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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 nonveterans.

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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