When you suffer a partial or total hearing loss—a common condition among U.S. Service Members and Veterans—you may qualify for VA disability.
Hearing loss affects tens of millions of Americans each year. Service Members and Veterans may have a hearing disability caused or worsened by their service.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), hearing conditions are the most common of all service-connected disabilities. They state that:
“As of the close of fiscal year 2014, more than 933,000 Veterans were receiving disability compensation for hearing loss, and nearly 1.3 million received compensation for tinnitus. In addition, many Veterans score normally on hearing tests but have difficulty understanding speech. This condition, called auditory processing disorder, is often associated with blast exposure.”
Some disabilities may be reversible with medication or surgery (conductive hearing loss), while others are permanent (sensorineural hearing loss) but may be helped with hearing aids.
How the VA rates your hearing disability will determine what benefits you’re entitled to. You must medically prove your condition to get the highest possible disability rating.
Types of Hearing Loss that Qualify for VA Disability
Hearing disabilities are common among veterans and can be caused by exposure to loud noises such as gunfire, mortar explosions, military aircraft, and other vehicles and machinery. Hearing disabilities may also be caused by nerve and other injuries to the ear.
These conditions can be proved to be medically connected to your service in several ways:
- Connect the condition to a specific event during your service, or
- Prove a repetitive injury, such as a nearness to loud machinery over time.
It’s crucial to emphasize the context of the injury in your support statement and establish a connection to your service, such as the type of injury or exposure to loud sound, duration, symptoms, and severity.
In addition to the general steps for filing for VA disability (listed below), you will likely undergo specific hearing tests performed by an audiologist.
Hearing disabilities range in severity and can result in a disability rating anywhere as low as 0% to a significantly higher rating—for instance, severe vestibular conditions that cause frequent vertigo.
Note: While common hearing loss won’t necessarily get you a high disability rating, you are still entitled to VA treatment.
According to the Department of Defense, “Veterans rated for compensable disabilities other than hearing loss or tinnitus are also entitled to audiology services and hearing aids.”
The DoD further states, “If an applicant is deaf in both ears due to a service-connected disability, they may be eligible for an additional monthly cash benefit known as Special Compensation.”
In addition to issues such as tinnitus, hearing loss, or an auditory processing disorder, the DoD lists these as some hearing disabilities Veterans may have:
- cancer (100 percent rating for up to six months after treatment ends)
- peripheral vestibular disorders (10-30 percent rating depending on severity of dizziness)
- the loss of one or both ears (30-50 percent rating)
Some other conditions might include perforated eardrums, chronic ear infections, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), or traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).
Proving a Service-Connected Disability and Getting a Rating
Hearing loss and hearing-related conditions qualify you for VA disability benefits via the same process as other service-connected disabilities.
Here are the general steps of the process.
Step 1: Is Your Condition Service Related?
There are three main ways to determine if your condition is service-related and thus qualifies for VA disability.
In-Service Disability Claim: You got sick or injured while serving in the military and can link your current condition to the illness or injury.
Pre-Service Disability Claim: You had an illness or injury before you joined the military, and serving worsened the condition.
Post-Service Disability Claim: You have a disability that didn’t appear until after you ended your active-duty service, but can be medically proven to be connected to your service.
You may also be applying for a condition that was caused or worsened by a primary service-connected disability. This is known as a secondary connection.
Step 2: Apply for VA Disability
The next step is to apply for VA disability benefits. You can apply anywhere from 180 days prior to discharge from military service. You may be able to speed up the decision of your case somewhat if you file prior to 90 days before discharge, using the Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) program.
You may need to:
- file additional forms
- provide detailed medical and service records
- provide a “nexus letter” from a doctor connecting your disability to a service event
- Fill out a Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ)
- undergo a C&P exam
You may also have a presumptive disability, which the VA presumes is service-connected due to the obvious nature of the connection.
The VA will examine your case and determine your eligibility for benefits. They will also assign you a disability rating based on all service-connected disabilities and secondary disabilities combined. This rating will determine how much benefits you receive.
Step 3: Appeals and Consulting an Attorney
When you file for your VA disability benefits, know that there’s a chance you’ll need to appeal the initial decision. Whether your case is denied or you’re appealing for a higher disability rating, you will follow a certain process.
- Supplemental claim with new/additional medical evidence
- Higher-level review with a senior-level reviewer
- Board appeal with a Veterans Law Judge
You can request a board appeal after an initial claim denial, supplemental claim, or higher-level review. You cannot request more than one board appeal in a row for the same case.
You may choose to consult an attorney when filing a claim, navigating multiple claims or appeals, or appealing for a higher disability rating.
You may have also missed deadlines, had a change in your condition or the severity of your condition, or feel that a denial was due to an error during the review process. A qualified lawyer can help to resolve all these and file a Notice of Disagreement (NOD).
Affleck & Gordon’s experienced disability attorneys offer a free case evaluation to learn more about your VA disability rights.
If your VA Disability claim has been denied, or you’re thinking about filing and don’t know where to start, Affleck & Gordon can help. We’ve been helping people in Georgia just like you for decades. Sign up for a free case evaluation here, or call us (404) 990-3945.