From the Field StaffBVA Field Service Accessibility Officer Claudia Belk

By Claudia Belk

Many veterans receive benefit information from other veterans. Prior to filing any claim for benefits, it is important to consult a Veterans Service Organization to obtain the correct information.

As a Senior National Field Service Officer with several years of experience helping my fellow blinded veterans, I have learned that one of the most common types of claims we receive are for hearing loss and tinnitus.

Most members of the military are exposed to very noisy conditions that can affect their hearing as veterans as they grow older. We stress that veterans undergoing compensation and pension exams should insist that these exams be performed without their hearing aids.

The need for the exam without hearing aids is confirmed by VA Regulation 38 CFR 4.85(a), Evaluation of Hearing Impairment: “An examination for hearing impairment for VA purposes must be conducted by a state-licensed audiologist and must include a controlled speech discrimination test and a pure tone audiometry test. Examinations will be conducted without the use of hearing aids.”

The key component in this regulation is the testing of a veteran without hearing aids. If the compensation and pension exam has been done with a functioning hearing aid device in the past, we suggest that a re-evaluation be conducted for the hearing loss claim.

Additionally, if veterans are service-connected for both hearing loss and blindness, they may be entitled to a higher level of compensation according to 38 CFR 3.350 for special monthly compensation. These ratings under 38 U.S.C. 1114 (o) are: 1) Bilateral deafness rated at 60 percent or more (the hearing impairment in either one or both ears is service connected) in combination with service-connected blindness with bilateral visual acuity 20/200 or less, and 2) Service-connected total deafness in one ear or bilateral deafness rated at 40 percent or more disabling (the hearing impairment in either one or both ears is service-connected) in combination with service-connected blindness of both eyes having only light perception or less.

Since these regulations are so specific, veterans should naturally be certain that they meet the above criteria on service connection for hearing loss and blindness before filing a claim for such. In addition, we who are working in the BVA Field Service Resource Center are here to help with such issues. We strongly suggest that you contact us at 844-250-5180, or at fieldservice@bva.org.

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