For most veterans, having to deal with hearing loss and tinnitus is quite common. As of the year 2014, the VA noted that 933,000 veterans were being compensated for hearing loss and almost 1.3 million veterans were compensated for tinnitus. That statistic is alarmingly high. A veteran with either of these two conditions may be wondering what is needed to establish service connection for hearing loss and/or tinnitus.
Tinnitus is a noise that you hear in your ears, such as a buzzing or ringing that happens again and again, or consistently. The only rating available for tinnitus is 10%. A 10% rating will be assigned whether you have ringing in one ear or in both ears, you cannot receive a 20% rating due to tinnitus in both ears. However, there can be a higher percentage available for those whose condition is so severe that it is debilitating or prevents you from working. You may be able to seek an extra schedular rating for your tinnitus in excess of the 10 percent limit in the Schedule of Impairment Ratings.
Hearing loss is defined as any degree of impairment of the ability to comprehend sound. If you are diagnosed with both hearing loss and tinnitus, you may be entitled to one separate rating for hearing loss and another separate rating for tinnitus.
The following is needed to establish service connection:
- A current diagnosis of a hearing condition,
- Evidence of an event that caused the condition, and
- A medical opinion linking the current hearing condition to the event in service or nexus.
Along with the list above, two types of tests are needed to prove a claim for hearing loss. These tests will include a controlled speech discrimination test (Maryland CNC) and a pure tone audiometry test. The Maryland CNC test is a particular word list that is used to test your ability to hear spoken words. A pure tone audiometry test is different tones that must be detected at varying frequencies (low frequencies to high frequencies). Even if you only claim hearing loss in one ear, both ears should be tested. Examinations will be conducted without the use of hearing aids. This will prevent any biased results. These tests should be performed by a state licensed audiologist.
The VA will take the auditory test results and, use a numerical formula, to determine the actual rating that will be assigned. This formula can be found in Section 4.85 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Typical ratings for hearing loss are 0% or 10%, but severe or profound hearing loss can qualify for a higher rating.
Tinnitus is one of the most claimed disabilities when it comes to applying for compensation. Hearing loss comes in at a close second. This statistic comes from the 2015 Annual Benefits Report. The report shows that 9.6 percent of veterans claimed tinnitus and about 5.2 percent of veterans claimed hearing loss. Yet, these two disabilities will be denied time and time again.
The bottom line is that it is very important to have the three components mentioned earlier to establish service connection for hearing loss and/or tinnitus: a current diagnosis, evidence of an event that caused the condition, and a medical opinion linking the current hearing condition to the event in service or nexus. Any veteran struggling with tinnitus and/or hearing loss, should not give up or become discouraged if they are denied the first time or even the second time around. This is a real issue for many veterans. Hopefully, this information will help in the initial process when trying to establish service connection for tinnitus and/or hearing loss.