Receiving treatment for hearing loss is a complicated affair for veterans. In order to receive VA benefits for hearing loss, the veteran has to prove that their damaged hearing was sustained during active duty. However, many vets don’t receive a diagnosis for hearing loss or tinnitus—a constant ringing or other phantom noise in one or both ears—until after they have been discharged.
One lawmaker, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn), introduced the Veterans Hearing Benefits Act of 2022 in early February to try and change this bureaucratic struggle.
According to HealthyHearing.com, if passed, the bill legislation would:
- "Provide presumption for hearing loss and tinnitus to veterans who served in combat or in a military specialty where they were exposed to repeated loud noises, such as those who worked around heavy artillery, thus making it easier for veterans to establish service-connection and get the benefits they’ve earned."
- "Amend the Schedule for Rating Disabilities to provide a minimum compensable evaluation for any service connected hearing loss for which a hearing aid is medically required."
In 2016, according to VA statistics, 190,000 veterans were diagnosed with service-connected tinnitus and 103,000 with hearing loss, making hearing loss—not post-traumatic stress disorder—the top medical issue for veterans.
The VA employs more audiologists and speech therapists than any other organization, and in 2020, more than 3.5 million vets received disability payments from the VA for hearing loss or tinnitus.
The suffering caused by hearing loss and hearing damage has been the focus of the largest mass tort in U.S. history. Over 250,000 plaintiffs—mostly U.S. veterans—have filed suit against 3M over the company’s allegedly defective Combat Arms Earplug version 2 (CAEv2).
Most veterans claim that because of an imperceptible design flaw in the earplugs that was not disclosed by 3M, they developed hearing loss or tinnitus while they served in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. Some plaintiffs also allege they sustained damage to their hearing during training exercises on American soil.
To date, 11 military earplug trials have concluded. 3M has lost six verdicts, including the most recent decision, a $110 million award to two U.S. Army veterans.
Hearing loss and tinnitus, if left untreated, can adversely affect the mental health of veterans. In fact, HealthyHearing.com says hearing loss is linked to higher rates of social isolation and dementia, while chronic tinnitus is associated with anxiety and sleep problems.