Hearing testing in the U.S. Department of Defense: Potential impact on Veterans Affairs hearing loss disability awards
Hearing loss is the second most common disability awarded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to former members of the U.S. uniformed services. Hearing readiness and conservation practices differ among the four largest uniformed military services (Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy). Utilizing a data set consisting of all hearing loss claims submitted to the VA from fiscal years 2003–2013, we examined characteristics of veterans submitting claims within one year of separation from military service. Our results indicate that having a hearing loss disability claim granted was significantly more likely for men, individuals over the age of 26 years at the time of the claim, individuals most recently serving in the U.S. Army, and those with at least one hearing loss diagnosis. Importantly, individuals with at least one test record in the Defense Occupational and Environmental Health Readiness System-Hearing Conservation (DOEHRS-HC) system were significantly less likely to have a hearing loss disability claim granted by the VA. Within the DOEHRS-HC cohort, those with at least one threshold shift or clinical hearing loss diagnosis while on active duty were more than two and three times more likely to have a hearing loss disability claim granted, respectively. These findings indicate that an established history of reduced hearing ability while on active duty was associated with a significantly increased likelihood of an approved hearing loss disability claim relative to VA claims without such a history. Further, our results show a persistent decreased rate of hearing loss disability awards overall. These findings support increased inclusion of personnel in DoD hearing readiness and conservation programs to reduce VA hearing loss disability awards.