Hearing loss is relatively common among veterans. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) notes that hearing problems are the most common service-connected disabilities in veterans. To the VA, hearing loss is also potentially eligible for disability benefits if it relates to a veteran’s military service.
8 Causes of Hearing Loss in Veterans
- Loud Noises
- Brain Injury
- Defective 3M Combat Arms Earplugs
- Jet Fuel Exposure
- Ear Infection
- Ruptured Eardrum
- Inner Ear Damage
Veterans can experience hearing loss for several reasons, including aging, exposure to loud noises, and an infection that affects the ear. Some veterans may have hearing loss so severe that they cannot hear out of one or both ears, while others may benefit from a hearing aid.
Military hearing loss is common because of noise exposure and the potential for injuries, both of which can trigger or exacerbate hearing loss. Depending on the severity of the condition and service connection, veterans may receive a VA rating and VA disability compensation for their hearing impairment.
Hearing Loss Among Veterans
Hearing loss refers to a partial or full loss of hearing in one or both ears. Impaired hearing varies in severity, from mild to profound hearing loss. When someone has hearing loss in one ear, it’s known as unilateral hearing loss. In both ears, it’s called bilateral hearing loss.
There are also different types of hearing loss:
- Conductive Hearing Loss: This form of hearing impairment occurs when some type of obstruction interferes with the ear’s ability to take in sound. This can happen when earwax builds up in the ear canal or with an eardrum injury. Conductive hearing loss is often temporary, with medication and surgery as possible treatments.
- Sensorineural Hearing Loss: This permanent type of hearing loss affects the auditory nerves or inner ear, either from a congenital disability, infection, or injury. Although there’s no way to cure this hearing loss, hearing devices, like a hearing aid or cochlear implant, may help some people.
- Mixed Hearing Loss: Mixed hearing loss combines these two types of hearing impairment.
Common symptoms of hearing loss, regardless of the hearing impairment type, include having trouble hearing what people say around you and hearing muffled sounds. You might also find it challenging to hear high-pitched noises or consonants in words. Over time, people with hearing loss may even find themselves withdrawing from social settings to avoid feeling left out of conversations.
According to the CDC, hearing loss is the second most prevalent service-connected disability among veterans, with tinnitus, another hearing-related condition, ranking first. The CDC’s research also shows that male veterans were less likely than male non-veterans to have excellent or good hearing and were likelier to have significant hearing problems or deafness.
Fortunately, it’s possible to get a VA hearing loss rating for disability benefits. Veterans can apply for disability compensation due to hearing loss with even a mild hearing loss diagnosis.
Hearing Loss Tests
A hearing test can determine the level of hearing a veteran has in one or both ears. The VA may require results of hearing tests with a veteran’s VA disability claim for compensation to verify the veteran’s VA hearing loss rating eligibility.
Trained audiology professionals can test a veteran’s hearing. Typically, the VA considers the results of two commonly used hearing tests to give an accurate picture of the hearing threshold.
The first test, speech audiometry, tests the veteran’s ability to understand speech, particularly specific sounds used in speech. This is also known as speech discrimination. The test can decipher how well a veteran can understand what’s being said to them and the volume at which the veteran can still hear speech.
The second test, pure-tone audiometry, tests the sounds that a veteran hears. The test will relay several sounds at varied pitches to the veteran while the veteran indicates the sounds they can hear. This test is very useful for an audiologist to determine the degree of hearing loss, such as mild-to-moderate or severe-to-profound.
Generally, more mild degrees of hearing loss will result in a lower rating for disability benefits, usually from 0% to 10%. However, severe hearing loss can provide a hearing loss VA rating of 30% or higher for conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, or mixed hearing impairment.
VA Disability Rating for Hearing Loss
According to the VA, hearing loss can constitute the need for disability benefits when the hearing impairment has a service connection.
Service Connection and Eligibility Requirements for VA Hearing Loss
A service connection in terms of VA hearing loss means that the hearing impairment was:
- Caused by something relating to the military member’s service
- A symptom of a service-connected disability
- Made worse by the military member’s service
The VA requires veterans to prove that their hearing loss is connected to their service to qualify for VA disability compensation.
How the VA Rates Hearing Loss
VA hearing loss disability ratings differ from a disability rating for tinnitus and other conditions. Generally, a hearing loss disability rating depends on the severity of the hearing impairment measured by hearing tests. The disability rating for VA benefits comes after the VA establishes a service connection.
The VA uses a Roman numeral system to indicate a hearing impairment’s severity and determine the disability rating for a veteran with hearing loss. The Roman numeral designations depend on both puretone threshold average and speech discrimination results. The VA aligns the results of both tests and both ears with a chart; where they intersect determines the disability rating for VA hearing loss. It’s important to note that the VA rates the function of the ears together rather than separately, which can affect a disability rating.
