A few weeks ago, I visited with a friend from the Chicago area. He was a military policeman in Vietnam and is now a veterans service officer for his Veterans of Foreign Wars post. He assists veterans in filing claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

I told him that the DVA Veterans Benefits Administration recently rated me as 50 percent disabled due to service-connected hearing loss. He was shocked to hear of this rating.

“I thought the most that one could get was 10 percent,” he said.

In fact, the maximum is 100 percent.

Veterans often do not know what benefits they may obtain from the VA. There is only one way to find out. Veterans must file claims with the VA and let the VA decide the merits of the claims.

About 15 years ago, I filed a claim with the VA for hearing loss and tinnitus. Tinnitus is sometimes described as ringing in the ears. The VA sent me to an audiologist for testing. After reviewing the test results, the VA rated me at zero percent disability for hearing loss and 10 percent disability for tinnitus. Both disabilities were determined to be connected to my military service.

A few months ago, I filed another claim for hearing loss, and the VA sent me for a new hearing test. The result of that test was my rating of 50 percent disability. My hearing worsened over the years, so my disability rating was increased.

Many veterans never ask the VA for an evaluation of an existing service-connected disability. But if a condition has worsened, the VA may increase the disability rating. If so, this likely will increase the monthly disability compensation awarded to the veteran.

Veterans may file a claim for disability for an injury or illness that was caused by, aggravated by or began during military service. The condition must exist at the time of the claim filing. It is not necessary for the illness or injury to be noted in military medical records, but these records greatly increase the prospects of a favorable decision by the VA. 

There is no time limit as to when the initial claim must be filed. The award of disability compensation is only retroactive to the date of the filing of the claim. It is not retroactive to the time of the injury or illness.

Once the VA rates a veteran with a service-connected disability, the VA will treat that disability at no cost to the veteran. This is in addition to any award of disability compensation. Veterans with service-connected hearing loss can obtain hearing aids from the VA at no cost to the veterans.

My hearing loss occurred at Fort Knox, Kentucky, almost 50 years ago. I did not file for hearing loss until 15 years ago. A veteran acquaintance once told me that the VA did not award disability for hearing loss. 

He said that it would be a waste of time for me to file a claim. But I finally did file a claim. And I found that the information I had believed for many years was not true.

Veterans who have valid evidence that they have a current medical condition connected to military service should file a claim and let the VA decide the outcome. Assistance may be obtained from a Veterans County Service Officer or from a volunteer service officer with a local veterans organization.

Gary Noller is commander of the Cpl. Jacob C. Leicht AMVETS Post 1000 in Kerrville. He can be reached at gnoller@aol.com.


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