Getting Veterans Disability Compensation for Vision or Hearing Loss

Here's how the VA tests and rates vision and hearing loss caused by military service.

By , J.D., The Colleges of Law

Tinnitus—ringing in the ears—and hearing loss are quite common among veterans. Other veterans may suffer loss of vision or other eye-related problems. Once you've established that your eye and ear problems are service-connected, the VA will assign you a disability rating for your tinnitus (or other hearing loss or vision loss).

You can establish a service connection with:

  • a current diagnosis of a hearing or vision condition
  • evidence of an event in service that caused the condition, and
  • a medical opinion linking the current hearing loss or vision loss to the event in service.

Hearing and vision loss can have a significant impact on a veteran's quality of life, and your VA tinnitus disability rating should reflect that.

Getting a Tinnitus VA Disability Rating

Tinnitus can be caused by age-related hearing loss, earwax buildup, ear infections, or certain medications. But the most common cause of tinnitus in veterans is exposure to very loud noises during service, causing trauma to the ear.

What Is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is typically a noise that sounds like buzzing, hissing, or ringing in your ears, even though no external noise is present. These noises can be temporary or chronic, and can affect one or both ears at a time. The pitch of tinnitus also varies from person to person. Some describe their tinnitus as a low roar, while others experience a high squeal or whining sound.

Tinnitus doesn't have a cure, but veterans can sometimes manage their tinnitus with treatment such as:

  • sound therapy (using white noise machines, listening to nature sounds, or playing background music)
  • coping strategies (avoiding stress that can exacerbate tinnitus)
  • medications
  • lifestyle changes (limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption, getting enough sleep), and
  • relaxation techniques (such as yoga and meditation).

Establishing a Service Connection for Tinnitus

Military service members are often exposed to high levels of noise from firearms, explosives, heavy machinery, and aircraft. Exposure to loud noise over a prolonged period of time can cause damage to the inner ear, which can result in tinnitus.

To establish a direct service connection for tinnitus, the veteran must provide evidence that their condition is related to their military service, such as medical records showing a diagnosis of tinnitus and evidence of noise exposure during military service. For example, one veteran who served in a combat zone may develop tinnitus from exposure to gunfire, while another veteran who conducted aircraft maintenance may develop tinnitus as a result of working near loud machinery.

VA Disability Ratings for Tinnitus and Hearing Loss

The VA uses the Schedule of Ratings Disabilities (Section 4.87, diagnostic codes 6200 to 6260) to rate hearing loss due to military service. Tinnitus is one of the most common VA disability ratings, but you can get a disability rating for other, related hearing loss impairments as well.

What Is the VA Rating for Tinnitus?

The only rating available for tinnitus is 10%. A 10% rating will be assigned whether you have tinnitus symptoms in one ear or in both ears, so you won't receive a 20% rating due to tinnitus in both ears.

But note that this 10% can be increased if you ask the VA to combine your tinnitus condition with another ear-related condition, such as the following:

  • Ear cancer entitles a veteran to a 100% rating for six months following the end of cancer treatment.
  • Peripheral vestibular disorders are inner ear problems that cause dizziness. The VA rates these at 10% for occasional dizziness or 30% if you also sometimes stagger.
  • Loss of one or both ears (auricles) entitles a veteran to a 30% disability rating for loss of one ear or 50% for loss of both.
  • Perforated eardrums only have an available rating of 0%, which doesn't pay any disability compensation, but can qualify you for priority health care and other VA benefits.

You can see the schedule of ratings for ear disorders that can be combined with tinnitus here.

Testing Requirements for Tinnitus and Hearing Loss

The VA requires that service-connected hearing loss must be diagnosed by a licensed audiologist and must include two tests:

  • a Maryland CNC test (measures speech recognition ability), and
  • a pure-tone audiometric test (used to evaluate your level of hearing loss).

Make sure to tell your audiologist that you need both tests in order to satisfy the VA's requirements for service connection. And be sure to remove any hearing aids you may have before being tested.

The VA will take your auditory test results and, using a numerical formula, determine the amount of your hearing loss. You can learn more about the formula in Section 4.85 of the Code of Federal Regulations. (Please note this link requires a PDF viewer.) Most VA ratings for hearing loss or tinnitus are 0% or 10%, but additional severe or profound hearing loss can qualify for a higher rating.

If you don't suffer from tinnitus or hearing loss until many years after leaving the service, don't assume that you'll be denied benefits just because of your age. As long as you can show that you were exposed to loud noises during service, you may still be able to establish service connection for your hearing loss.

Disability Ratings for Vision Loss

Vision loss claims are rated according to the VA Schedule of Ratings Disabilities under Section 4.97, diagnostic codes 6000 to 6091. You can receive disability compensation for visual impairments including:

  • blurry vision
  • loss of sight
  • double vision
  • loss of peripheral vision, and
  • loss of light perception.

Vision loss is especially common among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Loss of central or peripheral vision won't be immediately apparent, because the same blasts that cause TBI can also impact the inside of the eye. It can be a year to three years after ocular trauma before a veteran may begin to have vision loss.

Eye injuries are rated based on how clearly you can see, how much you can see with your peripheral vision (the visual field), and muscle function (how well each eye can move). In some cases, vision issues can include hallucinations. Veterans may continue to see well but have problems including double vision, sensitivity to light, poor balance, and headaches.

The VA requires that veterans be examined by a licensed optometrist or ophthalmologist using either Goldmann kinetic or automated perimetry (vision test). Make sure to ask your eye examiner to include a Goldmann chart with the examination report, and that they identify the disease or injury that caused the eye impairment (to establish service connection.)

Special Monthly Compensation for Severe Hearing or Vision Loss

If you're eligible for service-connected disability compensation and you have entirely lost the use of at least one eye or are deaf in both ears, you're entitled to an additional monthly cash benefit called special compensation. (Note that if you're deaf in only one ear, you can't qualify for this benefit.)

How to Get a VA Disability Rating for Tinnitus, Hearing Loss, or Vision Loss

You can apply for disability benefits by calling your VA regional office or by going online and filling out an Application for Veterans Compensation and/or Pension. To learn more about the application process, read Nolo's article on applying for VA disability benefits.

Updated April 14, 2023

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