The Department of Veterans Affairs is the largest purchaser and distributor of hearing aids in the United States.
If you’re a veteran who has sustained a hearing loss, your ability to get hearing aids through the VA is very likely, although it is never guaranteed.
We’ll talk about what hearing loss means, the degrees of hearing loss that require hearing aids, and how to ensure you receive your VA benefits for hearing health care.
What Is Hearing Loss?
Your ability to hear rests on the functionality of the parts of your ear. Your ear has three parts that work together to help your brain interpret sound waves as the sounds you hear.
- Outer ear. The outer ear includes the visible part called the pinna and ear canal.
- Middle ear. The middle ear is home to the eardrum and the three small bones of the ear: the malleus, incus, and stapes.
- Inner ear. Inside the inner ear are the fluid-filled cochlea, the semicircular canals, and the auditory nerve. Tiny hair cells inside the cochlea help turn sound waves into electrical signals that the auditory nerve later delivers to the brain.
Hearing loss occurs when any of these structures are damaged or destroyed, and your hearing ability is weakened or completely lost.
Hearing loss can occur suddenly due to impulse noise or injury, or gradually over time.
Types of Hearing Loss
There are two main types of hearing loss.
- Sensorineural hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss results from damage to the structures of the inner ear. Age-related hearing loss, called presbycusis, is a form of sensorineural hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss often occurs due to long-term exposure to loud noise. The tiny hair cells inside the cochlea become damaged or destroyed, and a portion of your hearing is lost.
- Conductive hearing loss. Hearing loss is conductive when the outer or middle ear structures are damaged. This often happens due to injury or trauma and can also be caused by genetic abnormalities.
You can experience hearing loss unilaterally, in just one ear, or bilaterally, in both ears.
The level of hearing loss you have will determine whether or not you need assistive listening devices or hearing aids.
What Are the Degrees of Hearing Loss?
Sound uses decibels. A person with hearing loss has lost their ability to hear sounds under certain decibels.
For instance, a person with normal hearing can hear sounds that range from -15 to 25 decibels.
A person with mild hearing loss can’t hear a sound until it reaches at least 26 decibels.
Audiologists and hearing professionals recognize five degrees of hearing loss.
Mild Hearing Loss
For people with mild hearing loss, sounds must reach 26 to 40 decibels before they hear them.
You may have mild hearing loss if you have difficulty hearing soft-spoken people, children, or higher pitches.
Moderate Hearing Loss
The inability to hear sound below 41 to 50 decibels is moderate hearing loss.
This can make it hard to hear conversations, especially in a noisy environment with lots of background noise. You may also be unable to hear certain consonants, like F, S, or H.
Moderately Severe Hearing Loss
This hearing loss makes it hard for you to hear anyone speaking and can inhibit your ability to hear certain other sounds, like dishwashers or microwaves.
People with moderately severe hearing loss have lost the ability to hear sound under 56 to 70 decibels.
Severe Hearing Loss
At this level of hearing loss, you can no longer hear someone speaking in front of you.
Sounds like fire alarms and jet engines become muffled. Sound must reach 71 to 90 decibels before you can hear them.
Profound Hearing Loss
In audiology, profound hearing loss is usually considered total deafness.
Without a hearing device, you can no longer hear sounds under 91 decibels, which means you can’t hear alarms, machinery, or other sounds that could impact your ability to stay safe.
What Are the Symptoms of Hearing Loss?
You may not realize you’ve lost your hearing, as hearing loss can be gradual. Symptoms of hearing loss can include:
- Asking others to speak up or repeat themselves
- Turning up the volume on the television or radio
- Avoiding social situations where you feel you might not be able to hear people
- Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears
- Feeling like people are mumbling or that sound is muffled
- Having a feeling like there is something lodged in your ear
- Becoming depressed or feeling isolated
If you suspect you’re losing your hearing, you can be tested to determine the type and degree of hearing loss.
Diagnosing Hearing Loss With the VA
There are two ways you may be able to receive hearing aids if you are a veteran: through VA health benefits or VA disability compensation.
Before you can get the hearing assistance you need, you’ll need to apply and qualify for VA healthcare. You can apply online or visit a VA facility for veteran benefits.
Once your eligibility has been approved, you begin with a hearing test.
The VA requires that a state-licensed audiologist administer your hearing test and that a determination be made as to whether or not you need hearing aids — this is typically done at a VA hospital or community-based outpatient clinic (CBOC).
Your hearing test will likely include an audiogram that shows how many decibels of sound you can no longer hear. Your audiologist will base your hearing loss degree on this test's results.
Three Things To Remember for Veterans Hearing Aids
Your local VA is a good source of information concerning hearing aids and all other VA benefits.
When a veteran has a hearing impairment requiring hearing aids, you’ll need to keep a few things in mind to ensure that getting your hearing aids is easy.
1. You May Not Qualify
Not every veteran who is eligible for VA enrollment will receive hearing aids.
Former prisoners of war, recipients of the Purple Heart award, and military veterans with service-related hearing loss are most likely to qualify.
2. You May Have To Pay a Copay
Not all military personnel are eligible for free hearing aids.
You must meet certain criteria for hearing aids to be distributed for free. In some cases, you may qualify for lower-cost hearing aids.
3. It’s Not Just About Hearing Loss
Tinnitus is a common auditory disorder among retired service members and affects many aspects of daily living.
This condition may qualify you for hearing care benefits through the VA. A hearing evaluation performed by an audiologist is needed to determine if you have tinnitus.
Hearing Loss Prevention
The best way to ensure you keep the hearing you have.
Prevention means making smart choices regarding situations that could negatively impact your hearing.
Wearing hearing protection, keeping the volume low, and having regular hearing tests can ensure you keep your ears protected.
For more information on medical treatment options for hearing loss and tips for practicing healthy hearing, check out the USA Rx Hearing Loss Info Hub.
You’ll also find information about other hearing loss treatment options and learn more about how hearing works and how it is lost.
Good luck, and thank you for your service!