Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., introduced legislation Thursday, Nov. 7, to reduce the red tape many veterans face when trying to get care for hearing loss as a result of their service -- something many veterans say is an enormous burden despite being the most common service-connected ailment.

According to a news release, Smith learned about this problem through her office’s veterans’ health care tour last year, which visited some 10 communities throughout Minnesota to hear what health challenges veterans face.

Currently, veterans receiving benefits through the Veteran Affairs office must document hearing loss or tinnitus incurred while in the line of duty in order to qualify for benefits when seeking treatment for these conditions. However, many veterans are not diagnosed until after they are discharged. This places a significant burden on veterans to prove that their hearing loss or tinnitus is the result of their time in the military.

Smith’s legislation -- the Veterans Hearing Benefit Act -- would provide presumption for hearing loss and tinnitus to veterans who served in combat or in a military specialty where they were exposed to repeated loud noises, such as those who worked around heavy artillery, thus making it easier for veterans to establish service-connection and get the benefits they’ve earned.

“The agreement for the men and women who serve in our military is this: if you’ve experienced a health related issue because of your sacrifice, it’s our job to take care of you,” Smith stated in the release. “I’ve heard from Minnesotans who have to jump through hoops before getting access to care for hearing loss -- which is widespread among veterans -- and I’ve introduced this bill to make sure veterans in Minnesota and states across the country get the care they deserve.”