Below are a few examples of disability ratings for hearing loss.
10% Disability Rating
Commonly, veterans receive a 10% disability rating. Some veterans have bilateral mild to moderate hearing loss from conditions like recurring tinnitus or chronic otitis externa, or from noise exposure, leading to a lowered disability rating based on the VA’s charting system.
30% Disability Rating
A 30% disability rating for VA hearing loss could happen when a veteran has a severe to profound loss in one ear but a mild loss in the other ear. Considering the function of both ears together will likely result in a relatively low disability rating.
50% Disability Rating
A veteran with severe to profound hearing loss in one ear and a moderately severe loss in the other ear as indicated by hearing tests could result in a 50% disability rating.
100% Disability Rating
A 100% disability rating for hearing loss VA compensation is uncommon, but it can happen. This rating is usually reserved for veterans with a severe to profound hearing impairment in both ears, possibly caused by Meniere’s syndrome, malignant neoplasms, or another condition.
How To Get Disability Benefits for VA Hearing Loss
Hearing loss conditions are some of the most common VA disability claims. However, veterans do not automatically get approved for hearing loss disability compensation. They must still prove a service connection, show medical evidence of their diagnosis, and complete hearing tests.
To apply for VA disability benefits for hearing loss, you can do so in person at your nearest VA regional office, online, or by mail or phone.
8 Causes of Hearing Loss in Veterans
Veterans can experience hearing loss due to a number of reasons, many of which may be connected to their military service. Below are some of the most common causes of veteran hearing loss.
1. Loud Noises
Loud noise exposure is one of the most significant contributors to military-connected hearing impairment. Active duty service members can be exposed to loud noises, such as explosions or the operation of heavy machinery. Extended exposure to loud noises can damage the nerves or inner ear structure, leading to potentially profound hearing loss.
2. Brain Injury
Injuries involving the head and brain can lead to hearing loss. An injury to the head can damage the ear structure or nerves. One scientific review found that 58% of people with traumatic brain injury experienced some degree of hearing loss. Sometimes, symptoms show up almost immediately, but some people may not experience symptoms until weeks, months, or even years after the injury occurred.
3. Defective 3M Combat Arms Earplugs
Since 2018, 3M has been involved in lawsuits accusing the company of selling defective earplugs to the U.S. military, resulting in allegedly connected hearing loss. The earplugs were in use between 2003 and 2015 and have since been discontinued. However, veterans may still be able to file lawsuits against the company and receive VA disability compensation for related hearing loss.
4. Jet Fuel Exposure
In 2014, a study found that exposure to jet fuel could cause impairments inside the brain that lead to auditory processing dysfunctions, including hearing impairment. One researcher, Dr. O’neil Guthrie, explains that protective clothing to prevent skin exposure can help but that treatments are not yet available to help those who have already been exposed.
5. Ear Infection
What starts as a small ear infection can lead to significant problems for the ears if an infection is left untreated or does not respond to medications. Military service can open the doors for ear infections when service members are exposed to new environmental conditions or are unable to keep up with regular hygiene practices during active duty service.
While some ear infections can clear up without causing permanent hearing loss, severe infections could damage part of the ear.
6. Ruptured Eardrum
Military hearing loss can occur with an injury or noise exposure that causes a ruptured eardrum. Some service members may be more susceptible to eardrum damage than others from blasts and other loud noises. A ruptured eardrum can make it easier to get ear infections and can lead to permanent hearing loss.
7. Inner Ear Damage
Damage to the inner ear can happen from a head injury, ear infection, and noise exposure, which military service members can be prone to. While some damage is reversible, other types can lead to permanent hearing loss, allowing veterans to receive a VA disability rating and compensation for their hearing impairment.
Veterans may also experience hearing loss after they leave the military due to regular aging. Although age-related hearing loss generally runs in families, virtually anyone can experience reduced hearing as they age. This type of hearing loss is generally not covered by VA disability compensation, as it is not service-connected.
VA Hearing Loss and Disability Ratings
For hearing loss that’s considered service-connected, veterans may receive disability compensation. Causes like noise exposure, jet fuel exposure, or a brain injury during military service could result in monthly compensation to veterans.
Consider getting the help of a VA disability lawyer to guide you through the process of applying for VA benefits. Although hearing loss claims are common, it’s important to provide the VA with all medical evidence and documents necessary to process your claim promptly. Your attorney can help you with each step, including gathering evidence and appealing the VA’s decision, if necessary.