Getting Veterans (VA) Disability for Hearing Loss
If you served in the military and believe you suffer from hearing loss as a result of your service, you may be eligible for VA disability compensation. Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD may be able to help you obtain a grant of veterans (VA) disability for hearing loss. Our team of experienced veterans lawyers will examine the details of your case, gather evidence to connect your hearing loss to your service, and submit arguments on your behalf to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Call our office today for a free consultation: 800-544-9144.
How to Establish Service Connection for Your Hearing Loss
In order to receive VA disability benefits, you must prove to VA that your hearing loss is the result of your time in service. For direct service connection, you must establish the following three elements: a current diagnosis of hearing loss, an in-service event that may have caused or contributed to your hearing loss, and a medical opinion definitively linking the in-service event to your hearing loss.
As mentioned above, the first step to getting VA disability for your hearing loss is demonstrating that you are currently diagnosed with a qualifying condition. VA is extremely strict about the type of diagnosis it will accept when it comes to hearing loss. Generally speaking, you are usually diagnosed with hearing loss when there are certain decibel levels that are lost at different frequencies of hearing. This can be determined in a regular doctor’s office. However, for VA purposes, you must undergo a hearing exam by a licensed audiologist. The audiologist must administer two separate tests in order for VA to accept your current diagnosis of hearing loss:
- Maryland CNC Test: This test measures hearing loss in veterans through a 50-word test that scores how well you recognize speech. VA uses the results of this test to determine if your hearing loss qualifies for disability and, if so, to rate the severity of your condition.
- Puretone Audiometric Test: This test determines your level of general hearing loss by measuring the faintest tones you can pick up on. In other words, you typically wear a set of headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep.
Again, VA requires these specific tests to establish a diagnosis of hearing loss for compensation purposes. You may have a diagnosis of hearing loss from your primary care doctor, but this will not count as evidence towards your claim. Importantly, if you wear hearing aids, you will want to remove them before both tests in order for the results to show your ability without assistive devices.
The second part of establishing direct service connection involves submitting evidence of an in-service event that may have caused or contributed to your hearing loss. Common in-service events that lead to hearing loss include combat service, exposure to artillery fire and small arms fire, and certain military occupational specialties (MOS) that involve mechanical work on vehicles, aircrafts, etc.
Medical Nexus Opinion
Obtaining a medical nexus opinion that links your in-service event and your current, diagnosed condition is crucial in establishing direct service connection. Generally speaking, a positive medical nexus opinion will state that your hearing loss is “at least as likely as not” due to your time in service.
C&P Examinations for Hearing Loss
When you file a claim for hearing loss, VA will likely schedule you for a Compensation & Pension examination (C&P exam). It is important for you to be open and honest about the extent to which your hearing loss is affecting you, how long it has been affecting you, and when you first noticed it. Usually, the VA examiner will review your claims file, conduct the hearing loss tests for VA purposes, check a series of boxes that fit the description of your condition, and opine on whether your in-service incident is the cause of your hearing loss.
One thing to be aware of is if you are not claiming hearing loss until decades after service, the VA examiner might try to say that it has been too long for your hearing loss to be related to your service, and it is likely due to natural causes such as aging instead. Please be aware that such reliance on the passage of time is not something that, on its own, can preclude the possibility that your hearing loss is due to your service. If this is the case and you receive an unfavorable opinion, you have the right to submit evidence and argument rebutting the examiner’s conclusions. For example, you can submit lay testimony as you are competent to describe your own symptomatology. Family members can also submit lay testimony describing the need to speak loudly, constantly repeat things, or any other hearing-related issues that have witnessed you experience since service.
Other Evidence for Hearing Loss Claims
Other evidence for hearing loss claims may include anything that shows that the condition has been chronic. For example, if you have years of treatment notes from doctors demonstrating complaints of hearing loss shortly after service through the present day, you may want to consider submitting them to VA. Additionally, it may be beneficial to provide documentation of any accommodations you require, such as hearing aids or an amplification system for your home phone. VA must consider all of this evidence when adjudicating your claim for hearing loss.
How VA Rates Hearing Loss
When assigning disability ratings for hearing loss, VA takes the results of your pure tone threshold test and averages it for each ear. To do so, VA uses a grid chart with different frequencies and lines up the thresholds. This tells the VA rater what the rating should be based on what level of hearing loss they decided you have. Hearing loss involves a very literal application of the rating schedule. Please note that VA rates both ears together, resulting in only one rating for hearing loss.
How Much Money Can I Receive in VA Disability for My Hearing Loss?
The amount you receive in VA benefits depends on your disability rating. VA assigns this rating based on its opinion of the severity of your condition. The more your hearing loss limits you, the higher disability rating the VA assigns. The higher your disability rating, the more you receive in monthly benefits.
VA Disability Ratings and Compensation Levels
VA rates your disability between 0 and 100 percent in increments of 10. At a rating of 0 percent, you do not receive monthly compensation, but you might be eligible for other benefits from the VA, such as health care. For hearing loss ratings, the monthly compensation levels as of 2020are as follows:
- 0 percent disability rating: $0.00 per month
- 10 percent disability rating: $142.29 per month
- 20 percent disability rating: $281.27 per month
- 30 percent disability rating: $435.69 per month
- 40 percent disability rating: $627.61 per month
- 50 percent disability rating: $893.43 per month
- 60 percent disability rating: $1,131.68 per month
- 70 percent disability rating: $1,426.17 per month
- 80 percent disability rating: $1,657.80 per month
- 90 percent disability rating: $1,862.96 per month
- 100 percent disability rating: $3,106.04 per month
A rating of 30 percent or higher qualifies you to receive additional benefits for qualifying dependents.
The condition of tinnitus almost always results in a disability rating of 10 percent. Similar to hearing loss, this singular 10 percent rating takes both ears into account. However, it is possible for veterans to receive separate disability ratings for both hearing loss and tinnitus.
If you have a total hearing loss in both ears, you may be entitled to additional compensation beyond the 100 percent schedular rating through a benefit called special monthly compensation (SMC). The rating criteria for the 100 percent schedular disability rating directs VA to specifically consider SMC. Namely, 38 CFR § 3.350 instructs VA to assign SMC(k) at a minimum based on loss of use of the sense of hearing. Again, this is only assigned automatically if you already have the schedular 100 percent rating for hearing loss.
TDIU for Hearing Loss
If your service-connected conditions prevent you from working, you may be entitled to total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU). For example, if you need full range of hearing for your job (e.g. truck driver), and your hearing loss impacts your ability to work, you can explain that issue to VA. It is important to note that you can also have multiple service-connected conditions where hearing loss is only one of them, but the effects of hearing loss can be positive evidence in favor of entitlement to TDIU.
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