Millions of veterans suffer damage to hearing while in service. Military training, and much of military life, not to mention the unique rigors of combat and hazardous duty, includes being exposed to significant noise. It is a very real problem for veterans, especially as they grow older. And unlike most medical conditions, hearing problems from in-service noise exposure can become symptomatic years after the veteran has left military service.
Generally, noise trauma can be thought of in two ways. The first is actual acoustic trauma, which means exposure to damaging sound volumes over extended periods of time or in short, blasting bursts. The second is the compressive, or concussive, impact of changes in atmospheric pressure, causing air to push inwards and internal pressures to push outwards from the ear. This is normally experienced during large explosions or by the firing of large guns.
As the long-term problems have become known, the military has encouraged, and in some instances required, service members to wear protective ear-wear while being exposed to loud volumes. However, this was not always the case. In fact, for decades the exposure to enormous volumes of sound caused by cannons and other weapon fire was considered part of the job. To even think about wearing protective ear-wear was considered a sign of weakness.
Exposure to high impact explosions or constant gunfire can do significant damage to the inner ear. The rapid pressure change between the external and internal ear can cause permanent, significant hearing loss.
Unlike many medical conditions, hearing is normally tested routinely while in-service and upon discharge from active military duty. Effectively, despite all reasons given by the military to the contrary, this discharge-from-active-duty hearing examination is a precaution used to limit future disability claims. However, recent court decisions have gutted the effectiveness of this approach. The courts have recognized the fact that hearing disabilities become more evident over time. Simply because a soldier upon discharge appears to have normal hearing does not mean that he or she won’t suffer from service-connected hearing deterioration later in life.
Hearing is tested by objective means, which means that a hearing examiner does not rely solely on a veteran’s complaints. In fact, a veteran’s statement of his symptoms are seldom probative without the conclusive results of a hearing test.
Hearing loss, like any veteran disability, must be proven as service-connected before it can be given a disability rating. This disability rating is determined based upon strict regulations which specifically define formulas for use in computation of the “amount” of disability, which determines the monthly benefit a disabled veteran will receive. Any hearing disability claim will need to be backed up by a hearing test, which includes speech recognition and auditory testing of the veteran’s abilities to hear specific frequencies.
Tinnitus is a condition closely associated to but different and apart from hearing loss. It is defined as a continued ringing or buzzing in the ears.
Unlike hearing loss, tinnitus is diagnosed using a veteran’s subjective complaints and description of the symptoms he or she suffers from. There is no accepted objective medical testing for the condition.
Also unlike hearing loss, the disability award for tinnitus is not bilateral, meaning a veteran can only receive benefits for it once and not for both ears. This disability is also capped at a 10% disability rating.
The determination of service connection for tinnitus is quite similar to the decision-making process in a hearing loss claim. Normally proof of in-service exposure to acoustic trauma is submitted alongside a medical examination presenting recognized symptoms normally present in veterans suffering from tinnitus.
Our lawyers will work to prove service-connection of your hearing issues, even if they were not initially diagnosed. For a free consultation, please call (888) 883-2483 or contact us online.