VA Ratings for Hearing
By Thom Stoddert
The VA’s hearing tests, or audiology exams, and rating schemes are not well understood, if the questions that I have received this past month are a gauge. I hope this article makes the subject a little easier for you.
First of all, the VA medical facilities usually cannot help you with filing a claim for a hearing loss or hearing problem. They are medical staff and provide treatment along with the evidence needed for your claim. The claims for hearing, go to your state’s Regional Office.
A federal court case (Charles vs. Princippi), several years ago, determined that the veteran is the best person to determine if they have experienced a hearing loss. This court decision
liberalized how a decision was made to grant benefits for a hearing loss to a veteran. It put more weight on the VA audiology exam and less use of the service medical records to decide a favorable decision.
This makes it easier to a get a VA examination. As an example: the vet who called me claiming that he had lost his hearing from sitting too close to air conditioners in a computer bunker during Regan’s secret war in Central America would likely get one. He admitted that his service medical records did not document any hearing loss, but he was sure that his time inHonduras is why he is hard of hearing. All he has to do is request a VA audiology examination with an audiologist’s opinion as to the cause of the hearing loss if any.
The audiology exam used by the VA is a standard two part examination that has a series of tests. Each test uses various methods to measure the amount of sound the veteran can hear by air conduction and bone conduction. One part of the test that is very important is the “speech discrimination” portion. Another test compensates for any ringing in a vet’s ears. Each of the tests overlap each other’s properties and corroborate each other.
In other words, the audiology examination is thorough and paints a very good picture of any hearing disability. I can say this because of all the exams I have had to go through and because I used the information from these exams to make rating decisions.
The measurements the hearing examiner gets from the testing is sent to the Regional Office and consists first of a word discrimination test or the amount of words that you can repeat back to the audiologist correctly; then how much is heard at standard frequencies within the range of normal speech. The numbers gained from these tests are as objective as medical science can make them.
The results are sent to the Rating Board where they are put into a computer. Remember this point: the rating percentage for hearing loss is computer generated to eliminate human error.
The computer/rating decision as written in VA law is such that unless you fail to hear an atomic bomb go off behind you, there is likely no level of compensation awarded. You may receive the status of service connection for a hearing loss, but at zero percent. This is because it is felt that a mild to significant hearing loss is not much of a disability when it can be corrected by a hearing-aid.
However ear damage resulting in the loss of speech recognition is more problematic because it cannot be corrected easily, if at all. Thus loss of speech recognition is the driving issue behind the rating decision, not the loss of hearing. This works out to the simple scenario that fits most of us; we can still recognize 90% of the words though we are stone deaf. That is just the way the law is.
A common and separate hearing disability is tinnitus, an abnormal noise heard in one or both of the ears. Many vets make the mistake of claiming service connection of tinnitus in the left and right ear expecting a greater rating percentage. Medical research continues to show that tinnitus no matter where it heard is a single issue and thus it receives only one rating, ten percent, nothing more, nothing less.
Can you fake a hearing test and defraud the VA? Maybe. Can you get away with it for long? No.
Miracles are reported to the Regional Office for follow-up and failure to show for future exams can result in loss of benefits. And… it will hurt your credibility with the VA for the rest of your life. On the other side of the coin, hearing damage can also be a symptom of something else, such as a brain concussion. So work with the experts, they are learning more and more each year.