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23.6.3 General Guidelines for Hearing Loss Claims From Discharged Employees
As is the case with serving members, a Hearing Loss Supporting Statement is always required from claimants who are no longer ADF members. Details of post-ADF employment and a post-discharge activity statement are also necessary from ex-ADF members. Information included in these documents can be used to identify any other factors related to loss of hearing that will not be the responsibility of ADF employment (i.e. exposure to significant noise in post-ADF employment).
If there is any reason to doubt the information provided by the claimant on the noise exposure questionnaire which is sent as a matter of course in such cases, the Delegate may be justified in conducting further investigations regarding the claimant's post-discharge employment activities.
Care must be taken with regard to claims where there appears to be no other employment-related noise exposure. The issue then becomes a matter of establishing what level (if any) of an identified hearing loss is noise-induced, and what level is age-related hearing loss. Different tyes of hearing loss are identifiable based on patterns of audiogram readings (see Australian Hearing below). Then, the level of noise-induced hearing loss as a result of Defence service will need to be established.
Where hearing tests already exist
If reliable pre- and post-discharge hearing tests/audiograms are available, it should be relatively simple to establish by virtue of a member's service category and period of service whether he or she has been exposed to acoustic trauma or not as part of their employment in the ADF.
Noise-induced or acoustic trauma-related hearing loss is effectively a type of injury. The (service-related) injury will not progress after the (service-related) exposure ceases. The hearing may worsen over time due to age, post-service noise exposure, or other factors, but not due to service. Therefore, the first reliable audiogram from the end of the relevant service onward should be used in determining both liability and potential permanent impairment eligibility. This is consistent with policy in the SRCA PI handbook part 4.2.3.
If there are any doubts about the reliability of a hearing test, then a referral to Australian Hearing should be considered.
The services of Australian Hearing (AH) should be used when independent medical evidence regarding hearing loss claims is required. Within Defcare, there is a standard letter package for use when referring claimants for assessment. The questions asked in the standard letter package, along with consideration of the Hearing Loss Supporting Statement and any other relevant information, can be used to identify the compensable component of a total hearing loss.
AH has the expertise to differentiate between noise-induced and age-related hearing loss. If that can be done, liability can be accepted for that part of the total hearing loss identified as attributable to Commonwealth employment. If AH cannot distinguish between noise-induced and age-related hearing loss, then a referral to an ear, nose and throat surgeon may be required.
Where a client already has a current audiogram from a recent VEA or MRCA claim for hearing loss, and it shows Defence-attributable hearing loss at or below 4,000 Hz, the current DVA policy is that the claims assessor can use this audiogram for determining liability without having to refer the client to AH.
Once again, if there are any doubts in relation to the reliability or currency of a hearing test, the client should be referred to AH for a new audiogram.
However, it is important to note that a client cannot, at the same time, be compensated for the same condition under both the SRCA and VEA, or the SRCA and MRCA.
MRCA Transitional Provisions
If a client has continual ADF service covered by both SRCA and MRCA, it will be important to refer to Chapter 12 Transitional Provisions in the MRCA Policy Library on CLIK to determine whether the client's hearing loss will be covered under MRCA or SRCA.
Late lodgement of claims under the 1930 and 1971 Acts
Whilst on the surface it may seem that the Commonwealth has been prejudiced by late lodgement of many hearing loss claims, provided that the entire investigation process is not compromised (including the ability to identify what portion of the hearing loss can, on the balance of probabilities, be linked to ADF employment) then liability should be accepted. In these circumstances, it is reasonable to accept that noise-induced loss of hearing is probably related to ADF service, if:
- the Delegate is satisfied that the employee was probably exposed to excessive noise during service in the ADF;
- appropriate steps have been taken to obtain relevant information about any noise exposure post-discharge, and the Delegate is satisfied that the claimant has not been exposed to excessive noise subsequent to discharge; and
- an audiogram (for example from AH) is able to certify that any noise induced loss of hearing suffered by the claimant is probably related to the claimed exposure to excessive noise during ADF service.
If the above requirements are met, then compensation can be awarded for the loss of hearing which is certified as probably due to ADF service. Thus, consideration of invoking S16 of the 1930 Act or Sections 53 or 54 of the 1971 Act (relating to notice of injury) is unnecessary.