Citation Nr: 18139653
Decision Date: 09/28/18	Archive Date: 09/28/18

DOCKET NO. 14-43 468
DATE:	September 28, 2018
ORDER
Entitlement to service connection for bilateral hearing loss is granted.
Entitlement to service connection for tinnitus is granted.
FINDINGS OF FACT
1. Resolving reasonable doubt in his favor, the Veteran has bilateral hearing loss attributable to his active military service. 
2. Resolving reasonable doubt in his favor, the Veteran has tinnitus attributable to his active military service.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
1. The criteria for service connection for bilateral hearing loss are met. 38 U.S.C. §§ 1110, 5107 (2012); 38 C.F.R. §§ 3.102, 3.159, 3.303, 3.304 (2018).
2. The criteria for service connection for tinnitus are met. 38 U.S.C. §§ 1110, 5107 (2012); 38 C.F.R. §§ 3.102, 3.159, 3.303, 3.304 (2018).
REASONS AND BASES FOR FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS
The Veteran had active service from October 1968 to June 1972.
Service Connection
Service connection may also be granted for any injury or disease diagnosed after service, when all the evidence, including that pertinent to service, establishes that the disease or injury was incurred in service. 38 C.F.R. § 3.303(d). Generally, service connection requires: (1) evidence of a current disability; (2) medical evidence, or in certain circumstances lay testimony, of in-service incurrence or aggravation of an injury or disease; and (3) evidence of a nexus between the current disability and the in-service disease or injury. Hickson v. West, 12 Vet. App. 247 (1999). 
It is not enough that an injury or disease occurred in service; there must be chronic disability resulting from that injury or disease. If there is no showing of a resulting chronic condition during service, then a showing of continuity of symptomatology after service is required to support a finding of chronicity. 38 C.F.R. § 3.303(b). 
For the purposes of applying the laws administered by VA, impaired hearing is considered to be a disability when the auditory threshold in any of the frequencies 500, 1000, 2000, 3000, and 4000 Hertz is 40 decibels or greater; or when the auditory thresholds for at least three of those frequencies are 26 decibels or greater; or when speech recognition scores using the Maryland CNC Test are less than 94 percent. 38 C.F.R. § 3.385 (2017). The Court in Hensley v. Brown, 5 Vet. App. 155 (1993), indicated that 38 C.F.R. § 3.385 does not preclude service connection for a current hearing disability where hearing was within normal limits on audiometric testing at separation from service if there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate a medical relationship between the Veteran’s in-service exposure to loud noise and current disability.
1. Entitlement to service connection for bilateral hearing loss.
2. Entitlement to service connection for tinnitus.
Here, the Veteran contends that his current hearing loss and tinnitus are attributable to noise exposure he experienced while serving on active duty without hearing protection.  The Veteran’s DD Form 214 indicates that his military occupational specialty was that of an aircraft maintenance specialist. His in-service exposure to acoustic trauma is therefore conceded.
The Veteran has consistently maintained that he first noticed ringing in his ears and loss of hearing acuity in service and that he has continued to experience the same symptoms from that time to the present. His service treatment records are silent as to any complaints of, or treatment for, hearing problems or tinnitus.
A private October 2013 audiological examination report included a diagnosis of bilateral hearing loss and noted the Veteran’s assertions of onset of hearing loss after service discharge as a result of acoustic trauma. The examiner opined that the Veteran’s hearing loss was consistent with noise-induced hearing loss and that the Veteran’s hearing loss as well as his tinnitus were more likely than not caused by exposure to damaging levels of noise while in active service.
A June 2014 VA audiological examination testing revealed pure tone thresholds for the Veteran’s right ear, in decibels, at 500, 1000, 2000, 3000, and 4000 Hertz (Hz) were as follows: 5, 5, 15, 50 and 65, and for his left ear: 10, 10, 10, 55, and 50. The examiner diagnosed bilateral hearing loss, but gave a negative etiological opinion. As rationale, he stated that, as there was a lack of proximity between active service and hearing loss, it was less likely than not that the Veteran’s bilateral hearing was related to service. The examiner also found that the Veteran’s tinnitus was at least as likely as not a symptom of his bilateral hearing loss.
In adjudicating this claim, the Board must assess the competence and credibility of the Veteran. Washington v. Nicholson, 19 Vet. App. 362 (2005). The Board must also assess the credibility, and therefore the probative value, of the evidence of record in its whole. Owens v. Brown, 7 Vet. App. 429 (1995). In determining whether documents submitted by a veteran are credible, the Board may consider internal consistency, facial plausibility, and consistency with other evidence submitted on behalf of the claimant. Caluza v. Brown, 7 Vet. App. 498 (1995).
As an initial matter, the Board notes that hearing loss and ringing in the ears are the types of symptoms that are readily amenable to lay observation as they are subjective to the claimant.  Thus, the Veteran is competent to report his symptoms and their frequency. Davidson v. Shinseki, 581 F.3d 1313 (Fed. Cir. 2009). Both examination records note the Veteran’s continued reports detailing his hearing loss and tinnitus and his contention that he was exposed to loud sounds in service. Nothing in the record contradicts his statements, and his statements are generally consistent with the circumstances of his service. The Board finds the Veteran’s statements are credible and probative.
Upon consideration of the above evidence, the Board finds that, resolving reasonable doubt in the Veteran’s favor, a grant of service connection for hearing loss and tinnitus is warranted. The evidence shows current diagnoses of hearing loss and tinnitus, which the Veteran has reported began during service and have continued from that time to the present. With regard to the Veteran’s complaints of in-service noise exposure, the Board finds credible his account of noise exposure in service as it is consistent with his military personnel records. As noted above, the competent medical evidence has identified that the Veteran carries a current diagnosis of hearing loss and tinnitus.
The Board acknowledges that the June 2014 VA examiner stated that it was less likely than not that the Veteran’s hearing loss and tinnitus began in, or are otherwise etiologically linked to, his military service. However, the Board finds that this medical opinion did not give due consideration to the Veteran’s competent account of the onset of symptoms in service and their continuity thereafter, or to his credible and corroborated report of noise exposure in service. Thus, the Board finds that the June 2014 VA examination is less probative than the October 2013 private medical opinion that offered a clear rationale for the finding that the Veteran’s hearing loss and tinnitus are likely linked to his active duty. Nieves-Rodriguez v. Peake, 22 Vet. App. 295 (2008); Stefl v. Nicholson, 21 Vet. App. 120, 124 (2007). 
Accordingly, based upon the opinion of the October 2013 private examiner, the Veteran’s noise exposure in service, and his reports of continuous symptoms since service, the Board finds that his bilateral hearing loss and tinnitus are a result of his military service. With resolution of reasonable doubt in the Veteran’s favor, service connection for bilateral hearing loss and tinnitus is warranted.
 
THERESA M. CATINO
Veterans Law Judge
Board of Veterans’ Appeals
ATTORNEY FOR THE BOARD	N. Peden, Associate Counsel
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