For most veterans, having to deal with hearing loss and tinnitus is quite common. As of the year 2014, the Department of Veterans Affairs noted that 933,000 veterans were receiving VA disability compensation 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.
What is 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 disability rating available for tinnitus is 10%. A 10% disability 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.
How is hearing loss defined?
Hearing loss is defined as any degree of hearing 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 for VA disability:
- 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 hearing 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. To get your rating you can use H&P’s hearing loss calculator. The VA 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.
How common is tinnitus in veterans?
Tinnitus is one of the most claimed disabilities when it comes to applying for disability 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 to former service members.
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.
Lesser-Known Effects of Noise Exposure
Now, that we have some background information on hearing conditions, we are going to discuss the impact of noise exposure directly. For example, a veteran, while in service, suffered for many years from exposure to extremely loud noises from mortars, small arms, and other gunfire now suffers from tinnitus and hearing loss. Additionally, this veteran was a paratrooper and completed a number of jumps. It is also important to recognize that the veteran, a paratrooper, spent numerous hours within a military aircraft.
Table 1 and 2 below depict the amount of permissible noise allowed in the workplace according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the peak sound pressure level range of different weapons. As you can see, the weapons emit high levels of noise, in fact, they emit much higher levels of noise than permissible in a workplace setting.
Table 1: Amount of permissible noise exposure allowed in the workplace:
|Duration per day (hour)||Sound level (Dba)|
|¼ or less||115|
 Adapted from OSHA 2014. Standards. US Dept Labor: Occupational Noise Exposure [Online]. Available by Occupational Safety and Health Administration. https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/noisehearingconservation/index.html
Table 2: Peak sound pressure level range of different weapons:.
|Type of weapons||Peak sound pressure level range (dB)|
|9 mm luger||159-163|
|Light anti-tank weapon||184|
|Inside armored vehicle, continuous noise||LAeq 103-107|