Both tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hearing loss are surprisingly common conditions among veterans. In fact, according to the VA, there are over 2.7 million military veterans who currently receive disability benefits for tinnitus or hearing loss. There are also many other vets who have yet to apply.
Changes in your hearing can significantly impact both your everyday functioning and overall quality of life. This statement is especially true if you’re unable to get the necessary therapies and medical support or to seek gainful employment because of your disability.
If you are living with hearing loss due to your time spent in the military, establishing a service connection is the first and most crucial step towards getting the support you need.
The Three Prerequisites for Establishing a Service Connection for Hearing Loss
To qualify for VA disability due to a hearing issue like tinnitus or hearing loss, you need to prove that your time in military service is responsible for your condition. This is known as a direct service connection.
There are three things that you will need to provide to bolster your disability application. These are:
- Written evidence of a current diagnosis of tinnitus or hearing loss.
- Evidence of any event that occurred during your time of service that caused you hearing loss.
- The written medical opinion of a doctor or hearing specialist linking your condition to your time in service.
However, it’s important to note that there are certain types of hearing problems that may be due to a secondary service connection. With a secondary service connection, an existing health issue may have been worsened by treatment received while in service or by experiences or events during service.
There are also instances in which retired service members sustain hearing loss as the result of mistreatment, misdiagnosis, or failure to diagnose it by VA doctors. This situation is known as a service connection due to an injury caused by the VA health system. Citing this type of service connection is akin to filing a medical malpractice lawsuit against the VA.
Disability Ratings for Hearing Loss
The benefits a disabled veteran can receive for hearing loss are determined by VA disability ratings. These are VA-issued ratings that measure the level of impairment that a disability causes. For instance, if you develop ear cancer with a direct service connection, the disability rating for this diagnosis is 100 percent, and you will receive the maximum amount of compensation.
Other common ratings include:
- Inner-ear problems (peripheral vestibular disorders) that cause dizziness are rated at 10 percent for mild to moderate dizziness and up to 30 percent for vertigo or dizziness if you lose your balance.
- The loss of a single ear is rated at 30 percent, whereas a person who’s lost both ears will receive a rating of 50 percent.
The disability rating for tinnitus is just 10 percent, even when the symptoms affect both ears. However, veterans who suffer from both tinnitus and partial hearing loss can receive separate ratings for each condition.
Due to the short-term nature of perforated eardrums, this issue’s disability rating is always 0 percent. Disability ratings for hearing loss can range between 10 percent and 100 percent, depending upon the severity of a person’s condition and whether both ears are affected.
Testing Requirements for Hearing Loss
In addition to establishing a service connection to any event that caused hearing loss during your service, you will need to undergo the necessary testing. Suppose you have already received a medical diagnosis from a private health professional. In that case, you will still need to have the following tests added to your medical record if it has not been done before:
- A Maryland CNC Test: This test is a 50-word exam that measures hearing loss by determining how well people understand and respond to spoken communication.
- A Puretone Audiometric Hearing Test: This test is used to assess the severity or level of hearing impairment experienced.
It’s important to note that, under the law, veterans have the right to work with their personal physicians. Although you certainly can schedule these exams through the VA, you may feel as though your private doctor is better aware of your condition and better able to support you in your case.
Why Getting Benefits Is Important
With disability benefits, veterans who have hearing loss or other service-related auditory conditions have the opportunity to improve their quality of life. Disability benefits can provide access to therapies and services that might otherwise be inaccessible to them. Disability benefits can also help bolster veterans’ incomes in lieu of any post-service career opportunities that hearing loss prevents them from pursuing.