One of the inherent risks of military service is to a soldier’s hearing. Whether from the deafening sounds of frontline combat, the noise of engines and other loud machinery, or accidents like misfires and explosions, there are constant threats to a soldier’s ability to hear while he or she is serving on active duty. Even with consistent use of ear protection, many soldiers retire from the military sustaining permanent hearing loss. Some former members of the military even require hearing aids, and others may have gone deaf completely.
Whether you are partially deaf, have damaged hearing, or have lost the ability to hear completely, you may be able to qualify for significant disability compensation from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) for your condition.
In order to receive disability benefits for hearing loss from the VA, you simply need to prove that an injury or experience caused your hearing loss during your time in the military. Otherwise, you will not be able to receive benefits. Without a service connection — often called a nexus in VA language — the VA cannot approve a Veteran to receive disability compensation.
If you can establish that your hearing loss is service-related, the VA will rate your disability based on the severity of your hearing damage. Your disability rating can also be influenced by the impact that your hearing loss has on your ability to work, maintain relationships with friends and family, and function in everyday life.
Hearing loss can be an extremely severe disability, and the VA does their best to accommodate Veterans who suffer from it. However, there are some cases where the Department may not grant a deaf or hard of hearing Veteran the compensation that they deserve. Later in this article, we will cover what you should do if you have service-connected hearing loss and have not gotten the benefits you need from the VA.
Many Veterans who are deaf or hard of hearing struggle to find work that is feasible and sustainable. Loss of hearing can dramatically alter the way a person experiences and interacts with the world, and it can make many traditional employment options out of the question. The difficulty that the deaf and hard of hearing often have finding jobs is not always the result of workplace discrimination, but it can be. Whether from being discriminated against because of their disabilities or the lack of work opportunities for the hearing-impaired, many deaf Veterans struggle to find jobs.
In addition, many deaf or hard of hearing Veterans deal with other service-connected disabilities in addition to hearing loss. Many Veterans have lost their hearing due to injuries that had multiple physical and psychological effects. Some deaf Veterans may be dealing with the long-term effects of intense trauma, and others may be physically disabled in addition to being hearing-impaired. The combination of hearing loss with other service-connected disabilities can make it even harder for many Veterans to find work and function well in everyday life.
For many disabled Veterans who are hard of hearing, mental health problems like anxiety and depression can arise. These issues often develop due to the jarring transition from being able to hear into life without hearing. Many deaf Veterans may also feel isolated and cut off from their friends and family due to their hearing loss.
The emotional impact of hearing impairment on Veterans can be life-altering, and struggling with mental health problems can make it even harder for many deaf Veterans to find jobs.
Since many factors can make it difficult for deaf and hard of hearing Veterans to find employment, the VA’s disability benefits can be life-changing. If a disabled Veteran is left unable to work as a result of their condition, their VA disability benefits may be their only dependable source of income. The VA’s tax-free benefits can help a Veteran stay financially stable, even if work is not available to them as a result of their condition.
Many disabled Veterans are primarily reliant upon disability benefits from the VA for financial stability. Because of the essential nature of VA compensation for so many Veterans, it is extremely important that each disabled Veteran receives the rating and benefits that they deserve from the VA.
For a Veteran to receive disability benefits for hearing loss, the VA must be able to establish service connection for the condition. If the VA can confirm that your hearing damage resulted from your military service, they will rate your disability based on its severity. After the VA has established a service connection and approved your claim, you can start receiving tax-free monthly disability payments.
Hearing loss can range in severity, and some Veterans may be more disabled by their service-connected loss of hearing than others. If a Veteran is completely deaf due to service-related factors, they are far more likely to receive the maximum disability rating than a Veteran who is only partially hearing-impaired.
In addition, the VA’s disability benefits run on a rating scale between 10 percent and 100 percent, increasing in increments of ten. This means that there are nine different ratings that a deaf or hard of hearing Veteran can receive — the VA will choose whichever rating they feel most accurately reflects the severity of the Veteran’s condition. However, the most common rating the VA gives to Veterans with hearing problems is 10%, especially if a Veteran is suffering from tinnitus.
In addition, Veterans who are deaf and hard of hearing can receive higher disability ratings if they suffer from other service-connected disabilities. Many Veterans deal with other conditions on top of their hearing loss, and if these disabilities are service-connected, they can increase a Veteran’s overall disability rating. While the VA’s rating system can account for multiple disabilities, a Veteran cannot obtain a rating that is the exact sum of their disabilities because VA math works a little differently. For example, if your disabilities warrant scores that add up to higher than a 100 percent disability rating, that does not mean you will receive a 100% rating.
In some cases, a Veteran who has service-connected hearing loss will find their claim denied. This can happen for a few reasons:
If your hearing loss claim has been denied, don’t give up on fighting to receive disability benefits. However, it’s best not to fight alone — having an attorney on your team when appealing a VA decision can help you get the best possible outcome.
A Veteran reserves the right to appeal any VA decision, whether they are appealing a denial or appealing a disability rating that is too low. If you are not receiving the benefits from the VA that you feel you deserve, making an appeal is your best option.
During the appeals process, you may have an opportunity to present the VA with additional evidence that can contribute to getting a higher rating. One of the aspects of the appeals process that can be highly effective is presenting a private doctor’s report to the VA. If the VA has ruled that your hearing loss is not severe enough to warrant benefits, you can get an Independent Medical Examination (IME) and present the results of the examination to the VA. If a private, non-VA-affiliated doctor rules that your hearing loss is more severe than the VA had concluded, your rating may be increased.
If you are a deaf or hard of hearing Veteran struggling to get the benefits you deserve from the VA, Berry Law’s team of dedicated, skilled attorneys can help you appeal the VA’s decision to deny your claim. We can also help you get a higher disability rating if the VA has approved your claim but given you a rating that is too low. By helping you navigate the appeals process, one of our attorneys can be the teammate you need by your side when fighting to receive disability compensation. You shouldn’t have to go through the appeals process alone — we’re here to help.
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