Citation Nr: 18154213
Decision Date: 11/29/18	Archive Date: 11/29/18

DOCKET NO. 16-44 217
DATE:	November 29, 2018
ORDER
Entitlement to service connection for tinnitus is granted.
Entitlement to service connection for bilateral hearing loss is granted.
FINDING OF FACT
The competent and credible evidence of record supports finding that the Veteran’s tinnitus and bilateral hearing loss are related to his military service.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
1. The criteria for entitlement to service connection for tinnitus have been satisfied. 38 U.S.C. § 1101, 1110, 1112; 38 C.F.R. § 3.303, 3.304, 3.307, 3.309.
2. The criteria for entitlement to service connection for bilateral hearing loss have been satisfied. 38 U.S.C. § 1101, 1110, 1112; 38 C.F.R. § 3.303, 3.304, 3.307, 3.309.
REASONS AND BASES FOR FINDING AND CONCLUSIONS
The Veteran served on active duty from December 1965 to February 1969.
These matters come before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (Board) on appeal from a June 2015 rating decision of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Regional Office (RO).
Service Connection
The Veteran contends that he has tinnitus and bilateral hearing loss related to his military service
To prevail on a direct service connection claim, there must be competent evidence of (1) a current disability, (2) in-service incurrence or aggravation of a disease or injury, and (3) a nexus between the in-service disease or injury and the current disability. Holton v. Shinseki, 557 F.3d 1362, 1366 (Fed. Cir. 2009); 38 U.S.C. § 1110, 1131; 38 C.F.R. § 3.303(a).
For the purposes of applying the laws administered by VA, impaired hearing will be considered to be a disability when the auditory threshold in any of the frequencies of 500, 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 and 4,000 hertz is 40 decibels or greater; or when the thresholds for at least three of these 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.
Certain chronic diseases, including organic diseases of the nervous system, to include sensorineural hearing loss and tinnitus, may be presumed to have been incurred during service if manifested to a compensable degree within one year of separation from active service. 38 U.S.C. §§ 1112, 1113, 1137; 38 C.F.R. §§ 3.307, 3.309.
With chronic disease shown as such in service (or within the presumptive period under 38 C.F.R. § 3.307, subsequent manifestations of the same chronic disease at any later date, however remote, are service connected, unless clearly attributable to intercurrent causes. 38 C.F.R. § 3.303(b). For the showing of chronic disease in service, there is required a combination of manifestations sufficient to identify the disease entity and sufficient observation to establish chronicity at the time. Id.  However, if chronicity in service is not established or where the diagnosis of chronicity may be legitimately questioned, a showing of continuity of symptoms after discharge is required to support the claim. 38 C.F.R. § 3.303(b). A claimant “can benefit from continuity of symptomatology to establish service connection in the ultimate sense, but only if [the] chronic disease is one listed in 38 C.F.R. § 3.309(a).” Walker v. Shinseki, 708 F.3d 1331, 1337 (2013). Service connection may nonetheless be granted for any disease diagnosed after discharge when all of the evidence establishes that the disease was incurred in service. 38 C.F.R. § 3.303(d).
In determining whether service connection is warranted for a disability, VA is responsible for determining whether the evidence supports the claim or is in relative equipoise, with the veteran prevailing in either event, or whether a preponderance of the evidence is against the claim, in which case the claim is denied. 38 U.S.C. § 5107; Gilbert v. Derwinski, 1 Vet. App. 49 (1990). When there is an approximate balance of positive and negative evidence regarding any issue material to the determination, the benefit of the doubt is afforded to the claimant.
A layperson is competent to report on the onset and continuity of his current symptomatology. See Layno v. Brown, 6 Vet. App. 465, 470 (1994) (a Veteran is competent to report on that of which he or she has personal knowledge). Lay evidence can also be competent and sufficient evidence of a diagnosis or to establish etiology if (1) the layperson is competent to identify the medical condition, (2) the layperson is reporting a contemporaneous medical diagnosis, or (3) lay testimony describing symptoms at the time supports a later diagnosis by a medical professional. Jandreau v. Nicholson, 492 F.3d 1372 (Fed. Cir. 2007). When considering whether lay evidence is competent, the Board must determine, on a case by case basis, whether the Veteran’s particular disability is the type of disability for which lay evidence may be competent. Kahana v. Shinseki, 24 Vet. App. 428 (2011); see also Jandreau, supra.
The question for the Board is whether the Veteran has tinnitus and bilateral hearing loss that are etiologically related to, or aggravated by, an in-service disease or injury. 
The Board finds that competent, credible, and probative evidence establishes that the Veteran’s tinnitus and bilateral hearing loss is etiologically related to the Veteran’s active service.
The Veteran avers that he suffers from tinnitus due to his exposure to acoustic trauma in service. The claims folder reflects that the Veteran served as an administrative specialist during active service. In correspondence, as well as his September 2015 notice of disagreement (NOD), the Veteran reported that his duties required him to contact people on the flight line, which put him “in direct proximity to flight line noise from aircraft operations.” He also alleged acoustic trauma from noise on the gun range. Additionally, the Veteran has consistently stated that he first experienced ringing in his ears during active service. Based on the Veteran’s military occupational specialty (MOS) and his consistent statements of exposure to flight line noise, the Board finds that the Veteran experienced acoustic trauma during his active military service.
With regard to his claim for service connection for bilateral hearing loss, the Veteran has a bilateral hearing loss disability for VA purposes. 38 C.F.R. § 3.385.
The Board notes that the Veteran is considered competent to report the observable manifestations of his claimed disability. See Charles v. Principi, 16 Vet. App. 370, 374 (2002). In the present case, the June 2015 and July 2016 VA examiners opined that there was no nexus linking the Veteran’s tinnitus and bilateral hearing loss with his military service. The June 2015 examiner indicated that tinnitus was related to hearing loss. However, the Veteran is competent to make reports regarding the symptomatology and onset of these disabilities and the Board notes that his reports have been confirmed by physician diagnoses. See Charles, 16 Vet. App. at 374; see also Layno, 6 Vet. App. 465; Jandreau, 492 F.3d 1372. The Veteran has consistently stated that he suffered from symptoms of tinnitus during and since service. The Board finds the Veteran’s statements credible. The nature and circumstances of the Veteran’s MOS also support finding that his tinnitus had its onset in service. Thus, service connection is warranted for tinnitus. See Flynn v. Brown, 6 Vet. App. 500, 503 (1994).
Since tinnitus existed during service and the June 2015 VA examination indicates that tinnitus is related to hearing loss, then the hearing loss would have had to exist at that time as well. The Board also notes a July 2015 letter from the Veteran’s private audiologist indicates that “more likely than not” the Veteran’s hearing loss and tinnitus were due to noise exposure during active service. Although there is no evidence the audiologist reviewed the Veteran’s claims file, the Board finds that the competent opinion evidence regarding the nexus element of this appeal is at least in relative equipoise. Therefore, service connection for bilateral hearing loss is warranted. See 38 U.S.C. § 5107; Gilbert, 1 Vet. App. at 49.
 
M. H. HAWLEY
Veterans Law Judge
Board of Veterans’ Appeals
ATTORNEY FOR THE BOARD	A. Norwood, Associate Counsel 

For A Complete Guide To VA Disability Claims and to find out more about your potential VA disability case and how to obtain favorable VA Rating Decision! Visit: VA-Claims.org

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