is hearing loss a disability

Is Hearing Loss a Disability?

Believe it or not, the most common injury for veterans isn’t a missing limb or even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The number one health issue that affects veterans is, in fact, a hearing injury. To the point, veterans are 30% more likely to have a severe hearing impairment than non-veterans.

Why Do So Many Veterans Suffer from Hearing Loss and Can It Be Treated?

The main reason that veterans are so affected by hearing loss is noise exposure. Loud sounds gunfire, tanks, heavy equipment, and explosives can really cause a lot of damage and leave them hard of hearing. Often, normal age-related hearing changes occur later in life, making the problem much worse.

Another reason noise exposure can be so damaging is that blast exposure can lead to auditory processing disorder, a condition that makes it difficult to understand speech even though hearing seems to be fine.

Some hearing loss can be reversed but most hearing loss sustained by veterans is permanent and can be reduced by using a hearing aid. Unfortunately, about one in five people who would benefit from a hearing aid actually use one. Any veteran who enrolls in health care through the VA is not only eligible for diagnostic testing, they can also get a hearing aid through the VA, as well as other disability benefits.

Is Hearing Loss Considered a Disability?

It is possible to qualify for disability benefits through the Social Security Administration if hearing loss is severe. Not only can this help with financial burdens, but it can also help you get qualified for additional programs that can provide assistance. It may even qualify you for medical coverage through Medicare or Medicaid.

The process of getting diagnosed with profound hearing loss can be expensive and tedious at times. In-depth evaluations are done by audiologists to determine the severity and even the type of hearing loss. Specialized tests and additional medical exams may be required to check your hearing threshold as well as visits to ear specialists.

Significant hearing loss can make it very difficult to maintain a high quality of life. Getting through the day can be hard and it gets in the way of personal relationships because communication is so difficult. Adapting communication to hearing loss can be very difficult.

Learning how to read lips, sign, or speak without hearing their own voice can feel insurmountable and lead to feelings of isolation, depression, and cognitive decline. For a veteran who may already be struggling with civilian life, this can be catastrophic.

So, how bad does hearing loss have to be to medically qualify as a disability? Generally, if you are no longer able to earn a gainful living as a direct result of your hearing loss, you may qualify.

The SSA uses what’s called the Blue Book which lists all the various conditions that disability insurance covers. To qualify, you have to meet the qualifying factors of one of the conditions contained in the Blue Book. That said, if your hearing loss does not meet any of these requirements but still impacts your ability to work, there is still a way to get assistance.

A medical vocational allowance requires a residual functional capacity test to determine your ability to work with your hearing loss. This evaluation looks at your age, education level, job skills, training, and work history in order to determine the kind of work you would be qualified to do. Then, they compare the day-to-day duties of this type of work to your ability to perform them. This assessment also includes your ability to perform normal tasks like cleaning, cooking, and taking care of your pets. The idea is to determine if you are capable of performing the work you’re qualified to do. If your hearing loss prevents you from being able to do this work and to do it safely, you may be entitled to disability compensation.

Can Hearing Loss Be Prevented?

Researchers, engineers, and medical professionals from the VA are currently studying how to prevent and treat hearing loss including looking into the combined effects of aging and noise exposure which affects so many veterans later in life.

Luckily, hearing protection is now mandatory for all active-service members in all branches of the military. There are a few different forms of hearing protection available including:

  • Level Dependent Earplugs. Most traditional earplugs are effective at protecting the inner ear but interfere with mission communication requirements. They made it difficult to hear speech as well as low-level sounds essential to completing the mission. The alternative is level dependent earplugs which eliminate harmful high-frequency noises while letting essential sounds through.

3M Military Earplugs3M's Combat ArmsTM dual-ended earplugs were sold to the US Military from 2003-2015 under the pretense that these earplugs were intended to allow speech through while blocking damaging high-frequency noises. Recently, it was discovered that these 3M earplugs were defective and sometimes even amplified damaging noises. 
[Also read: 3M Pays $9.1M Fine for Defective Earplugs]
  • Earmuffs. Earmuffs create an airtight seal around the entire ear. They’re great for intermittent exposure or when you know you’re going to be around something that can do some damage. Military grade earmuffs commonly have an electric communication system so you can still hear important commands and conversation.
  • Noise-Attenuating Helmets. These advanced helmets not only protect from hearing loss, but they also prevent eye injury and protect against crash impact, too. They’re equipped with noise-reducing technology that cancels unwanted sound while still allowing for effective communication.

