Working with an experienced disability attorney will give you the best chance of getting the benefits you deserve for your hearing loss. Even if you have been denied benefits, your chance is not over. Many people are denied benefits the first time they apply. You have the right to file an appeal and try to get more information that may help your case. Getting expert help is often the difference between being denied and being approved for benefits.
While the process can be daunting, your expert disability attorney will be able to guide you through the process. They do not get paid until you win your case. You can seek help without worrying about upfront costs or unexpected bills.
What is Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is an impairment in a person’s ability to hear normally. This impairment can be very mild or result in complete deafness. Since hearing loss is usually gradual, the people suffering from the condition may not realize they have any problems for years. The average length of time from onset of symptoms to diagnosis is seven years. Frequently family members or loved ones notice the impairment before the person with hearing loss recognizes their difficulty hearing. Patients may have difficulty understanding phone conversations, hearing high-pitched noises, and comprehending speech in a noisy room. For those who have sudden-onset hearing loss, they may suddenly not be able to hear at all from one ear.
Hearing loss can be due to aging, injury, medical conditions, or medication. Exposure to loud noises from machinery or gunshots can cause occupational hearing loss. The cause of the hearing loss is vital in determining how best to treat the condition. In many cases, the hearing loss is treatable, especially if it is diagnosed early on. Even if the hearing loss is not reversible, treatment may prevent the condition from worsening. For some patients, their hearing loss is only slightly mitigated by treatment, and the condition may prevent them from normal life activities. For these patients, their severe hearing loss may qualify them for disability benefits.
Because the ability to hear and understand others is essential to communication, those with hearing loss can suffer from isolation and depression. They may not be able to communicate with loved ones, make their wishes known, or seek services in the community. Other means of communication, such as electronic tablets or learning American Sign Language (ASL), can help to bridge that gap.
Diagnosing Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can be first discovered in an exam by a primary care physician, but the condition is best diagnosed by an audiologist or otolaryngologist. These physicians are experts in hearing and hearing impairments. Typically, audiologists see patients with age-related hearing dysfunction and otolaryngologists (otherwise known as Ear-nose-throat doctors) see patients with hearing dysfunction from other causes. Either office can make the diagnosis of hearing loss.
A complete hearing test is needed to make a diagnosis of hearing loss. This includes the diagnostic test of the audiogram, which maps out the threshold where the person can start hearing sound at different frequencies. Besides just making a diagnosis of hearing loss, the hearing test can also tell the physician whether the person can benefit from hearing aids.
It is essential also to determine the cause of the hearing loss once it is diagnosed, particularly if it is not age-related. Questions about medical history, medications, and past occupations are important in determining the possible cause. Blood tests can rule out autoimmune conditions and indicate if the person may have certain tumors. MRIs may be taken to see if tumors or bone growths are the sources of the hearing loss. Some hearing loss is idiopathic, and a root cause is never found.
Treating Hearing Loss
The cause of the condition often determines the treatment of hearing loss. If the cause is medications, switching to another medication may be necessary to prevent further damage. Autoimmune diseases that cause hearing loss can be treated with medications, which may solve the problem. If tumors or bone growths are causing reduced hearing, surgery may be necessary. Age-related and occupational hearing loss is harder to treat, but not impossible.
One of the first treatments for hearing loss is the use of hearing aids, which amplify sounds. Some people require cochlear implants, which directly stimulate the region of the brain that is responsible for hearing. Even with the use of hearing aids and implants, the full restoration of hearing is not always possible. Preventing further damage by avoiding loud noises, eating a healthy diet, and modifying lifestyle to accommodate for some hearing loss are important parts of the treatment plan. Technology such as closed captioning on televisions and assistive telephones can improve the quality of life considerably.
Disability Evaluation of Hearing Loss
Patients with hearing loss may be unable to work because of their disease and its related complications. Patients who find themselves unable to work because of their hearing loss may qualify for Long Term Disability (LTD) benefits. The insurance company will review their claim to see if they qualify under the conditions of that plan.
Definition of Disability
Most LTD plans consider a person disabled if they have a medical condition that causes them to 1) be unable to perform their work duties for the first two years of the policy and 2) be unable to complete the work duties of almost any occupation for the years following the initial 2-year period. Each LTD plan defines disability as slightly different, so look over your plan policy to see how your plan determines “disabled.”
Evaluating Disability for People with Hearing Loss
Patients seeking disability payments for their hearing loss will have to prove that they are impacted in a way that they cannot perform their old job or any job that they could be trained to work. To qualify for disability benefits, the condition must prevent the person from working for a least one full year. They will need a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) assessment that indicates how their symptoms affect and limit their life activities.
As hearing is an integral part of communication, the impact on work can be profound. Hearing loss can be particularly difficult for those in careers that require a lot of face-to-face and telephone conversations. Those in workplaces that have safety alarms, such as heavy machinery operators or those working with dangerous chemicals, may not be able to continue working for safety reasons.
What the Insurance Company Needs From You and Your Medical Providers
You should tell the insurance company about any doctor that has treated you for your hearing loss. The insurance company will need to obtain all relevant medical records to get the full picture of your health. These records include office notes, clinical exams, diagnostic tests, and lab results. Hearing tests are particularly vital records to include, both before and after any treatments that were undertaken. If for any reason they cannot get these records from your doctors, you should request them and provide them to the insurance company yourself.
You will need to provide proof of your diagnosis and your ongoing symptoms, as well as proof of how you are affected by your symptoms. Providing detailed documentation is key to a successful claim. Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) assessments determine how you are affected by the condition and what you can do despite your limitations. It is used to determine what jobs you may still be qualified to perform. Make sure that you are as honest as possible with your doctors so that they can complete an accurate RFC for you.
Compare How Social Security Handles Hearing Loss Claims
Although we are primarily talking about private long term disability insurance claims in this article, it is worthwhile to not how the Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates hearing loss claims for comparison. SSA recognizes hearing loss as a disabling condition, but only in cases of severe or profound hearing loss. These claimants may or may not have cochlear implants. For those without cochlear implants, the SSA requires the person to recognize less than 40% of spoken words in a speech recognition test or audiometry test results of 90 decibels or less in their better ear. Those with cochlear implants qualify for the year following the surgery without stipulation and years afterward if they recognize less than 60% of words in a speech recognition test. In cases of mild or moderate hearing loss, the patient may still qualify for disability benefits if they have other disabling conditions.
Working with a Disability Attorney
The Ortiz Law Firm has successfully represented people in disability cases across the United States. If you would like to talk to one of our experienced disability lawyers about your hearing loss and its impact on your ability to work, call us at (888) 321-8131. We would be happy to evaluate your case and to discuss how to help you through the process.