VA Disability Benefits: Hearing Loss and Tinnitus
Veterans who are returning from the war in Iraq and Afganistan are reporting hearing loss and tinnitus at very high rates. Several soldiers have ringing in their ears from being near bombs going off, gun shots, or riding in tanks.
A damaging noise is one that is 85 decibels (dB) or more. In 2005, the Institutes of Medicine (IOM) released a study that showed that nearly all service members are exposed to acoustic trauma at some point during their military service and that many experience hearing loss and/or tinnitus as a result, often years after service. However, “after the fact, hearing loss or tinnitus incurred as a result of military service cannot be distinguished with certainty from subsequent noise-induced hearing loss…” Given these findings, reasonable doubt must be resolved in favor of veterans who suffered acoustic trauma in service.
A claimant seeking VA disability compensation for noise induced hearing loss and/or tinnitus should submit with their claim a detailed lay statement that outlines their noise exposure in service. This letter should identify the sources (i.e., infantry, tank, plane) and duration of exposure as well as what was used for hearing protection (i.e., nothing available, ear plugs, muffs). A claimant should also identify when the symptoms first had its onset and if those symptoms (decreased hearing, ringing in ears) persisted over the years. Also include information identifying potential noise exposure following military service and include what steps were taken to prevent injury. Finally, a medical opinion is needed from an audiologist or ear, nose, and throat surgeon that connects the disability with the exposure in service. VA audiologists infrequently make such linkage opinions. A private medical statement is money well spent to obtain a quality opinion.
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