Category: Veterans Disability Law
VA Hearing Loss Claims: What is the Maximum VA Rating for Hearing Loss?
Hearing Loss as a VA Disability
The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) compensates veterans for injuries they receive during military service that become disabilities. One of the most commonly claimed VA-recognized disabilities is hearing loss. As one of the most self-explanatory conditions, hearing loss is disproportionately evident in veterans due to their level of exposure to loud noises and physical forces.
The VA provides varying levels of compensation depending on the severity and symptoms of an individual’s hearing loss. However, it’s worth noting that the VA defines hearing loss by different standards than typical non-military doctors.
What is Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss is identified by the following symptoms:
- Trouble hearing consonants
- Difficulty understanding words amidst a crowd or other background noises
- Muffling of sounds and speech
- Needing to turn up the volume on audio devices
- Avoidance of certain social settings
- Frequently asking other people to speak louder, slower, or clearer
- Withdrawal from conversations
Each of these symptoms help medical professionals to diagnose hearing loss in an individual.
The three main types of hearing loss are as follows:
- Conductive — This occurs when sound cannot pass through the outer or middle ear. Conductive hearing loss can often be fixed by medicine or surgery.
- Sensorineural — The most common type of permanent hearing loss, caused by damage to the inner ear or nerve pathways between the inner ear and the brain. Cannot be cured or fixed, typically treated with hearing aids.
- Mixed — Hearing loss due to a combination of conductive and sensorineural damage. There are issues in both the middle/outer ear and the inner ear/auditory nerve to some degree.
Although treatment is slightly different, the symptoms for each different type of hearing loss remain fairly consistent.
Hearing loss is most common among older adults, in the U.S. roughly one-third of those between 65- and 75-years old experience it to some degree. Over the age of 75, the number of affected individuals increases to roughly one-half.
Over 2.7 million veterans are currently receiving benefits for hearing loss or tinnitus (see below) according to the VA’s records. This number only represents those who are receiving VA disability for hearing loss, implying that the actual number of those affected is most likely higher.
While some individuals may suffer from mild hearing loss, others can have relatively severe cases. Since symptoms are virtually the same for different types, the severity of hearing loss can sometimes be determined by the specific cause. The following are common causes of this condition:
- Damage to the inner ear — Prolonged exposure to loud noises may harm the nerve cells that send auditory signals to the brain. When damaged, those cells cannot carry out their regular role, causing hearing loss.
- Ear infections or abnormal growths — Infections can cause damage or buildup in the ear and irregular growths or tumors can also affect the hearing process.
- Earwax buildup — This tends to cause a temporary problem because earwax can be removed. However, when large amounts of earwax amass it can prevent the conduction of sound through the ear canal and trigger hearing loss symptoms.
- Ruptured eardrum — The tympanic membrane (eardrum) is responsible for receiving vibrations and helping convert them to noises. Loud blasts, pressure changes, or sharp objects can rupture the membrane and significantly affect hearing.
Hearing loss is also closely related with the common VA-recognized disability tinnitus. This condition involves the individual hearing sounds that are not externally present, typically associated with a ringing in the ears. Tinnitus is both a symptom and a contributor to hearing loss. However, since tinnitus and hearing loss are recognized separately, a VA claim for hearing loss and tinnitus may result in more compensation.
The type, severity, and concurrent symptoms of hearing loss help to determine how much compensation a veteran may receive for having said condition.
Filing VA Hearing Loss Claims
Military hearing loss claims are very common, meaning the VA must be relatively strict to ensure they are only providing benefits to those who deserve it. There are multiple steps to earning compensation; the first being to confirm that you qualify as a veteran with a disability, then proving that your VA disability hearing loss is service connected.
As with the majority of disabilities recognized by the VA, there are three primary pieces of information that must be provided to receive compensation for hearing loss. Those elements are as follows:
- A current diagnosis of hearing loss from a qualified medical professional.
- Proof of an in-service event or period of time that either caused or contributed to the individual’s hearing loss.
- A nexus, or connection between the diagnosis and in-service event. This typically comes in the form of a definitive medical opinion from a VA-approved medical professional.
Unfortunately, hearing loss is a relatively subjective disability, meaning doctors have a difficult time assessing the true severity. While a normal doctor can usually recognize hearing loss by inability to hear certain decibel levels, the VA requires a more extensive examination.
For the VA to accept your current diagnosis of hearing loss, you must participate in a hearing exam run by a licensed audiologist. Your diagnosis and VA rating will be decided by the following two tests:
- Puretone Audiometric Test — A simple test that assesses your ability to hear based on tone. Typically involves raising your hand when you hear a beep through a pair of headphones.
- Maryland CNC Test — A 50-word test that rates how well you can recognize speech. This is the main factor in determining whether or not your hearing loss qualifies for disability and how severe it is.
A diagnosis of hearing loss from a primary care doctor does not count as evidence towards a VA disability claim. Without the two tests, the VA will not provide a rating and you will not be eligible for compensation.
VA Ratings for Disabilities
Veterans may be entitled to compensation for disabilities they develop during their time in active service. The task of determining how much money veterans receive goes to the VA. By using a percentage-based rating system ranging from 0-100 using increments of 10 (0%, 10%, 20%, 30%…), the VA decides upon a disability rating that encompasses all of an individual’s conditions. These ratings depend on the severity of a disability, which part of the body is affected, and how much of a hindrance the disability is to an individual’s daily life.
Hearing Loss VA Rating
The VA disability rating for hearing loss is dependent on a grid chart that uses scores from the veteran’s pure tone threshold and speech discrimination tests. Both scores are rated one to eleven with Roman numerals (I to XI) on the X and Y axis of the table. The rating depends on where the two roman numerals intersect (see Table 1)
Table 1. VA disability rating for hearing loss (%) based on pure tone threshold average (vertical columns) and relative percent of speech discrimination (horizontal rows).
The maximum VA rating for hearing loss is 100%, but this is very rare. 100% indicates the individual is not capable of living their regular life due to this disability and it’s as severe as it can possibly get. The most common VA rating for hearing loss is 10% because scores are given very literally based on grid scores.
Veterans rarely receive a disability rating higher than the one assigned based on their test scores. However, the VA allows veterans to submit additional evidence that may raise their level of compensation. This can include testimonies from family or friends detailing the hearing-related issues they have witnessed since the veteran’s time in service.
Veterans Benefits Act of 2002
There are also different rules for those claiming a bilateral hearing loss VA disability. Bilateral hearing loss is partial or complete inability to hear from both ears. Individuals with bilateral hearing loss are typically considered for a higher VA rating, along the lines of 30 percent compared to the usual 10 percent.
In the past, if an individual experienced hearing loss in one ear from an in-service event, and hearing loss in the other from an out-of-service event, the individual could only be compensated for bilateral hearing loss if they experienced total deafness. Meaning the VA could only compensate a veteran for non-service-connected bilateral hearing loss if the individual could not hear at all.
The Veterans Benefits Act of 2002 altered this rule to allow bilateral compensation for partial deafness. This means that individuals who experience hearing loss in one ear from a service-connected event may also be eligible to receive additional benefits from hearing loss in the other ear from an event unrelated to service. The basis of this law is that an individual is at a higher risk of developing hearing problems in one ear if the other ear is already damaged to some degree.
If you develop bilateral hearing loss after your initial claim it is possible to appeal for additional benefits.
Tuley Law Office
The attorneys at Tuley Law Office have years of experience in VA disability claims and are prepared to answer any questions you may have about hearing loss as a veteran. If you are experiencing symptoms of hearing loss or tinnitus as a result of your time in the military, contact a member of our team today.
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