toxic fumes while they served overseas.

Donohue said he’s concerned the VA will reassess previously approved benefits according to the new standards. The public can read the entire proposal and provide comments until Monday, April 18.

Desiree reports on the lives of military service members, veterans, and their families for WSHU as part of the American Homefront project. Born and raised in Connecticut, she now calls Long Island home.