Citation Nr: 18160533
Decision Date: 12/28/18	Archive Date: 12/26/18

DOCKET NO. 17-05 276
DATE:	December 28, 2018
Service connection for hearing loss is granted.
The evidence is in relative equipoise as to whether the Veteran’s current bilateral hearing loss was incurred during service due to acoustic trauma.
Resolving reasonable doubt in the Veteran’s favor, the criteria for service connection for bilateral hearing loss have been met.  38 U.S.C. §§ 1110, 1112, 5107; 38 C.F.R. §§ 3.303, 3.307, 3.309, 3.385.
The Veteran served on active duty from January 1969 to September 1971.
This matter comes before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (Board) on appeal from an August 2014 rating decision.
Service connection may be granted for a disability resulting from disease or injury incurred in or aggravated by service.  38 U.S.C. §§ 1110.  Establishing service connection generally requires competent medical or lay evidence of (1) a current disability; (2) an in-service incurrence or aggravation of a disease or injury; and (3) a relationship between the claimed in-service disease or injury and the present disability.  Davidson v. Shinseki, 581 F.3d 1313 (Fed. Cir. 2009).
In addition, certain chronic diseases, including sensorineural hearing loss, as an organic disease of the nervous system, may be presumed to have been incurred or aggravated during service if they become disabling to a compensable degree within one year of separation from active duty.  38 U.S.C. §§ 1101, 1112; 38 C.F.R. §§ 3.307, 3.309 (2017).
For the purpose of applying the laws administered by VA, impaired hearing will be considered a disability when the auditory threshold for any of the frequencies of 500, 1000, 2000, 3000 and 4000 Hertz is 40 decibels or greater; the auditory thresholds for at least three of these frequencies are 26 decibels or greater; or speech recognition scores using the Maryland CNC Test are less than 94 percent.  38 C.F.R. § 3.385.
However, the absence of in-service evidence of hearing loss is not fatal to a claim for service connection.  Ledford v. Derwinski, 3 Vet. App. 87, 89 (1992).  Evidence of a current hearing loss disability, i.e., one meeting the requirements of 38 C.F.R. § 3.385, as noted above, and a medically sound basis for attributing such disability to service may serve as a basis for a grant of service connection for hearing loss.  Hensley v. Brown, 5 Vet. App. 155, 159 (1993).  In addition, the threshold for normal hearing is from 0 to 20 decibels, and higher threshold levels indicate some degree of hearing loss.  Id.
The Veteran maintains he has a current bilateral hearing loss disability that is the direct result of noise exposure from his active service.  The Veteran specifically asserts he developed hearing loss as a result of in-service exposure to traumatic noise during the performance of his duties as a turbine engine mechanic, which has continued to worsen since service.  In his August 2015 Notice of Disagreement, the Veteran detailed his in-service incidents of  noise exposure during his service in Vietnam, to include haven flown on helicopters daily for combat assault missions and his duties for two years as an engine repairman, which required him to work on the wing of aircrafts next to running engines.  
A July 2014 VA-ordered audiological examination shows that the Veteran has a current bilateral hearing loss disability for VA purposes.  Furthermore, the in-service injury element has been meet, as VA has conceded the Veteran’s military noise exposure due to his duties as an aircraft turbine engine repairman.  Thus, the question before the Board is whether the Veteran’s bilateral hearing loss disability was incurred was caused by his in-service noise exposure.
In this regard, the evidence includes a July 2014 opinion from a VA examiner, along with an August 2014 addendum, regarding the etiology of the Veteran’s bilateral hearing loss.  The July 2014 opinion, while favorable, is based on the Veteran’s recount of the results of an in-service audiological examination that is not part of the Veteran’s service treatment records.  Due to this, the RO sought an addendum from the examiner based on the evidence of record.  In the August 2014 addendum, the examiner reviewed the medical evidence and opined that there is less than a 50 percent probability that the Veteran’s hearing loss was caused by military noise exposure because his hearing was within normal limits on his separation examination.  
The Board notes that although the August 2014 VA opinion was provided following a review of the evidence and/or examination of the Veteran, the VA examiner’s opinion against the claim is primarily based on the absence of a hearing loss disability shown at that time of the Veteran’s separation from active duty.  Thus, this opinion is inconsistent with the directive set forth in Hensley that service connection for hearing loss is not precluded in the absence of a hearing loss disability under 38 C.F.R. § 3.385 shown at the time of separation.  Moreover, this opinion does not adequately consider the Veteran’s lay statements that he has experienced hearing loss since service.  Thus, the VA examiner’s opinion against the claim does not, in the Board’s opinion, outweigh the lay evidence and other medical evidence of record indicating that the Veteran’s hearing loss is related to his military service.
The Board finds the Veteran’s statements as to the in-service onset of hearing loss to be credible in light of the nature of his military duties and recognized noise exposure.  The Board also notes that the Veteran has been granted service connection for tinnitus due to in-service noise exposure.  In the Board’s opinion, the evidence supporting the claim is at least in equipoise with that against the claim.  Therefore, the Veteran is entitled to service connection for bilateral hearing loss.

Acting Veterans Law Judge
Board of Veterans’ Appeals

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