A Common Disability

Hearing loss is an injury that a lot of veterans cope with. In fact, they’re far more likely to have trouble with their hearing than a nonveteran.

Hearing loss can take a huge toll on anyone, especially any veteran who doesn’t have a lot of assistance or support. Communication is difficult, work becomes impossible, and can be really hard to adjust without the right assistance.

One important first step is to have your hearing evaluated by your doctor to see if a hearing aid would help. Most people with hearing loss can benefit from a hearing aid but don’t use one either because they don’t want to or aren’t aware of the benefits. Veterans can get evaluated and learn more about hearing aids through the VA.

For those who are really struggling, severe hearing loss can qualify for disability benefits. If the loss isn’t quite bad enough to fit into the parameters used by the SSA to define hearing loss, you may still be eligible if you’re unable to work as a direct result of your hearing loss.


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what is tinnitus

What Is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus affects at least 1 in 10 adults and is the most common disability reported among military veterans. It’s not an easy thing to explain but most people who suffer from tinnitus describe it as a ringing or buzzing in the ears, a high-pitched whistle, and many other sounds. Tinnitus is a very personal condition that affects everyone differently. For some people, it comes and goes. For others, the tinnitus sound seems permanent and can really have bad effects on happiness and quality of life.

What Causes Tinnitus?

Tinnitus usually isn’t a sign of anything serious but it can be extremely bothersome and can really affect your well-being. It’s commonly secondary to another underlying condition like an injury, blood pressure, and blood flow, or another form of hearing loss.

Tinnitus is defined as hearing sound when there is no external sound present and has been described in a lot of different ways: ringing, clicking, buzzing, humming, hissing, and even roaring.

These sounds are often referred to as “phantom noises” and range in pitch from low to high tones. They can appear in one or both ears and persist continuously or can come and go. Depending on how you experience tinnitus, it can really interfere with your ability to hear other sounds and concentrate on both important and routine tasks.

The most common type of tinnitus is subjective meaning it’s something only you can hear. It can be caused by a number of things including problems in your inner, middle, or outer ear, auditory nerve, or the auditory pathways in your brain. There are some common causes of tinnitus including inner ear hair cell damage, general hearing loss, and exposure to loud noise which is believed to be the cause for most veterans.

What Are Risk Factors for Developing Tinnitus?

There are a lot of things that increase the risk of developing tinnitus but one of the biggest factors is exposure to loud noises. This is why it’s so common among those in the military to develop tinnitus, especially those in combat who are exposed to tanks, heavy machinery, explosives, and gunshots on a regular basis.

It’s important to take tinnitus prevention seriously. Using hearing protection to prevent hearing damage is essential. The military provides standard issue hearing protection so make sure that you use it during combat or any other situation where you might be exposed to loud noises.

RELATED ARTICLE: Combat Vets Sue 3M for Hearing Loss and Tinnitus From Defective Earplugs

How Is Tinnitus Treated?

Because tinnitus is the most prevalent disability reported by veterans, the VA takes an interdisciplinary approach to treating it. Since there are so many possible causes and no known cure, treatment focuses on helping veterans cope with living with it as best they can.

While a large percentage of people who experience tinnitus just aren’t that bothered by it, there are a lot of people who have a hard time coping and suffer from insomnia and a lack of focus and concentration. Lack of sleep combined with stress and anxiety can really make it a struggle to cope day to day. This is why tinnitus and mental health conditions occurring together should be taken very seriously. Studies have been done that show veterans suffering from both tinnitus and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are more affected by it than those without PTSD and are not able to cope as well.

