According to the United States Department of Veteran’s Affairs, hearing loss is the most common disability among all veterans who served in combat. If you are a veteran of military service who is suffering from either conductive hearing loss or tinnitus, it’s important to understand how to qualify for disability through the VA and what you may be eligible for.
What Veterans Can Qualify for VA Disability for Hearing Loss?
The VA has a whole system of classifying the severity of hearing loss and determining who is and isn’t eligible so every situation is different. Generally, veterans are eligible for coverage if they fall into any of these categories:
- Veterans receiving compensation for another service-connected disability
- Those who have been prisoners or war
- Purple Heart recipients for those soldiers who were injured by the enemy during combat
- Veterans receiving compensation under Title 38 United States Code 1151
- Those who are permanently housebound or need a lot of assistance with care and activities of daily living
- Any veteran who has service-connected hearing loss that affects their ability to communicate
How to Establish a Service Connection
The process to qualify for VA disability compensation for hearing loss is a long process. Part of what you must show is a service connection for your hearing loss or tinnitus. To make a disability claim and possibly receive benefits, you’ll have to show proof of several different things.
First, you’ll need a current diagnosis of a hearing condition. The VA is very particular about this. It should come from an audiologist to give it a little more weight, not your family doctor or PCP.
You will also have to provide evidence of the event you believed caused the condition. This can be done by carefully looking at your service record to identify times when you may have been exposed to noises like explosions, heavy machinery, or gunshots.
Finally, you will need to demonstrate a medical opinion that your hearing loss is a result of the exposure. You can usually receive this from your PCP or the audiologist performing your initial hearing test.
How Do They Determine the Severity of Hearing Loss?
There are two different hearing tests that are used to evaluate how bad your hearing loss is and whether or not you can make a VA disability claim.
The first test is called the Maryland CNC test and tests your ability to hear spoken words.
The second test is a pure tone audiometry test, which checks your ability to hear different frequencies ranging from high to low. Both ears are tested even if you’re only suffering from hearing loss in one of them and they should be performed by a licensed audiologist.
Next, the VA analyzes the results of these tests and uses a formula to assign a rating to your hearing loss through a percent disability rating. This rating ranges from 0 to 100 percent in increments of 10. The higher to number, the more disability benefits you’re entitled to. Minor hearing loss is typically assigned 0 which is no compensation or 10% which is a small amount every month. Obviously, the higher your rating, the less likely it is you can support yourself so more severe disabilities receive increasing levels of assistance and benefits. If you have a rating of 30% or higher, your dependents may also be qualified for coverage since you are likely unable to work enough to support them.
Remember, hearing loss severity is determined by how well your ears function together. The tests monitor overall hearing, not one ear at a time. If you have severe hearing loss in one ear but your other ear isn’t as bad, your disability will likely not be rated as high.
How Can Hearing Loss Be Avoided in Combat or in Training?
When it comes to hearing loss, prevention really is the best medicine. There are some things that soldiers can do to protect themselves while in the field.
Minimize exposure to loud and noisy environments when possible. While it’s not always possible to prevent exposure in wartime and in combat, the more soldiers can mitigate damaging frequencies in loud environments, the better.
That said, it’s important to wear both ear AND head protection in combat and while in training environments. Not only does this prevent damaging sounds from getting into your ears, but it also protects the head from any trauma that could lead to hearing loss and other significant neurological issues.
Have your hearing checked regularly. You should get a baseline test any time you return home from combat and then recheck every year to monitor any changes that occur so you can catch any problems early.
Getting What You Deserve
It’s not always easy to get the VA to approve disability for hearing loss. Even if you can show that there’s a service connection, it doesn’t mean that they will accurately determine the severity of your disability and how it affects your daily life.
If you feel that your disability is worse than what it been rated and that you have the right to further compensation, there are things you can do. You can file an appeal directly with the VA for up to one year following the initial decision. While it’s possible to do this on your own, it’s a long process with a lot of legalities involved so it’s a good idea to find a lawyer who can help you plead your case.
Veterans and Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is the most common medical issue for veterans returning from combat. While the VA does provide disability for hearing loss, getting what you deserve is not a fast or straightforward process.
The best thing you can do is get started as soon as possible. Visit an audiologist to get an expert opinion and hire a lawyer if you need help proving your claims. You never know what problems you’re going to have after returning from combat. It’s important to take care of the obvious one as soon as possible.