WASHINGTON, D.C. — On February 1st, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) introduced legislation to reduce the red tape many veterans face when trying to get care for hearing loss as a result of their military service—something many veterans say is an enormous burden despite being the most common service-connected ailment.
Sen. Smith heard about this problem through her office’s veterans’ health care tour, which visited some 10 communities throughout Minnesota to hear what health challenges veterans are facing.
“If you’ve served our country and experienced a health-related issue because of it, it’s our job to take care of you. That’s the agreement for the men and women who serve in our military. When I realized how widespread hearing loss is among veterans, and heard from Minnesotans about how many hoops they have to jump through to access care, it was clear this needed to be fixed. I’ve introduced this bill to make sure veterans get the care they deserve.”
–Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn)
Currently, veterans receiving benefits through the VA must document hearing loss or tinnitus incurred while in the line of duty in order to qualify for benefits when seeking treatment for these conditions.
However, many veterans are not diagnosed until after they are discharged. This places a significant burden on veterans to prove that their hearing loss or tinnitus is the result of their time in the military.
Hearing Loss and Tinnitus Common Among Veterans
Sen. Smith’s legislation—the Veterans Hearing Benefit Act of 2022—would provide presumption for hearing loss and tinnitus to veterans who served in combat or in a military specialty where they were exposed to repeated loud noises, such as those who worked around heavy artillery, thus “making it easier for veterans to establish service-connection and get the benefits they’ve earned”.
The Veterans Hearing Benefits Act of 2022 would also amend the Schedule for Rating Disabilities to provide a minimum compensable evaluation for any service-connected hearing loss for which a hearing aid is medically required.
In 2018, Sen. Smith tasked her staff with traveling across the state as part of her “Veterans Listening Tour” to hear about the challenges veterans face in securing benefits, and to explain how her office can advocate on their behalf. In these meetings, Minnesota veterans repeatedly brought up having trouble receiving coverage for hearing loss. In addition to her legislation introduced today, Sen. Smith has pressed for legislation to help veterans gain access to employment and childcare benefits, as well as measures that would address homelessness among veterans and would increase medical research that impact veterans’ health.