Hearing loss is a common lasting effect of active service in the military, as at minimum all active duty personnel must undergo basic training that exposes soldiers, sailors, and airmen to live fire. Veterans who have spent time on active duty may have also endured loud explosions, wounds that affect the ear canals, or trauma resulting from violent blows to the head.
As a result, many veterans now suffer from hearing loss or tinnitus that is traceable to their time on active duty. Fortunately, you can pursue a physical condition claim for veterans’ compensation benefits if you currently have hearing loss or tinnitus because of your service – even if you do not have an official diagnosis. A knowledgeable member of our team could help you pursue your veteran disability for hearing loss and tinnitus or appeal by explaining the qualifying criteria for the program, helping you file a claim, and pursuing an appeal if you have already received a veteran hearing loss and tinnitus claim denial.
Various incidents other than gunfire can cause hearing loss or tinnitus, many of which can occur during active duty or even training. For example, servicemembers who train in artillery or tank units can sustain hearing loss or tinnitus from being near loud noises even if they wear ear protection.
A common hearing condition known as tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, may not necessarily result from direct trauma to the ear and can be a symptom of head injuries, neck injuries, or muscle spasms in the ear. A claim for entitlement to service connection for hearing loss and tinnitus can provide compensation following any of these events if they are connected to your time on active duty. Many veterans do not notice that they suffer from hearing loss or tinnitus until years after their discharge, and VA will routinely deny claims for these conditions due to the delay in filing for benefits. An appeal is typically needed to win these claims.
Veterans who suffer from hearing loss and tinnitus are typically eligible for VA disability benefits. In fact, these are two of the most common conditions that qualify a person for disability benefits. According to the VA Annual Benefits Report, over 1.4 million individuals received veteran disability benefits for hearing loss, and 2.7 million individuals qualified for veteran disability benefits for tinnitus during the 2022 fiscal year alone. This makes tinnitus and hearing loss the first and third most prevalent service-connected disabilities, respectively.
To the average person, hearing loss and tinnitus may seem like the same condition. While hearing loss and tinnitus are often closely linked, there are significant differences that set these two conditions apart. Understanding these differences is critical to navigating your VA disability claim and securing the benefits you deserve.
Tinnitus is the perception of sound that does not have an external source, meaning that other people cannot hear it. The symptoms of this condition vary from person to person but often manifest as a ringing, buzzing, whistling, or humming in one ear, both ears, and/or the head. The symptoms may come and go and are often triggered by a specific movement of the body.
The precise causes of tinnitus are not well-understood, but the condition has been linked to noise exposure, hearing loss, head or neck injuries, and other chronic conditions. In the majority of cases, tinnitus is a subjective experience, meaning it cannot be fully assessed or understood by medical professionals. Although diagnosing and treating tinnitus can be difficult, seeking assistance from your primary care doctor is typically the first step.
Hearing loss, on the other hand, is often characterized by the muffling of speech or other sounds that results in trouble understanding words, and/or difficulty having conversations with friends or family. This is a common condition that develops due to noise exposure, aging, disease, or genetic variations. Hearing loss can impact a person’s cognitive health as well, leading to an increased risk of developing dementia, depression, and a decline in cognitive abilities.
It should be noted that tinnitus may be a sign of an underlying medical condition such as hearing loss, and 90% of those who suffer from tinnitus also suffer from hearing loss. While these two conditions are often connected, they are categorized differently by the VA. This means an individual will have a tinnitus VA rating and a separate hearing loss VA rating.
Servicemembers pursuing VA benefits based on hearing loss or tinnitus must satisfy two main criteria, the first of which is demonstrating that the incident that caused the hearing loss occurred while on active duty. Second, they must either receive a diagnosis from a doctor that indicates hearing loss or provide lay evidence showing they suffer from tinnitus. This evidence, whether medical or lay, should also document the effect the conditions have on their life.
After a veteran has submitted that information, the VA would assign them a disability rating from zero to 100, which determines the amount of monthly benefits they can receive. If you are suffering from hearing loss or tinnitus and wish to pursue a claim, a VA-accredited lawyer can help you demonstrate that your injury occurred while on active duty, as well as work to gather medical evidence of how this condition affects your day-to-day life and connect your disability to your military service.
The VA rates tinnitus using 38 CFR § 4.87, Schedule of Ratings – Ear, Diagnostic Code 6260. Under this standard, the current maximum VA rating for tinnitus is a flat 10% for either one or both ears, regardless of the severity of the condition. This rating can only be increased if it can be proven that service-connected tinnitus has directly led to or worsened other serious medical conditions such as insomnia or headaches. Likewise, if a person can prove that their tinnitus was caused by an injury or illness that they sustained or developed during their service, the VA rating for this condition can be increased.
Determining the VA rating for hearing loss can be complicated, as there are several ways that this condition can manifest. For VA purposes, all veterans must undergo a hearing exam conducted by a licensed audiologist and receive a diagnosis of hearing loss. The VA will then evaluate your diagnosis using a grid chart to determine your disability rating. While disability ratings range from 0 to 100 percent, most veterans are assigned a 10% disability rating for hearing loss.
If you suffer from hearing loss in both ears, you may be entitled to additional compensation for your condition. Special Monthly Compensation may be provided to veterans with a particularly serious disability or combination of disabilities. This compensation is paid in addition to standard VA disability benefits. Your attorney can provide greater detail on veteran disability for hearing loss and whether you qualify for Special Monthly Compensation based on your condition.
Unfortunately, your veteran disability claim for tinnitus can be denied for several reasons. The VA will assess your claim against stringent requirements and even the smallest error in your application can impact your ability to secure benefits. Some of the most common reasons for a VA claim for tinnitus to be denied include:
The VA system can be notoriously difficult to navigate and many veterans express frustration with the process. The claims process is indeed highly complicated, but it is possible to improve your chances of success using specific tools and strategies. The VA is more likely to approve your claim when you can clearly connect your condition to your military service. Submitting a VA buddy statement can be helpful in this regard. This statement allows other service members or family members to attest to when the condition began and how tinnitus has impacted your daily life.
If your veteran disability claim for tinnitus or hearing loss has been denied, you may appeal the decision. There are three different levels of the appeals system and the option you utilize will depend on whether you wish to submit new evidence or want to request a further review from a more senior staff member. For example, a Supplemental Claim can be filed to provide additional evidence for your claim. Alternatively, a Higher-Level Review can be requested if you disagree with the initial decision made on your claim, but do not wish to submit new evidence. Finally, an appeal with the Board of Veterans’ Appeals can be used either after an initial decision or if you remain dissatisfied with the decision following lesser appeals. Through these different options, you can ensure that your claim receives the full and fair review it deserves.
If you have been denied veteran disability for hearing loss or tinnitus, you are likely feeling frustrated and unsure of where to turn for support. Established by a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, VetLaw is the go-to law firm for individuals across the United States who have been left out by the VA process. We work diligently to secure approval for our clients’ claims, as proven by our demonstrated record of success. Being denied veteran disability for tinnitus or hearing loss is not the end of the road. You have options to further pursue your case and secure benefits. To begin your free case review with our team, consider contacting us today.