RELATED ARTICLE: Living With Hearing Loss: A Veteran’s Story

One of the primary treatment methods for tinnitus is called Progressive Tinnitus Management. It was designed after taking into consideration years of trails and studies to help address the needs of veterans suffering from tinnitus while using the resources available to the VA. Veterans work with a team of clinicians to come up with a way to manage the symptoms, they’re experiencing to them more bearable. The program uses a five-leve approach: triage, evaluation, group education, interdisciplinary evaluation, and individualized support.

Another treatment currently being studied is transcranial magnetic stimulation. In this procedure, a magnetic coil is held against the skull. It gives off repetitive electromagnetic pulses that reach the brain cells and can change their activity. The hope is that this will include a reduction in how the brain perceives sound.

Is Tinnitus Classified as a VA Disability?

The VA uses various standards to check for hearing loss. Testing includes speech recognition and a pure tone threshold test. The results are then used to calculate the percentage rating to determine the disability you’re entitled to.

With tinnitus, it’s a little different. It’s hard to prove tinnitus because it’s something that only you can hear. Still, since tinnitus is often linked to general hearing loss, there are tests that can be performed. Tinnitus testing includes speech recognition, a pure tone audiogram, acoustic reflex testing, and tympanogram.

You’ll also have to have a statement explaining where and when you were exposed to loud noises that could have led to developing tinnitus. If you were involved in combat and experienced a large fire, were exposed to explosives, or worked with heavy machinery, these can all be used as a reason you may have developed tinnitus. It is absolutely essential that you are able to show a link between your military experience and the exposure to the noises and symptoms that lead to the development of tinnitus.

The VA rates most disabilities on a scale from 0 to 100% depending on the severity of the symptoms and their impact on your life; however, tinnitus has a maximum rating of 10% no matter how bad it is. If it occurs in conjunction with hearing loss or a traumatic brain injury, you may get additional benefits but they won’t be because of the tinnitus itself.

Prevention and Preparation

The best thing soldiers can to do avoid getting tinnitus is to make sure to always use ear protection or shield their ears as best as possible when loud noises are occurring. Tinnitus cannot be cured but it can be prevented which is why ear protection is standard issue in the military.

If you’re experiencing tinnitus that’s really affecting your quality of life and you want to get the VA benefits you deserve, make sure you’re prepared to prove your case. Documentation is key and you have to strongly prove the connection between your experience in the military and the exposure that could have led to your tinnitus.

If you face challenges with the process, you may need legal assistance from a lawyers experienced in this type of personal injury case.


what you need to know about noise induced hearing loss

What You Need to Know about Noise-induced Hearing Loss

Noise-induced hearing loss and permanent hearing loss are more common injuries in military veterans and soldiers than even PTSD. Because of long periods of unavoidable loud noise exposure in a combat environment, it’s fairly common to end up with this type of hearing loss, especially without hearing protection.

Our mission is to learn all about noise-induced hearing loss and the ramifications on vets and soldiers. We want to help you and all the other vets that served, been exposed to loud sounds, and used 3M ear plugs and still ended up with hearing loss.

We’re going to learn all about noise exposure in this article, from what can cause it, to the treatments choices you have today.

What Is Noise-induced Hearing Loss in Vets and Soldiers?

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is a type of sensorineural hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss (SHL) is when there’s substantial damage to your inner ear or the hair cells in your inner ear.

Like with age-related hearing loss, noise-induced hearing loss is a sub-type of sensorineural hearing loss. The hair cells in your inner ear are damaged from exposure to loud noises. These loud noises can be a one-time occasion that caused damage or damage that was caused over time while being constantly exposed to extreme noise levels.

The hair cells in your inner ear are an important part of the hearing process but are destroyed through noise exposure. They help to send to the sound waves you hear to your inner ear. In your inner ear, these sound waves are moved to the auditory nerves.

These auditory nerves send the sound to the auditory parts of your brain. Then, your brain translates the sound to a message you understand.

So, with damaged hair cells, the sound can’t pass through to your inner ear. This is what causes the muffled sound so many with hearing loss describe. You’re hearing the sound but it isn’t being fully processed by your brain.

