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Disability Benefits and Cochlear Implant

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Hearing loss is the inability to hear. It can be gradual or sudden and can occur for a variety of reasons: Otosclerosis (hereditary disease), birth defects, tumors, Presbycusis, defect in the fistula, head injury, Meniere's syndrome, noise, infections, neural problems and age.

If you have hearing loss you might experience:

Can I win SSDI or SSI for hearing loss?


The SSA awards disability benefits through the SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) or SSI (Supplemental Security Income) disability programs. The SSA will determine a claimant is disabled by determining if their condition either meets a listing on their SSA Listing of Impairments or leaves the claimant with the inability to work (this determination is done through the medical vocational process).

Hearing loss is listed as a disabling condition on the SSA Listing of Impairments under listing 2.00 Special Senses and Speech, Section 2.10 Hearing loss not treated with cochlear implantation and 2.11 Hearing loss treated with cochlear implantation.

To meet the listing for 2.10 Hearing loss not treated with cochlear implantation, according to the SSA you must have “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 or a word recognition score of 40 percent or less in the better ear as determined using a standardized list of phonetically balanced monosyllabic words.”

To meet the listing for 2.11 Hearing loss treated with cochlear implantation, the SSA will only “consider under a disability for one year after initial implantation or of more than one year after initial implantation if the claimant has a word recognition score of 60 percent or less as determined using the Hearing in Noise Test.”

The SSA would expect you to evidence of your impairment. According to the Blue Book this evidence includes an otologic examination and audiometric testing. The testing must be done within 2 months of the otologic examination. The SSA also needs information from your doctor about your medical history, how your hearing loss affects your daily activities and ability to work and information about the appearance of your external ear canal, your tympanic membrane and whether or not you have any middle ear abnormalities (information gathered from the SSA Blue Book Listing 2.00 Special Senses and Speech).

I have a cochlear implant. How will this affect my disability claim?


From the Blue Book’s description it sounds like that if you have a cochlear implant than the SSA will assume that you are disabled for a full year after the implantation. After this period they will ask that you complete “word recognition” testing with the Hearing and Noise Test to decide if your word recognition score is 60% or less. If you are able to pass this test it is likely, according to this listing, that you would no longer be able to receive SSI or SSDI benefits.

What is the bottom line?


Based on other testimonials online it sounds like there is a wide variation of how different claimants have been treated with a cochlear implant. If you are receiving SSDI or SSI and have had a cochlear implant there is a chance that you may not qualify for benefits anymore, but there is also a chance that you could prove to the SSA that you still lack the ability to perform substantial gainful activity. Talk to a disability lawyer if you have more questions.
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