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Veteran Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is one of the most common medical concerns veterans face. Problems with hearing can significantly impact their quality of life, making it difficult to get by at work, enjoy their favorite hobbies, or even communicate with loved ones. Many treatment options are available, and many veterans qualify for hearing loss and tinnitus military disability benefits.

According to the Hearing Health Foundation, veterans with tinnitus also suffer from anxiety and depression. One 2015 study found that 58 percent of veterans with tinnitus had both conditions.

In many cases, hearing loss is preventable with the use of hearing protective devices (HPDs). The foundation also noted that many veterans who receive a typical score on hearing tests have auditory processing disorder — difficulty understanding speech — that can be attributed to blast exposure.

Part of the eligibility requirements for VA disability benefits is proving the connection between the veteran’s hearing loss and their service. Thus, it’s important to keep medical records and documents from your time in the military.

Why Do Veterans Experience Hearing Loss and Tinnitus?

Active duty service members are exposed to various dangerous (and loud) settings and situations that lead to short-term and long-term auditory issues. Common examples include:

Exposure to Gunfire

In some military situations, the sound of gunfire is near-constant. Depending on the type of weaponry, it’s possible to reach noise levels of well over 155 decibels. While military personnel receive protective equipment designed to prevent such issues, recent court cases have revealed this equipment is sometimes defective.

Such was the case for dual-ended combat ear plugs from 3M, which were standard-issue during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Noise from Aircraft and Equipment

Gunfire is by no means the only source of excessive noise in the military. Service members are also regularly exposed to loud noises from aircraft, ships, trucks, and more. Pilots, in particular, are prone to hearing loss.

A cross-sectional study from the Armed Forces Aeromedical Centre revealed that fixed-wing pilots are most likely to suffer hearing loss, with 42 percent reporting damage.

Jet Fuel

An often overlooked source of hearing loss, jet fuel — specifically jet propulsion fuel-8 (JP-8) — can prompt auditory processing dysfunction. When this occurs, it’s possible to hear sounds, but it may be more difficult to process them.

Blast Injuries

Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) produce extreme airwaves of force. These, in turn, cause significant damage to the inner ear, which cannot withstand such excessive pressure.

Preliminary research suggests hearing loss can be limited by providing victims of roadside blasts with strategic treatment as quickly as possible.

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)

Often caused by explosions, traumatic brain injuries can increase the risk of tinnitus and other hearing problems. What’s more, the medications used to treat symptoms of traumatic brain injuries can also prompt tinnitus.

The Role of Age

The problems highlighted above may not immediately manifest in hearing loss or tinnitus. Many veterans have excellent hearing in the first few years after serving but begin to see significant declines over time. These are sometimes difficult to distinguish from general age-related hearing loss — but with veterans, the loss tends to happen earlier, and it is nearly always more severe.

Hearing Loss vs. Tinnitus

While hearing loss and tinnitus are often closely linked, many significant differences set these conditions apart. Hearing loss centers around an inability to receive auditory information, while tinnitus involves a perception of sound when nothing is actually generating it. These issues can occur simultaneously.

How Is Hearing Loss Treated?

Some forms of hearing loss are reversible, thanks to exciting advancements in medical technology. Examples include:

people examining an ear

Sometimes, hearing loss is caused by blockages of wax or foreign objects. If these are removed, hearing may be restored. Depending on the situation, removal could be non-invasive. With growths, however, surgery is typically required, while bacterial-related blockages require antibiotics.

A common option for addressing early hearing loss, corticosteroid pills and shots are believed to reduce inflammation of the hearing organs. Many medical professionals prefer intratympanic treatment, in which patients receive direct injections of steroids to the middle ear.

Unfortunately, such reversals remain out of reach for those with age-related hearing loss. Instead, it takes a comprehensive set of solutions to manage symptoms and maintain functionality for the hearing impaired. Most veterans with hearing loss will ultimately turn to one or more of these options for relief:

As one of the most common solutions for addressing hearing loss, hearing aids use a three-part system (including a speaker, microphone, and amplifier) to pick up and adjust nearby sounds. These battery-powered devices are available in many different sizes and styles.

Those who see only modest improvements from hearing aids may benefit from cochlear implants. This is a common option for veterans with profound hearing loss. Cochlear implants are designed to mimic hearing functionality from the inner ear and rely on sound processors and surgically placed implants attached to electrical arrays. This system allows sounds to bypass the portion of the ear that doesn’t work correctly, with sounds instead sent directly to the hearing nerve.

Select medications may provide some relief from tinnitus. While researchers are eager to find drug-based treatments for hearing loss, preliminary efforts have proven mainly disappointing.

people examining an ear

Is Hearing Loss/Tinnitus Eligible for VA Disability?

Veterans suffering from hearing loss and tinnitus are typically eligible for disability benefits. In fact, these are the two most common conditions that lead to disability benefits for today’s veterans.

During the fiscal year 2020, over 1.3 million veterans received disability from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) based on hearing loss. Tinnitus benefits were even more common, with over 2.3 million veterans receiving benefits as of the fiscal year 2020. 

While hearing loss and tinnitus are common sources of disability benefits, it’s possible for veteran hearing loss to occur without qualifying for compensation. Much depends on the severity of the hearing loss and the ability to draw a clear connection between auditory concerns and military service.

How Does a Veteran Qualify for Hearing Loss Benefits?

VA hearing loss benefits are contingent on proving eligibility. Key factors taken into account include:

  • A history of active duty. Active duty for training or inactive duty for training may also qualify.
  • Disability rating calculated by the VA. This is determined based on recent test results, medical history, or VA claim exams. A minimum disability rating of 10 percent is required before receiving compensation.
  • Proof of service connection. Evidence must indicate the injury either occurred while serving, worsened as a result of serving, or appeared after military service concluded. Incident reports from the time of service can help to establish this, as can professional medical opinions.
  • Hearing loss tests. These also establish the connection between military service and hearing loss. Pure tone audiometry tests verify the extent of the hearing loss, while controlled speech discrimination tests determine the ability to recognize speech. Licensed audiologists must conduct both tests.

Hearing Loss VA Disability Ratings

Disability ratings play a crucial role in determining eligibility for hearing loss benefits and the extent of the compensation. As previously mentioned, a rating of 10 percent is typically the minimum threshold. 

Cases involving mild hearing loss do not always meet this 10 percent benchmark. With moderate or severe hearing loss, it’s common for veterans to receive somewhere between 30 percent and 50 percent disability ratings. A full 100 percent rating can result in a monthly benefit exceeding several thousand dollars.

Once the disability rating has been determined, compensation depends on the veteran’s living situation and dependent status. Veterans who live with spouses, children, or parents can expect to receive more than those living alone.

Additional compensation may be available when the disabled veteran’s spouse also receives aid or assistance.

File a Hearing Loss and Tinnitus VA Disability Claim

If you’re currently suffering from hearing loss and believe it is linked to your background with the military, it’s time to take action.

The first step? Filing a VA disability claim for hearing loss benefits. It may be impossible to restore your hearing fully, but VA compensation can improve your quality of life.

filing a disability claim
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