If you have served in the United States Military, we are grateful for your time and service to our families, communities and the strength and security of our nation. However, now that the glory of service is behind you, you may be left with more than just the honor of serving your country. Active military personnel and veterans are at a disproportionate risk for hearing loss and tinnitus. In fact, both hearing loss and tinnitus are the most common disability claims filed by United States veterans. In 2020 alone, over 1.3 million veterans received disability benefits for hearing loss and another 2.3 million filed claims linked to tinnitus.

Understanding Hearing Loss and Tinnitus

If you’ve ever heard a buzzing in your ears which seems to be coming from no external source, this is tinnitus. It may seem harmless as it comes and goes, but it signals hearing damage which cannot be undone. In addition, in around 20 million reported cases in the US, people describe their tinnitus as bothersome, interrupting daily activities, while around 2 million describe their tinnitus as so distracting that it is debilitating. 

Meanwhile hearing loss might similarly seem like a benign issue, when in fact, over time it erodes communication and relationships at home, work and everywhere you go. This affects self-confidence, mobility, safety, the ability to earn at work, and even affects cognitive ability. 

Connecting Military Service and Hearing Loss

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that those who have served in the US Military are 30% more likely to have severe hearing loss. This is hardly a condition you deserve for your service and protection of our country. Part of the issue is the number of loud sounds you are exposed to while in training and combat. 

While we can hear sounds indefinitely below a safe listening threshold of 85 decibels (dBA) past that point you start to run the risk of hearing loss. While we can listen to 85 dBA for 8 hours before irreparable damage begins to your inner ear, as the decibels rise the time it takes decreases. For every three increments in decibels the exposure time is cut in half. For instance, at 88 dBA, it only takes four hours of constant exposure. By the time sounds reach 100 dBA and more it only takes minutes for your hearing to be affected permanently. However, in the military you may be exposed regularly to the following sounds day after day. This includes:  

  • Ambulance siren: 85 dBA
  • Helicopter: 105 dBA
  • Jet engine: 140 dBA
  • M-16: 130-150 dBA
  • Pistol fire: 157 dBA
  • Anti-tank missile: 166 dBA
  • Anti-tank gun: 182 dBA
  • Heavy artillery: 185 dBA

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL)

By far one of the most common causes of hearing loss, it causes audio vibrations loud enough to damage the tiny hair-like cells within the inner ear. These cells are called stereocilia and are the sole delivery system which converts sound from soundwaves into electrical impulses which can be read by the brain. While ears are the collector of sound, we can only follow conversation and recognize sound when it can reach the brain. 

Treatment Options

It’s often difficult to self-diagnose hearing loss as it can creep up over time. However if you have tinnitus and you are a veteran, it is likely that you have hearing loss as well. While not everyone with hearing loss has tinnitus, around 90 percent of those with tinnitus also have hearing loss. Ignoring your hearing loss and tinnitus is not a good idea as we listen to connect to others and the world. Sadly around 58% of veterans who have tinnitus were also diagnosed with anxiety and depression. The first step, if you suspect you have tinnitus and hearing loss is to schedule a hearing exam.

Claiming VA Disability for Hearing Loss

The good news is that VA disability can cover your costs connected to hearing loss and tinnitus, but the difficult part is proving and establishing that your hearing condition occurred while on active duty. In addition, you’ll need the results of a pure-tone audiometry and speech discrimination tests from a state-certified audiologist which are based on a disability rating of zero to 10 percent based on your test results. The good news is that we are here to help you navigate all of this. Contact us today to set up an appointment.