Hearing Loss, Tinnitus, and VA Benefits

By Barry Keate
Barry Keate, has lived with tinnitus over 40 years and has published 150+ research articles on numerous aspects of tinnitus. He is an expert on the condition and a well-known advocate for those with tinnitus.

Hearing Loss, Tinnitus, and VA Benefits

(freepik/Freepik)

The brave men and women who serve in the armed forces often pay a price for their service that lasts far longer than their time serving their country. While many disabilities experienced by veterans are visible, some are not.

These invisible disabilities present a significant challenge both for the service member and their loved ones. The most common disability among vets is tinnitus. Why tinnitus and what can military veterans with the condition do to improve their quality of life? Let’s take a deeper dive into the connection between military service and tinnitus.

Veterans and Tinnitus

The ringing, popping, rushing, chiming sound in your ears can have a multitude of causes. You should see your doctor to rule out treatable underlying diseases. However, veterans often get tinnitus because their jobs in the armed forces were in loud environments, they had head injuries, or they were exposed to sudden percussive sounds like gunfire and explosions.

Sustained loud or percussive noises can damage the ear, leading to hearing loss. It can also cause the little hair-like nerves in the inner ear to misfire, sending constant signals your brain interprets as sound even without outside stimulus.

For some people, tinnitus is just an annoyance they can ignore. For others, the sound is so disruptive they can’t sleep, concentrate at work, or focus on conversations. It can cause anxiety, depression, and even suicidal ideation.

Tinnitus can also increase symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Your brain tries to compensate for the disruptive sounds and essentially turns up the volume so you can hear past the tinnitus. Unfortunately, this also increases the startle response to loud noises, which can trigger PTSD episodes.

Tinnitus and Disability

Tinnitus is the number one complaint among veterans. For years, vets have worked in ship engine rooms, on flight decks while jets landed and took off, inside helicopters, and on firing ranges. Many have been close to or directly impacted by explosions. Years of excessive noise have left veterans struggling to hear and function in their daily lives.

The good news is that tinnitus is a recognized disability, and those with it may be eligible for benefits. The maximum VA rating is 10% for tinnitus, whether it’s for one or both ears.

(Note: If you wore 3M military ear plugs between 2003 and 2015, there’s also a faulty equipment lawsuit as they allegedly knowingly sent out equipment that didn’t work as advertised. You may want to consult an attorney if you fall into this category.)

Because tinnitus is the most commonly claimed disability and there can be many causes, it makes sense that they look at these claims more carefully. You’ll want to gather the following before filing for VA benefits:

  • Evidence of diminished hearing: You can get tested at the VA or get it done through your own hearing specialist. Include the report with your claim.
  • Documentation showing the link between your service and hearing loss: Your doctor can provide a nexus letter indicating how your time in the service was directly responsible for your hearing loss. You worked in an excessively noisy environment, received head trauma, were involved in an explosion, etc. You can also include “Buddy Letters,” which are testimonials from men you served with about the working conditions that might have led to hearing loss.

Managing Symptoms

While receiving benefits is helpful, we understand that living with the condition and managing your symptoms is the true battle. There are things you can do to manage symptoms so it doesn’t interfere as much with your daily activities. Not all techniques work for everyone, and it’s really a matter of trying new things until you find the best combination. These options have shown great success overall and are a good place to start.

Nutrition: Tinnitus symptoms are caused or made worse by nutrient deficiencies. Vitamins for tinnitus relief include Vitamin B12 and Zinc.

Herbal supplements for tinnitus: People have found relief using high-grade ginkgo biloba for tinnitus as it helps nerve conductivity and regeneration.

Masking: Some people find introducing another constant noise, like white noise or music, can make them less sensitive to their tinnitus symptoms. For some, it just adds to their discomfort. Try a few masking options to see if they work for you.

Relaxation Exercises: Tinnitus gets worse with stress, so learning to control the stress response can relieve your symptoms. Deep, slow breathing is the quickest solution. You can also try meditative movements like yoga, mindfulness exercises, head and neck massage, working out, and spending time with animals for emotional support.

Technical Support: There are custom-fit hearing aids that help minimize tinnitus while amplifying noises you want to hear, like a conversation in a crowded room.

Final Words

For those who have lost their hearing while protecting and defending the nation, VA benefits are available. Don’t let tinnitus interfere with the rest of your life. Your tinnitus symptoms are manageable with a little trial and error and the proper nutrition. We thank you for your service and your sacrifice.

Infographic

Tinnitus is a common complaint among veterans. Managing the condition and symptoms is a challenge, but there are ways to minimize interference with daily activities. Have a look at some tips on tinnitus management in this infographic.

5 Tinnitus Management Tips Infographic