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.
Long Term Effects of Noise Exposure in Veterans
Due to the nature of military service, servicemembers are frequently exposed to loud noises such as gunfire, explosions, heavy machinery, and more. This frequent noise exposure can often cause veterans to develop hearing loss and other hearing conditions.
In 2020, tinnitus was the most prevalent service-connected disability among new compensation recipients. Hearing loss was the sixth most prevalent.
Additionally, tinnitus was the most prevalent service-connected disability among all compensation recipients. This means that tinnitus is the most common service-connected condition among all veterans who receive VA disability benefits. As of 2020, roughly 2.3 million veterans were service connected for tinnitus.
Additionally, studies have shown that veterans are 30 percent more likely than nonveterans to have severe hearing impairment. Specifically, veterans who served after September 2001 are four times more likely.
In September 2010, VA published “The Duty MOS Noise Exposure Listing” – a list for VA rating officials to use to determine whether a veteran’s hearing loss, tinnitus, or ear conditions could be considered service-connected even if it developed more than a year after discharge. Essentially, the list goes through every military occupational specialty (MOS) and rates it according to the likelihood of that MOS being exposed to noise that could result in long-term hearing impairments. If the rating is moderate or high, then the rating officials are supposed to grant service connection.
Importantly, this list was merely a suggestion for rating officials to follow when making determinations and VA no longer has it officially published. However, it is still the standard used by rating officials when deciding on hearing loss and ear condition claims based on MOS noise exposure.
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 loss of hearing.
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 uses 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 towards your claim. Importantly, if you wear hearing aids, you will want to remove them before both tests to ensure 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 loss of hearing. Common in-service events that lead to hearing problems 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, 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 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 a hearing condition 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 arguments 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.
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 this evidence when adjudicating your claim for hearing loss.
How VA Rates Hearing Loss
When assigning disability ratings for hearing conditions, 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 conditions.
How Much Money Can I Receive in VA Disability for My Hearing Condition?
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 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 VA, such as health care.
As of December 1st, 2022 the VA disability rate benefit amounts are as follows:
- 0 percent disability rating: $0.00 per month
- 10 percent disability rating: $165.92 per month
- 20 percent disability rating: $327.99 per month
- 30 percent disability rating: $508.05 per month
- 40 percent disability rating: $731.86 per month
- 50 percent disability rating: $1,041.82 per month
- 60 percent disability rating: $1,319.65 per month
- 70 percent disability rating: $1,663.06 per month
- 80 percent disability rating: $1,933.15 per month
- 90 percent disability rating: $2,172.39 per month
- 100 percent disability rating: $3,621.95 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.
Meniere’s disease is a disorder of the inner ear that can lead to vertigo (i.e., dizzy spells) and hearing loss. In most cases, Meniere’s disease only affects one ear. Symptoms of the condition include the following:
- Recurring episodes of vertigo – spinning sensation that starts and stops spontaneously; occurs without warning and usually lasts 20 minutes to several hours
- Hearing loss – may come and go, particularly early on
- Tinnitus – perception of a ringing, buzzing, roaring, whistling, or hissing sound in your ear
- Feeling of fullness in the ear – feelings of pressure in the affected ear (i.e., aural fullness)
There is no cure for Meniere’s disease, but a number of treatments can help reduce the severity and frequency of vertigo episodes.
Vertigo is a sensation of feeling off balance. It is often caused by an inner ear problem. For example, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) occurs when tiny calcium particles clump up in canals of the inner ear.
A perforated, or ruptured, eardrum is a hole or tear in the thin tissue that separates your ear canal from your middle ear (i.e., eardrum). A perforated eardrum can result in hearing loss and make your middle ear vulnerable to infections. While this issue usually heals within a few weeks without treatment, sometimes it requires a patch or surgical repair to heal. Symptoms may include the following:
- Ear pain that may subside quickly
- Mucus-like, pus-filled or bloody drainage from your ear
- Hearing loss
- Nausea or vomiting that can result from vertigo
Perforated eardrums can be caused by middle ear infections, loud sounds or blasts (i.e., acoustic trauma), severe head trauma, and more.
Perilymphatic fistula is a tear or defect between your middle ear and fluid-filled inner ear that can make you feel dizzy and may cause some hearing loss. Individuals can be born with this condition or it can be caused by barotrauma, a head injury, or heavy lifting.
An acoustic neuroma is a tumor in your inner ear that is not cancerous and grows slowly but can squeeze the nerves that control your hearing and balance. This ear condition can lead to hearing loss, ringing in your ear, and dizziness. In some cases, a neuroma can press against your facial nerve and cause that side of your face to feel numb.
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.
How to Get TDIU Benefits 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 condition impacts your ability to work, you can explain that issue to VA.
Generally, there are two forms of TDIU: schedular and extraschedular.
Schedular TDIU – Veterans must have one condition rated at 60 percent minimum OR two conditions that can be combined to reach 70 percent, where one condition is at minimum 40 percent.
Extraschedular TDIU – Veterans who do not meet the necessary criteria for schedular TDIU may be eligible for extraschedular TDIU. For this form of TDIU, veterans must prove that their condition(s) uniquely hinder their ability to maintain substantially gainful employment.
Any ratings given for hearing loss, or a related condition, may help a veteran meet the criteria necessary for schedular TDIU.
Additionally, veterans can also have multiple service-connected conditions where hearing impairment is only one of them, but the effects of hearing loss can be positive evidence in favor of entitlement to TDIU.
How an Accredited Representative Can Help You with VA Benefits for Hearing Loss
Having an experienced, and accredited, representative can be very beneficial when appealing an unfavorable decision for your condition. Accredited representatives can help collect evidence, craft arguments, and submit documentation on your behalf.
The veterans’ advocates at Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick have helped veterans win the benefits they deserve, whether it be through establishing service connection, securing an increased rating, or winning TDIU benefits. If you need an accredited representative for help securing VA disability benefits for hearing loss, call our office today.
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