Are VA Disability Benefits Available For Tinnitus Or Hearing Loss?

VA Disability Benefits

The top two reasons for VA disability compensation claims are tinnitus (buzzing/ringing/whistling sound in the ears) and military hearing loss. Typically, military hearing loss results from exposure to loud noises caused by gunfire, bombs, tanks or aircraft, that damage the ear. The eligibility for such a disability claim is based on a comprehensive medical record analysis.

Qualifying for Disability Benefits Based on Chart Review

The veteran needs to prove that the auditory problem was caused by his/her military duty. To establish that the disability is service connected, the following are necessary.

  • A current diagnosis of a hearing condition
  • Proof of an event that was responsible for the condition
  • A reliable medical opinion connecting the current hearing condition to that particular event in service

Tips to Apply for VA Disability

  • Submit detailed statements which explain the noise exposure the veteran experienced during military service.
  • Provide details regarding the sources of the noise – e.g. the machinery, environment and so on.
  • Mention the duration of the exposure and provide details regarding the type of hearing protection used. Also, mention if no protection was used.
  • Provide details regarding when the symptoms of hearing loss were first observed, and whether they have continued.
  • Give details regarding any additional post-military exposure to noise.
  • Provide a medical opinion from a licensed audiologist or ear/nose/throat surgeon who can establish a connection between the veteran’s hearing loss disability and the service-related exposure.

Determining the Degree of the Veteran’s Hearing Loss

Two basic tests are used to check for hearing loss and disability ratings, namely, pure-tone audiometry and speech audiometry or speech discrimination. The former is the most commonly used test and tests the faintest tones you can hear at different frequencies or pitches. The level of hearing loss is calculated by measuring the difference between one’s hearing threshold and the normal average. If the score is “zero” it means normal hearing. Higher scores indicate that the louder it has to be for the person to hear the tone.

  • 20 – 40 dB higher than normal, means mild hearing loss
  • 40 – 55 dB higher than normal, means moderate hearing loss
  • 55 – 70 dB higher than normal, means moderate to severe hearing loss
  • 70 – 90 dB higher than normal, means severe hearing loss
  • 90 dB or more,  signifies profound hearing loss

While the above test measures the sounds a person can hear, speech audiometry tests are further performed to measure his/her ability to understand human speech. Generally, two different speech audiometry tests are conducted (Maryland CNC test), one measures the softest level at which the person recognizes speech and the second measures their ability to understand speech.

Based on the test results, the VA assigns a percentage of disability to the veteran. Some veterans may be more disabled by their service-related hearing loss than others and a completely deaf veteran is much more likely to receive maximum disability rating than a veteran who has partial hearing impairment.

Coming to ratings for hearing impairment, they are rated under the VA Schedule of Ratings Disabilities in Section 4.87, diagnostic codes 6200 to 6260. Typical ratings for hearing loss are 0% or 10%. Severe or profound hearing loss could qualify for a higher rating. The disability rating for tinnitus is 10%. This 10% rating will be assigned whether the veteran has ringing in one ear or in both ears. One cannot receive a 20% rating due to tinnitus in both ears. If the veteran has hearing loss and tinnitus, he/she can get separate ratings for each disability.

Application Submission and Appeals Process in Case of Claim Denial

Veterans with hearing impairment as well as other disabilities can apply for disability benefits by calling their regional VA office or by visiting the VA website and filling out an Application for Veterans Compensation and/or Pension. If a veteran’s disability claim is denied for some reason or another, he/she can appeal the decision with the support of a disability attorney. During the appeals process, additional medical evidence can be presented to the VA which could help the veteran secure a higher disability rating. An Independent Medical Examination or IME can be obtained and the results presented to the VA. If a private doctor who is not affiliated to the VA states that the applicant’s hearing loss is more severe than the VA had determined, the applicant’s disability rating may be increased.

As a medical record review company assisting disability lawyers, MOS understands that though applicants are not legally required to have a lawyer file for their disability benefits, having an experienced attorney is beneficial in many ways. Given the significance of medical records and medical chart review, and the challenge in getting a complete medical record set, a legal team’s assistance will be invaluable to the veteran claimant. The attorney and his/her team can quickly organize and compile the right documents to present along with the application.

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