Are you a U.S. veteran struggling with hearing loss or tinnitus? You're not alone. Annually, about one million veterans receive disability compensation for hearing loss and ringing in the ears.
In fact, because of routine exposure to loud noise in active combat and other on-the-job activities, hearing loss and tinnitus are the most prevalent service-related injuries that disable veterans, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
To help veterans coping with hearing loss or related disorders like tinnitus, the VA offers two main services:
Are you eligible for hearing aids from the VA?
To receive hearing aids or similar devices (such as a cochlear implant), you first must qualify for VA health benefits. Once enrolled, veterans can seek out benefits for hearing tests, examinations and hearing aids. To begin this process, veterans should apply for enrollment online or by calling 1-877-222-VETS or visiting a local VA healthcare facility or regional office.
Once you are approved
Once approved for VA health care benefits, all Veterans "shall receive a hearing evaluation by a state-licensed audiologist to determine the need for hearing aids," according to the VA's 2014 directive for eye and ear care. However, not every veteran will necessarily receive hearing aids. As the directive explains (page 1-2), the following veterans are most likely to receive hearing aid care are:
Page 3 of the directive further explains what levels of hearing loss meets the criteria for an audiologist to prescribe hearing aids in this group.
In some cases, a veteran will not qualify for any hearing care benefits, or will have to pay co-pays. For additional information regarding hearing aid coverage through the VA, contact a representative at the nearest VA medical center to begin hearing loss treatment discussions.
Information on signing up for benefits, ordering hearing batteries, wax guards and other accessories is also found on the VA Health Care's Hearing Aids page.
VA disability for hearing loss
If you experienced hearing loss or another auditory problem as a result of service in the U.S. military, you also may be eligible for disability compensation. To find out more, visit VA disability compensation.
Can you see a local provider?
Thanks to the MISSION Act of 2018, veterans now have greater access to hearing care providers in their local community. VA Community Care, as its known, may be available to you if you live too far from a VA clinic, or if there is a long waiting time to get an appointment at the closest VA facility. This welcome kit provides more detailed information. Increasingly, the VA is also offering teleaudiology for veterans who can't travel far.
Veterans and auditory processing disorder
If you've taken a hearing test and been told you have normal hearing—but still struggle to understand speech—you may have what's known as auditory processing disorder. VA researchers discovered that auditory processing disorder is often linked to blast exposure.
Veterans and tinnitus
Tinnitus is a common problem among veterans. If you have ringing in the ears, you may qualify for hearing care, disability payments, and the VA's progressive tinnitus management program. Those interested should contact their local VA office for more information. Tinnitus has no known cure, but several techniques can be used to help sufferers acclimate to the sound and manage their reactions to flare-ups.
Preventing hearing loss in today's military
Veterans over 65—especially those who spent an extended amount of time deployed in combat zones—are at nearly twice the risk of developing severe hearing loss compared to their peers.
Current service members can protect themselves against future hearing loss by following these protective measures: