The military enforces hearing requirements as part of the qualifications for enlistment.
Proper hearing is essential to receiving orders and perceiving situations on the battlefield.
Before you enlist, make sure that you are aware of military hearing requirements and disqualifications.
Throughout this article, we’ll discuss conditions such as tinnitus, Meniere’s Syndrome, Mastoiditis, Ear Infections, as well as touch on what to expect from the hearing test at MEPS.
Read on to learn more.
Related Article – 20 Health Conditions That May Disqualify You From Military
Military Hearing Requirements
Hearing loss is a frustrating issue for people of all ages as it impacts one of the traditional five senses.
The tests measure hearing thresholds by examining recognition of different frequencies.
Though hearing tests are not 100% accurate, they can usually detect some form of hearing loss.
It’s important to remember that not all types of hearing loss indicate that someone is deaf.
In fact, many people live with mild to moderate hearing loss.
This may impact your quality of life, yet it doesn’t force you to have to rely on hearing aids or sign language.
Hearing loss is attributed to several factors including heredity, congenital conditions, presbycusis, and acquired problems from long-term exposure to loud noises or chemicals.
Infections can also contribute to hearing loss.
The U.S. Armed Forces make it mandatory to have dependable hearing, namely because of the unusual threats and dangers associated with the military.
List of Hearing Disqualifications
The military requires new recruits to go through a medical exam at a Military Entrance Processing Station, commonly referred to as MEPS.
Service members also are subject to a Periodic Health Assessment (PHA) while on active-duty.
The Armed Forces test a variety of conditions during a medical examination including your dental and hearing health.
Any hearing issues that prevent suitable hearing or prevents a person from correctly wearing protective headwear (helmet, face protection, etc) can be disqualifying.
Here are some of the most important rules of military hearing requirements and disqualifications:
The military begins by taking a physical examination of the ear before it judges your hearing.
It is mandatory that you wear military headgear without it interfering with the proper fit and use of the equipment for safety reasons.
Therefore, any malformation of the ear is grounds for disqualification.
The military studies congenital defects like atresia, or the abnormal narrowing of an opening or passage in the body.
The U.S. Military also considers microtia (a deformity of the external ear) and chronic otitis externa grounds for disqualification.
The military tests your hearing to make sure you are able to perceive sounds without the use of a device like a hearing aid.
However, the military standards for hearing are not extremely selective which means you still might pass the physical exam with some hearing loss.
All you need is normal hearing levels that prove you don’t need to read lips, utilize a hearing aid, or speak through sign language.
The current military standards for all branches mandate the following:
A hearing threshold level in either ear of greater than a pure tone of 500, 1,000, and 2,000 cycles per second for each ear of not more than 30 decibels with no individual level of greater than 35 dB at those frequencies.
Any hearing test which fails to meet those guidelines is disqualifying.
You also need to make yourself aware that a current hearing threshold level in either ear is disqualifying if:
- Greater than a pure tone level of not more than 45 dB at 3,000 cycles per second.
- Greater than a pure tone level of not more than 55 dB at 4,000 cycles per second.
You also cannot have a history of using a hearing aid to rely on proper hearing.
The tympanic membrane, or the eardrum, is a delicate part of your hearing that you need to protect.
When it gets punctured or perforated the military will disqualify you from service.
However, after 120 days of having the issue resolved in surgery, you may receive approval from a military medical professional.
Eardrum damage usually gets linked to loud noises or extreme pressure.
For example, it is not uncommon for a SCUBA diving accident to result in temporary disqualification for a soldier recovering from eardrum damage and receiving treatment for the problem.
Acute otitis media (AOM) is a painful ear infection that is behind the eardrum.
It is grounds for disqualification in the military.
A type of noncancerous skin growth, called a cholesteatoma, also disqualifies you from service if it’s abnormal and requires surgery or cochlear implants.
However, the military may grant a waiver for the successful treatment of ear problems or eardrum repair.
Mastoiditis is a bacterial infection that alters the mastoid bone.
The mastoid bone is behind the ear.
It is extremely delicate and while rare, a difficult thing for patients to deal with due to the frequent treatment and drainage to treat the issue.
If you have mastoiditis with any abnormal or surgically made passage (fistula) you are not allowed to enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Unfortunately, any diagnosis of Meniere’s Syndrome is disqualifying in the military.
A history of the syndrome is also grounds for denying enlistment.
The cause of the disease remains unknown but since it affects the inner hear and contributes to deafness, it is a disqualifying hearing issue.
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MEPS Hearing Test Explained
Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS) evaluate new recruits for health concerns which might prevent the individual from remaining in service.
Every new recruit goes through MEPS to make sure they still qualify for the Armed Forces, among other military requirements.
MEPS not only study your physical qualifications (like hearing and dental) but aptitude and moral standards as well.
