Veterans Hearing Loss and Tinnitus

Hearing loss is a common disability found in veterans. While hearing loss can be due to a number of factors, including use of medications and old age, approximately one-fourth are due to noise exposure. Noise-induced hearing loss can result from exposure to loud noises over a period of time or from exposure to a sudden, loud noise as due to an explosion. A damaging noise is one that is 85 decibels (dB) or more. Such exposure may cause permanent damage to the tiny hair cells within the inner ear resulting in hearing loss in the affected frequency range.

The incidence of hearing loss in veterans was noted by Congress who ordered a study by the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine . The report was issued in September 2005 and concluded that programs to protect the hearing of military service members have not been adequate from World War II to present. Yet, at times, the use of hearing protection is not practical, as when engaged in combat and hearing is relied upon to remain safe. A recent Army report indicates that one-fourth of the soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have damaged hearing.

Studies have demonstrated a connection between hearing loss due to noise exposure and the presence of tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. Like hearing loss, tinnitus is not likely to resolve.

A claimant seeking VA disability compensation for noise induced hearing loss and/or tinnitus should submit with the claim a detailed lay statement that outlines the noise exposure in service. This should identify the sources (i.e., infantry, Abrams tank) 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.