Causes of Noise-induced Hearing Loss

The cause of noise-induced hearing loss is pretty simple. The damage to your hair cells in your inner ear is caused by loud noises or constant exposure to loud noises.

Soldiers in training or serving are dealing with exposure to loud noises daily. You can’t get away from it, which is why prevention is key.

Exposure to these common loud noises can cause noise-induced hearing loss in vets:

  • Weapons and firearms: Most guns when used leave a loud sound, usually over 120 decibels. As we know, you’re using various weapons throughout your military service, from guns to grenades.
  • Ship engine, jet engine, and carrier deck noise: If you work in an engine room on a ship, you’re at high risk for hearing loss later on in life.
  • Fighter planes, jet planes, and other aircraft: Again, the engine noises can cause noise-induced hearing loss down the road. The engines of air crafts can get high in decibels.
  • Jet propulsion: Certain jet fuels that are used in the military alongside engine noises have been known to increase your risk for hearing loss.

How Diagnosis of Noise-induced Hearing Loss Happens

In order to get diagnosed with noise-induced hearing loss, you will need to go to your physician. Your physician may refer you to a specialist, such as an audiologist.

Your physician will first give you a physical exam to rule out any physical causes of your hearing loss. This may include x-rays to rule out any growths or tumors in your ears.

Once a physical cause is ruled out, you may be given different hearing tests to determine what might be causing your hearing loss.

Some hearing tests include:

  • Audiometry: An audiometry test is used to see if you’re having issues hearing different frequencies. This test will run frequencies from low to high.
  • Auditory brainstem response testing: An auditory brainstem response test is used to test how long it takes for a sound to move from your ear to your brain so you can translate what you’re hearing.
  • Pure Tone Testing: Pure tone testing helps determine the faintest of each frequency you can hear. They do this by testing each one of your ears by using headphones.
  • Speech testing: After you’ve done the pure tone test, you will more than likely be asked to take a speech test. A speech test helps your doctor determine how well you can hear and understand speech at different sound thresholds. You’ll be asked to repeat the speech you hear.
  • Electrocochleography: Electrocochleography testing is used to determine if you have Meniere’s disease and other similar disorders. This test is used to determine how well your cochlea works when you hear sounds.

Treatments in Noise-induced Hearing Loss

There is no cure for noise-induced hearing loss. However, there are a few treatment plans that can help you hear better and improve your lifestyle.

A few of the treatment plans include:

  • Hearing aids: Hearing aids are the most common treatment course your physician will bring up. Hearing aids will amplify sounds so you can hear faint sounds easier without straining. There are three main different types of hearing aids for different types of hearing loss.
  • Cochlear implant: A cochlear implant is used when your hearing loss is severe and not responding to hearing aids. This surgery implants electric devices in your inner ear or the cochlea. These devices use electrical pulses. The electrical pulses are sent through your ear and stimulate your auditory nerves. There are a few different types of implants that focus on different areas of your ear.

The Bottom Line

Noise-induced hearing loss is permanent and it can be scary. It’s so common in vets, it’s recommended you get your hearing tested if you’re having issues hearing or you believe you’re dealing with tinnitus.

If you’re a veteran and suffer from these conditions but can’t afford an audiology test, you may qualify to get a .

the symptoms of noise induced hearing loss in soldiers and vets

The Symptoms of Noise-induced Hearing Loss in Soldiers and Vets

The frustrating symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss—especially tinnitus—can be life altering. It makes it difficult to communicate with your loved ones and it changes your perspective on your life.

Since vets and soldiers are at a higher risk for noise-induced hearing loss or conductive hearing loss on active duty, you’re left to deal with these horrible symptoms on a daily basis. Treatment options and hearing conservation programs for hearing conservation can help but they’ll never compare to your original ability to hear and communicate.

We’re going to learn about the symptoms of hearing loss so you can determine if you’re one of the many vets with noise-induced hearing loss due to 3M’s incompetence and exposure to loud noise levels.

Symptoms of Noise-induced Hearing Loss

Like with age-related hearing loss, there are several symptoms of permanent noise-induced hearing loss, a type of sensorineural hearing loss. This type of hearing loss is when loud noises, especially for long periods of time, damage the hair cells in your ears.

