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The answer to the question – “How to win a VA Hearing Loss Claim” – lies in the fact that the VA (Veteran Affairs) awards disability compensation for an ear condition that is service-connected.
The DoD will also rate service-connected conditions as long as they also make the service member Unfit for Duty. For Reservists, the condition must have occurred in or resulted from an injury in the Line of Duty to qualify.
“More than half of people over 75 will experience some form of hearing loss or hearing-connected issues.” 1
Hearing problems such as tinnitus are described by the VA as among “the most prevalent service-connected disabilities among American Veterans.”
Hearing loss issues that may be service-connected, or aggravated by military service, can be found in the VA Schedule of Ratings Disabilities, also known by the official title, 38 CFR Book C, Schedule for Rating Disabilities. 2
3 Things to prove in a VA Disability Hearing Loss claim or appeal
It’s particularly hard to prove a hearing loss disability is related to military service. There are 3 things to look to establish a service connection in any VA disability claim.
- The first obstacle you have to cross is proving that your hearing loss is a disability.
- The second obstacle you have to clear is demonstrating that your hearing loss is related to your military service.
- And the third obstacle you have to cross is establishing a VA hearing loss rating. That is, you have to show that your hearing loss is substantial enough to warrant an impairment rating.
How to establish you have a VA disability for your hearing loss claim
§ 3.385 Disability due to impaired hearing.
For the purposes of applying the laws administered by VA, the 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 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 scores using the Maryland CNC Test are less than 94 percent. 3
1. Auditory thresholds at 40 decibels or greater
Auditory thresholds measure your ability to hear, and they are the minimum sound levels of a tone at a particular frequency (measured in decibels), that your ear can hear with no other sound present.
The impaired hearing will be considered a disability by the VA, if the auditory threshold is 40 decibels or greater in any of the frequencies:
- 500 Hz
- 1000 Hz
- 2000 Hz
- 3000 Hz
- 4000 Hz
2. Auditory thresholds greater than 26 decibels
The impaired hearing will be considered a disability if the auditory thresholds are greater than 26 decibels, in three of the following frequencies:
- 500 Hz
- 1000 Hz
- 2000 Hz
- 3000 Hz
- 4000 Hz
3. Speech Recognition less than 94 percent
Speech recognition measures how well you can understand spoken words when they are loud enough to hear comfortably. To measure speech recognition, the VA uses the Maryland CNC test.
“CNC stands for consonant-vowel nucleus consonant.” 4
It is a list of certain words with particular structures that can be used to measure the listener’s ability to distinguish sounds. If your speech recognition scores are less than 94 percent – without the usage of your hearing aids – meaning you could not distinguish between 94 percent of the words on the test – then you have established hearing loss for VA disability purposes.
Ear disabilities described by the Department of Veterans Affairs
The Department of Veterans Affairs 5 recognizes hearing loss that may be reversible through medical procedures and hearing-related medical problems that may be irreversible or managed only through hearing aids. Some of those medical problems are:
- Cancer in the ear
- Inner ear problems that cause dizziness, referred to as peripheral vestibular disorders
- The loss of one or both ears
- Perforated eardrums
- Meniere’s syndrome or Endolymphatic Hydrops
- Peripheral vestibular disorder
- Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)
- Chronic otitis externa
- Chronic suppurative otitis media
- Chronic nonsuppurative otitis media (serous otitis media)
Factors that must be established for Hearing Loss Claim
VA is extremely strict about the hearing loss diagnosis. Generally speaking, you are usually diagnosed with hearing loss if you can not hear tones of certain decibel levels at particular frequencies.
The first step to getting VA disability for your hearing loss is proving that you are currently diagnosed with a qualifying condition.
You must undergo a hearing exam by a licensed audiologist.
Audiologists and what to expect upon a visit
The audiologist must administer two separate tests in order for VA to accept your current diagnosis of hearing loss:
1. Maryland CNC Test
Measures the hearing loss through a 50-word test that scores how well you recognize speech.
VA uses the results of this test to determine if your hearing loss qualifies for disability and, if so, to rate the severity of your condition.
2. Puretone Audiometric Test
Determines your level of general hearing loss by measuring the faintest tones you can pick up on.
You’ll be instructed to wear a set of headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep.