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Hearing Loss VA Rating System Explained

March 20, 2024
Amy Sarow, AuD, CCC-A
Written by
Amy Sarow, AuD, CCC-A
Amy Sarow, AuD, CCC-A

Dr. Amy Sarow is a practicing clinical audiologist and serves as Audiology Lead for Soundly. Her expertise and experience span topics including tinnitus, cochlear implants, hearing aid technology, and hearing testing. She holds a doctoral degree in audiology from the University of Iowa. During her residency at Mayo Clinic, Dr. Sarow was inspired by the three-tiered, patient-centered approach, incorporating clinical work, teaching and research.

Soundly Staff
Reviewed by
Soundly Staff
Soundly Staff

Soundly conducts in-depth research to guide prospective hearing aid wearers. Our work is funded through reader support. When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission.

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As we honor those who've served our nation, it's critical to ensure our veterans are armed with information about the range of benefits available to them. At the intersection of service and health, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) delivers a comprehensive program of benefits to veterans who are found to have disabilities connected to their service. For many, hearing loss is a silent, but potentially service-connected, injury.

This post will be your field guide as we traverse the intricate terrain of VA Disability Ratings for hearing loss and tinnitus. One important point to note here is that a disability exam is specifically for determining whether a medical condition is service-related and whether compensation will be awarded. In other words, there is not treatment (e.g., hearing aids) done at this appointment.

As an audiologist who’s worked extensively within the veteran space, I’ll share detailed insights into the VA rating process, what to expect during your Military Disability Examination (MDE), and the nuances that can make all the difference in your claim.

Does hearing loss mean a VA disability?

If your hearing loss can be linked to your military service, you may be eligible for disability compensation. The service connection could be either direct (hearing loss develops during active duty) will actively servicing or a National Guard member who is deployed and incurs hearing loss during active duty military service.

If these conditions affect your daily life, it's important to seek documentation and file a claim. VA disability compensation is meant to provide benefits to veterans who are left with health consequences as a result of their service-connected disabilities.

Hearing loss is among the most common military service-related disabilities due to the constant exposure to loud noises, from firearms to aircraft. But merely experiencing hearing loss does not automatically qualify one for VA disability compensation or benefits (i.e., VA medical coverage). The key is demonstrating the service connection to active military service. That is where an MDE exam comes in.

What happens during an MDE exam?

Starting The Process

  • The VA claims process typically begins with a veteran filing a claim either themselves or through an attorney, claims agent, or Veteran Service Officer (VSO). 
  • An MDE appointment is then scheduled and the veteran is notified via a FedEx document and a phone call, providing them with the information about when and where the appointment will take place. In most cases, the exams will take place within 100 miles of the vet's location. Mileage will be reimbursed by the VA for the veteran's travel to this location. 
  • The appointments are conducted by an audiologist at a VA hospital or an authorized private clinic. The examiner will review your military medical records and service history to assess the direct and secondary connection of your condition to your service.

The MDE Exam Process

The MDE itself will primarily involve a comprehensive examination of your hearing as well as some questions regarding your noise exposure, military service, and occupational history. Audiometric testing, which assesses your hearing ability at various frequencies, and speech testing are the primary testing utilized during this evaluation. 

MDE Results

It is essential to note that the examiner will not review the test results with you. The VA receives the medical opinion and test results following the exam, and then the VA determines the VA disability rating. 

The results will usually be mailed to the veteran within 4-6 weeks, but this may vary based on various factors.

Will I get hearing aids during my visit?

No, there won't be any hearing aids at this visit. It can seem confusing going through the disability evaluation process, as the VA separates disability evaluations from treatment evaluations. You might be asking, why not? Well, the MDE exam is a non-treatment exam, which determines whether a hearing loss exists and whether it directly relates to military service.

Treatment and disability benefits (including compensation) are two separate systems. If the VA awards a disability rating following an MDE exam, the service connection may then qualify the veteran for medical treatment in the VA system. However, that will mean that the veteran will go through another hearing evaluation appointment prior to receiving their hearing aids. 

How does the VA determine hearing loss disability?

A VA disability rating system places each service-connected disability in a category, often based on the degree of interference in your daily life. For hearing loss, these categories range from 0% to 100% disability. Veterans sometimes ask how it can be that they have a 0% VA disability rating for hearing loss. Essentially what this rating means, is that the VA acknowledges a hearing loss occurred as a result of military service and that the veteran is service connected for hearing loss, but it does not currently meet the VA’s definition of day-to-day impact to qualify for disability compensation (i.e., a non-compensable disability).

Understanding how the VA classifies hearing loss based on audiometric test results is not straightforward. The VA considers the frequency and severity of your hearing loss, speech test results, and nexus to direct military service when assessing your claim.

To determine a rating, the VA uses a chart, measuring the pure tone average from each ear (the average of your 1000, 2000, 3000, and 4000 Hz thresholds on the audiogram) and speech test percentage from each ear.

Hearing Loss VA Rating Chart

What is the maximum disability for hearing loss?

Disability ratings are generally between 0 and 100 percent, reflecting the impairment's impact on the veteran's earning capacity. For hearing loss, the rating will be influenced by the average decibel loss in the speech frequencies and word recognition percentages from the speech testing for each ear.

If an individual has normal hearing or there is evidence that hearing loss occurred after active military service, there will be no VA disability rating assigned. A hearing loss rated at 0% establishes a service connection (potentially resulting in VA hearing aid benefits), reflects hearing loss occurred during military service, but will not meet criteria for disability compensation.

At the other end of the spectrum, a 100% rating denotes severe to profound hearing loss that occurred as a result of service. If you have exams for other medical conditions, the combined VA disability rating will be factored together for your total VA disability rating. The maximum compensation for 100% disability is $3737.85 per month. This tool is useful to determine your compensation, depending on your total disability.

What about disability for tinnitus?

While tinnitus doesn't always involve diagnosable hearing loss, it can significantly impact your life. The VA recognizes this, and today tinnitus is one of the most common VA disabilities. The maximum level of the rating for tinnitus is 10%. To determine the appropriate rating, the VA examiner will assess the frequency, duration, and severity of your symptoms.

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Final Thoughts

Filing a VA disability claim for hearing loss or tinnitus may seem daunting, but it's a process grounded in respect and care for the sacrifices our nation's veterans have made. Understanding the intricacies and importance of each step can make all the difference in ensuring those who've served receive the benefits they deserve.

If you're a veteran grappling with these issues, I strongly encourage you to seek expert advice from VA-accredited representatives, service officers, or qualified attorneys specializing in VA law. These professionals can offer invaluable support navigating the complex VA disability claim process.

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