Military Hearing Requirements and Disqualifications
General Military Questions

Military Hearing Requirements and Disqualifications

The military sets hearing standards 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, and Ear Infections, as well as touch on what to expect from the hearing test at MEPS.

Read on to learn more.

Related Article20 Health Conditions That May Disqualify You From Military 

Military Hearing Requirements

military hearing test
Military hearing requirements insist that you only have moderate levels of hearing loss to be “fit for service”. Image: Health.com

Hearing loss is a frustrating issue for people of all ages as it impacts one of the traditional five senses.

Auditory science determines the quality of your hearing through tests like the ABR or OAE.

The tests measure hearing thresholds by examining the 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 require servicemembers 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 prevent 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:

Physical Examination

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 anything interfering with the proper fit and use of the equipment for safety reasons.

Therefore, any malformation of the ear may be grounds for disqualification.

Conditions that may prove disqualifying for military service are laid out in DoD Instruction 6130.03, Volume 1, Medical Standards for Military Service: Appointment, Enlistment, or Induction.

The military considers congenital defects like atresia or microtia as potentially disqualifying if they prevent the wear of military or safety headgear.

Hearing Test

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 restrictive, 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 it includes an unexplained asymmetric hearing loss by a difference of 30 or more dB between the left and right ears at any one or more frequencies between 500 hertz, 1000 hertz, or 2000 hertz.

You also cannot have a history of using a hearing aid to rely on proper hearing.

Eardrum Concerns

The tympanic membrane, or the eardrum, is a delicate part of your hearing that you need to protect.

If it gets punctured or perforated, the military will disqualify you from enlisting.

However, after 180 days of having the issue resolved in surgery or by healing, 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 recruit recovering from eardrum damage and receiving treatment for the problem.

Ear Infections

Acute otitis media (AOM) is a painful ear infection that is behind the eardrum.

It is grounds for disqualification when enlisting.

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.

Meniere’s Syndrome

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 ear and contributes to deafness, it is a disqualifying issue.

Related ArticleCan You Join The Military With A GED?

MEPS Hearing Test Explained

army hearing standards
A Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) makes sure that you are fit for service with a thorough medical examination, including a hearing test. Image: Defense.gov

Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS) evaluate new recruits for health concerns that might prevent the individual from entering service.

Every new recruit goes through MEPS to make sure they qualify for the Armed Forces, among other military requirements.

MEPS not only studies your physical qualifications (like hearing and dental health) but aptitudes 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 are presented in no logical or clear pattern to prevent you from cheating on the test.

After a series of tones are recognized on the test, the technician 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 mild hearing loss with a threshold of 30 dB.

However, mild 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)

meps hearing test standards
You need to protect your ears both before you enlist in the military and during service because you are around plenty of loud weapons and machinery. Image: National Guard

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 “mild level”.

The current mild level is <30 dB when all the hearing scores get averaged together.

Those that score moderate, severe, or profound hearing loss 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 apply.

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 requires 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 they could prevent you from receiving the correct orders or misinterpreting information in the heat of a battle.

Related ArticleMilitary 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 check your hearing though. As long as the problem is correctable you can hope for the best and apply for a waiver.

Service members who acquire hearing loss while in service may be fitted with hearing aids if it doesn’t interfere with the wear of necessary safety equipment and allows the service member to perform their duties. 

Are there different hearing tests for specific military jobs?

The tests are the same, but the standards vary according to the job. There are certain MOSs, AFSCs, or Rates that require you to have better hearing than the basic guidelines of the Armed Forces.

Consequently, it is possible to qualify for certain specialties and be disqualified 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 specialties 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?

Yes, you can. However, there are some military specialties you will not be able to qualify for. 

For example, the Navy won’t accept those with unilateral tinnitus into Nuclear specialties. They also won’t accept recruits with tinnitus into the Firefighter rating.

Conclusion

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.

Rob V.
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Military Hearing Requirements

Military Hearing Requirements

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Learn more about the hearing requirements for the military, including hearing disorders and conditions that can potentially be disqualifying.

Originally posted on 02/19/20

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