How severe does my hearing loss have to be to get disability benefits?
For millions of Americans, Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) provides relief to those suffering from debilitating impairments. However intimidating the process may be, those with disabilities should always see if their impairments qualify them to receive benefits.
To see if your hearing loss qualifies for SSDI or SSI benefits, we must first understand how applicants are typically assessed when applying for Social Security disability benefits. Once you understand how the SSA evaluates other claimants with hearing loss, you will have a better idea as to whether or not you will qualify.
The Social Security “Blue Book”
When the Social Security Administration evaluates disabilities, it refers to the SSA “Blue Book." This book, which is available on the SSA’s website, features hundreds of different disabilities and the severity required for each to qualify. For the requirements for hearing loss, we must look at Section 2.00 - “Special Senses and Speech."
For hearing loss without a cochlear implant, you can qualify in two ways. Either:
- There is an average air conduction hearing threshold of 90 decibels or greater in the better ear and an average bone conduction hearing threshold of 60 decibels or greater in the better ear.
- There is a word recognition score of 40 percent or less in the better ear determined using a standardized list of phonetically-balanced monosyllabic words.
For hearing loss with a cochlear implant, you can also qualify in two ways. Either:
- You are considered as disabled for 1 year after initial implantation.
- After more than 1 year after initial implantation, you exhibit a word recognition score of 60 percent or less, determined using the HINT test.
If you are unsure of whether or not you meet these requirements, you can speak with your doctor to have these tests performed.
The SSA typically does not approve hearing loss that is considered mild or moderate, as it usually does not keep a person from working and living somewhat normally. However, if your hearing loss does not fit these qualifications and is debilitating enough to hinder you, you may still be able to qualify.
Medical Vocational Allowances and Disability Benefits
Medical vocational allowances allow people with unlisted, severe disabilities to still receive benefits. While it is less common than receiving benefits normally, it can be done if you can provide enough documentation to sup-port your case. Supporting documents can include work notes, medical bills, doctor’s notes, lab results, caloric or other vestibular tests, audiometry results, HINT word recognition measures, or bone and/or air conduction tests.
Another important document you can have filed is a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) form. This is an assessment performed by your doctor that evaluates how well you can function in different ways with your impairment. If you score low on an RFC, you demonstrate a greater need to receive benefits. RFC forms are available to print on the SSA’s website.
Seeking Additional Advice With Your Social Security Claim
Applying for SSDI can be tricky, especially if you’re unsure of your qualifications. A good place to start when seeking advice is to speak with your doctor. Their knowledge of your medical history makes them an invaluable asset when deciding if SSDI may be right for you.
Another important resource you can utilize is a Social Security disability attorney. Their knowledge can not only simplify the application process, but may give you an advantage when presenting your case if you choose to file.
For more information, you can review the Blue Book and application requirements on the SSA’s website.