Your local recruiter conducts some MEPS prescreening prior to your arrival at an official outpost.
Once you schedule an appointment at a Military Entrance Processing Station prepare for a long day of examinations.
The military will study your body and mind from head to toe.
One of your requirements is a mandatory vision and hearing test though it is nothing out of the ordinary.
The MEPS hearing test provides you with a headset and button.
You push the button every time you hear a noise, regardless of the volume of the noise.
The military is able to measure the results to see if you missed any sounds at tone levels that would disqualify you from service.
Hearing Test Qualifications
The test measures your hearing levels at 500, 1,000, 2,000, 3,000, and 4,000 cycles per second at varying decibel levels.
Tones get presented in no logical or clear pattern to prevent you from cheating on the test.
After a series of tones get recognized on the test the government averages the decibel levels to present you with a score on the hearing exam:
- Normal Hearing = 0-20 dB
- Mild Hearing Loss = 20-40 dB
- Moderate Hearing Loss = 40-60 dB
- Severe Hearing Loss = 60-80 dB
- Profound Hearing Loss = Greater than 80 dB
The military accepts anyone that falls in or below moderate hearing loss with a threshold of 60 dB.
However, moderate hearing loss may disqualify you from certain Military Occupational Specialities.
Unfortunately, you cannot practice the MEPS hearing test beforehand though it is important not to stress about the examination.
It is a basic and straightforward test and as long as you don’t have serious hearing damage, rely on hearing aids, or struggle with an ear infection or abnormality you’ll be fine.
The military does recommend that you avoid listening to loud music up to three days before MEPS, and attempt to maintain close to total silence for 12 hours prior to the test.
It is about the only prep work you can do for the hearing test portion of MEPS.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Here are some frequently asked questions about the military hearing requirements and disqualifications:
Can you join the military if you’re hard of hearing?
It depends on the level of your hearing.
The military accepts anyone that is able to pass their hearing exam at a “moderate level”.
The current moderate level is 40-60 dB when all the hearing scores get averaged together.
Those that score severe hearing loss (60-80 dB) and profound hearing loss (larger than 80 dB) do not pass the exam.
In general, people with severe or profound hearing loss rely on hearing aids, reading lips, and sign language to comprehend language.
If that is not the case your “hard of hearing” might mean you have minor hearing damage but not enough to constitute a military disqualification.
Can you join the military if you’re deaf in one or both ears?
The answer is probably not though a few circumstances may get made.
The Department of Defense tests you in both ears so if you are able to score high enough in the “good” ear you may have a satisfactory score.
However, the military may require you to receive a waiver for the condition.
In general, the military does not enlist people with deafness that require assistance with the issue like hearing aids or sign language.
If you do receive a waiver, the number of Military Occupational Specialties you qualify for will be limited.
Can you wear a hearing aid in the military?
No, the military does not provide waivers for military personnel that require assistance with their hearing.
An example of this is hearing aids because it could prevent you from receiving the correct orders or misinterpreting information in the heat of a battle.
Related Article – Military Dental Requirements and Disqualifications
What happens if I experience hearing loss while already serving?
The military requires service members to participate in Periodic Health Assessments (PHA).
The assessments are comparable to MEPS yet not as demanding or time-consuming.
One issue with the military is that soldiers are around extremely loud weapons and machinery.
Those that deal with aircraft can attest to the severity of hearing loss that may occur working around these types of things long-term.
Therefore, expect the military to continue and study your hearing though as long as the problem is correctable you can hope for the best and apply for a waiver.
Are there different hearing tests for specific military jobs?
Yes, there are certain Military Occupational Specialties that require you to have better hearing than the basic guidelines of the Armed Forces.
Consequently, it is possible to qualify for certain MOS and disqualify for others based on your hearing test score.
Each military branch treats hearing and other physical impairments a little differently.
You may receive a waiver but there is no guarantee.
Highly selective and competitive military specialities like pilots, airborne, and special ops might make it a little more difficult to get in though it’s not as big of an issue compared to your vision.
Pilots, for example, need outstanding vision with no color blindness.
Can you join the military if you have tinnitus?
The military considers tinnitus a disqualifier.
Those that suffer from tinnitus have a condition that the military considers not perfectly fine or fit for service.
There are other chronic ear diseases which are unfortunate disqualifiers.
Military hearing requirements and disqualifications are part of the process for screening new recruits.
Thankfully, the military hearing requirements are not too stiff as long as you don’t rely on hearing assistance (hearing aid, sign language, etc) or have a serious ear disease.
Additionally, the military does disqualify any recruit that is unable to properly wear headgear because of an ear deformity or health condition.
Speaking with a local military recruiter about any potential problems can help determine if your condition is eligible for a health waiver.
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