HEARING LOSS / TINNITUS
A loss of hearing, or the closely related condition of Tinnitus, strikes approximately 25% of Veterans, especially combat Veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Under 38 CFR §3.385,
Impaired hearing will be considered to be a disability when the auditory threshold in any of the frequencies 500, 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000 Hertz is 40 decibels (dB) or greater, or when the auditory thresholds for at least three of the frequencies 500, 1000, 2000, 3000 or 4000 Hertz are 26 decibels or greater; or when speech recognition using the Maryland CNC Test are less than 94 percent.
The VA requires a Veteran trying to establish service connection for a hearing loss claim to provide the following:
- a hearing impairment examination by a state-licensed audiologist
- a controlled speech discrimination test (Maryland CNC) and
- a “puretone” audiometric test
Separate from hearing loss is Tinnitus – commonly described as s ringing, buzzing, roaring or clicking in the ears. The only requirement for a 10% rating is that a Veteran’s Tinnitus be “recurrent.” In turn, “recurrent” is defined as “returning or happening time after time.”
Yes, this sounds vague, because it is vague. For example, if a Veteran has buzzing in one or both ears for two or more days a month, every month or two, she should qualify for a 10% hearing loss rating. There is no regulation delineating which days of the month the buzzing must occur, or if it must occur 2 separate days or two consecutive days in a month, or if the buzzing must occur monthly, or every other month.
Tinnitus Limited To 10% Rating
As of June 2003, VA regulations were enacted that set in place the VA practice of assigning a single 10% rating for Tinnitus, whether the ringing or buzzing is in one ear, both ears, or somewhere in the head. The upshot is this: no matter the form, severity, or location of a Veteran’s Tinnitus, the maximum rating is 10%.
Hearing loss or Tinnitus can also come from a sudden, loud noise such as an explosion. In general, a damaging noise is 85 decibels (dB) or more. Moreover, medical studies demonstrate a connection between hearing loss from noise exposure and a diagnosis of Tinnitus. Like hearing loss, Tinnitus is usually a lifelong condition.
Winning A Veteran’s Hearing Loss Or Tinnitus Claim
The best evidence of a service-connected hearing loss or Tinnitus condition is a hearing examination while the Veteran is still in the Service. The next best evidence is a hearing examination as soon after separation from the military as possible.
One common problem is when Veterans don’t file a claim for hearing loss or Tinnitus until twenty (20) years, or more, after leaving the military. [Yes, the same can be said for many other types of claims as well.] The question for the VA then becomes one of whether military service caused the hearing problems, or did the Veteran simply get old, with the normal loss of hearing brought on by age, or, did the Veteran work in a high noise environment or suffer high dB events after leaving the military?
In cases like this, the CAVC has ruled:
“a claimant may establish direct service connection for a hearing disability initially manifest several years after separation from service on the basis of evidence showing that the current hearing loss is causally related to injury or disease suffered in service.”
How is this done ?
By the Veteran submitting statements that he or she suffered significant noise exposure during service. In short, a solid discussion by the Veteran, and Buddy Statements if available, of “significant noise exposure during service.”
Veterans suffer noise-induced hearing loss from working around a variety of loud noises over a period of time such as grinders, pneumatic riveting equipment, sanders, chippers, pneumatic tools, jet engines, aircraft runways, tanks, personnel carriers, diesel engines, equipment on Naval vessels, as well as combat related small arms fire, mortars, cannon fire, bombs and improvised explosive devices (IED’s), being in the infantry, being around an Abrams Tank, or manning artillery, to name just a few examples.
Your Buddy Statements should identify the sources, examples above, and the duration of exposure as well as what was used for hearing protection (i.e., nothing available, ear plugs, ear muffs, etc.).
A Veteran should also identify when she first noticed the hearing loss or Tinnitus, and if the decreased hearing and/or ringing in the ears, recurred over the years.
The more detail, the better.
The Veteran should also include information identifying potential noise exposure after separation from military service and discuss the steps that were taken to prevent injury, again, earplugs, muffs, etc.
Veterans should also obtain a thorough medical report documenting their hearing loss. The medical report must include the required audio testing discussed at the beginning of this section.
Finally, a medical opinion is needed from an audiologist or ear, nose, and throat surgeon, providing a medical opinion that the hearing disability is service-connected because of exposure during military service. This medical opinion should discuss the Veteran’s explanation of loud noise work environments or events that rationally and reasonably lead to a conclusion that the Veteran’s hearing loss or Tinnitus is connected to military service.
Note, VA audiologists do not normally provide a solid discussion of linking a Veteran’s hearing loss or Tinnitus to military service.
Double Note: This is an area where a Veteran may find her money is well spent obtaining thorough testing and a well-written medical report.
CLAIMS FOR AN INCREASED RATING
Remember, the general rule regarding the effective date of a claim is the date on which the approved claim was filed.
Under the “increased rating” exception to the general rule, the VA may grant an effective date up to a year before the filing date if the increased condition existed prior to the filing date.