The fact that your spouse says you never hear them may in fact indicate an entitlement to VA compensation for hearing loss and or tinnitus. Generally speaking, the VA isn’t responsible for hearing loss caused by the natural process of aging or occupational noise you were exposed to post-service. That said; don’t let the VA’s immediate denial of those benefits deter you! A 2010 VA fast letter 10-35, conceded that certain military jobs exposed veterans to high frequency noise. As such, the circumstances of your audiological issues need to be considered more closely.
One of the first things to consider is whether or not your MOS was one conceded by the VA to have a high risk of exposure. Obvious examples of this would be infantry or as a weapons specialists with sharpshooter or expert badges. Working on the flight line, being in a fire fight are other more clear examples of exposure. VA Fast Letter 10-35 gives a table of different MOS categories with the VA’s opinion on the likelihood of high frequency noise exposure. Your MOS is not enough by itself to win a benefit claim but it is certainly a good place to start. In any case where Fast Letter 10-35 applies it is important to make sure the C&P Audiologist acknowledges the level of exposure the VA has conceded.
In the case that you don’t meet the Fast Letter 10-35 lists because your MOS was listed say as a “supply clerk” despite the fact that you saw actual combat or worked with weapons, heavy equipment or machinery, all is not lost. Information about what type of exposure you had is key to winning an argument in this area. The more information and details you can provide the VA as to the nature of the exposure the better. One of the best ways to prove this is by looking at the results of your hearing test at entrance and upon separation from service. If there is evidence of a shift in your hearing ability from the beginning to the end of service you have an argument that the service caused or aggravated your hearing issues.
Keep in mind that there are still other ways to prove noise exposure in service. While the VA quite often denies claims based on the fact that period from entrance to exit from service does not show “a ratable loss.” Studies done by the VA show that hearing loss can in fact occur long after the period of noise exposure in service has ended. Again, the key to this situation is going to be an opinion on how your particular hearing loss was incurred. Audiologists, VA or civilian, are a great help in this area, however make sure that any opinion you provide the VA uses the “at least as likely as not” causation standard to have the best chance of having it properly considered.
Now a note about the ringing… Call it ringing, buzzing, vibrations, or the like what you are experiencing could possibly be tinnitus. Tinnitus is a form of ear trauma, often incurred by noise exposure. It can be mild, moderate or ear-splitting but the thing to know is that it’s a separately ratable condition under the VA regulations and it’s often overlooked. There is a maximum of 10% awarded for tinnitus but keep in mind if the condition worsens it may make hearing more difficult which could result in a higher rating under the hearing loss category. Furthermore, if it creates severe, debilitating interference with daily activities or employment there could be extra-schedular considerations.
Bottom line, hearing loss and tinnitus are often the after effects of noise exposure in service. They may be the little things you and your spouse just thought you would have to live with. The truth is that they might instead be the thing that entitles you to VA compensation.
By: Katie L. Ambler