These hair cells in your inner ear are part of the process of moving sound waves through your ear to the auditory nerves. These auditory nerves send the sound waves to the auditory area of your brain to be translated and control the noise levels.

We’re going to go through each of these debilitating hearing loss symptoms so we can understand them together and how they impact lives.

Keep in mind that symptoms are different for each hearing loss sufferer. What you’re experiencing might be different than what’s listed. You should still head to a physician to be examined.

Distorted or Muffled Sound

The most common symptom of noise-induced hearing loss is when the sounds around you are distorted, muffled, and just hard to interpret. This is what makes hearing difficult and strenuous.

It’s often described as if your head is underwater, cotton is in your ears, or ear plugs are in your ears. This distortion can range from mild to severe, depending on the person.

This symptom can make it difficult to know where a particular sound is or even what that sound is.

This muffled sound can afflict just one ear, which is called unilateral hearing loss. Or you can be experiencing muffled sound in both of your ears, which is called bilateral hearing loss.

Difficulty Understanding Speech

Difficulty understanding speech is another common symptom of noise-induced hearing loss. It’s especially difficult when you’re surrounded by background noises or when the person talking to you is a few feet away from you.

There’s always been a strong correlation between noise-induced hearing loss and how it affects understanding speech.

In 2014, a study on rats found that those with moderate hearing loss from exposure to noises, could understand speech but the brain was slow to interpret it and had problems with high-frequency noises. Their brain cortex, however, had no noticeable changes.

Meanwhile, the rats with severe hearing loss from noise exposure had an even slower response to speech due to decreased reactions from the auditory nerves when they were stimulated by sound waves.

Feeling of Fullness in Ears

Part of what makes it hard to decipher different sounds is the feeling of fullness in your ears. This symptom is what makes sound distorted and muffled.

This feeling can cause discomfort in your ears. However, noise-induced hearing loss does not cause pain in your ears.


Tinnitus is the most debilitating symptom of noise-induced hearing loss. Tinnitus is often described as the perception of sound even though there’s actually no sound waves happening.

This perceived sound is different for every vet and soldier. Some hear a buzzing sound, a clicking sound, a hissing sound, a ringing sound, a whistling sound, or even a whizzing sound. That’s just to name a few.

For some vets, tinnitus only appears every now and then. For others, tinnitus can be a constant annoyance. It can occur in just one ear or both of your ears.

Tinnitus can cause insomnia since the sound can make falling asleep difficult. It also makes sufferers dizzy and nauseous. Headaches and a feeling of fullness in your head are common for those with loud and constant tinnitus ringing.

There are 2 types of tinnitus:

  • Objective tinnitus is when a doctor can also hear the sound. A strange sound is being produced because of either a blood flow issue or muscle contractions. This is a very rare type of tinnitus.
  • Subjective tinnitus is when only the person with tinnitus can hear the sound. This is the type of tinnitus almost all noise-induced hearing loss soldiers have.

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for tinnitus though it very rarely disappears for some people.

There are a few treatment plans for vets and soldiers dealing with moderate to severe tinnitus.

A few of these treatment plans include:

  • Noise suppression is a common treatment plan for tinnitus. This can include using a white noise machine at night to cover up the ringing in your ears so you can sleep. A masking device is a device that looks and fits much like a hearing aid. This device is constantly creating white noise in your ear to mask the tinnitus sounds.
  • Certain medications are another treatment for tinnitus since they help reduce the tinnitus sound in your ears. A few of these medications include tricyclic anti-depressants and anxiety medications.
  • There are counseling and support groups for people who deal with tinnitus. When tinnitus is acting up and making life difficult, it helps to talk to others who are experiencing the same thing. This helps with any depression or anxiety it may be causing you.

The Bottom Line

The symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss are no fun. If you have any of these symptoms, you should see a doctor to be diagnosed. The faster you’re diagnosed, the faster someone can help you manage these symptoms.


What You Need to Know About Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Different Types of Hearing Loss in Vets and Soldiers

Types of Treatment for Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in Vets and Soldiers

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