An estimated 20% of all Americans have some level of hearing loss, however, there is one portion of the population in which that number is notably higher – veterans, particularly those who’ve served in foreign combat zones. Hearing loss and tinnitus have become the most prevalent service-related disabilities among soldiers who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2011, over 800,000 veterans received disability benefits; of those, 18% received these benefits as the result of tinnitus or hearing loss, compared with 5.3% who received similar benefits as the result of suffering PTSD.
This adds up to a severe public health concern that is expected to worsen. As these veterans get older, normal age-related hearing loss will be compounded on top of their noise-induced hearing loss. Tinnitus itself can be extremely debilitating, with the constant ringing or buzzing sounds causing side effects such as headaches, vision changes, nausea, stress, anxiety, mood changes, insomnia, and depression. Add to this the number of veterans who have experienced more profound levels of hearing loss or deafness, and you have an enormous problem.
Why are so many military personnel suffering hearing loss? The complete answer is complicated, but the simple answer provided by VA-accredited claims agent Brett Buchanan, is that “The military, in general, is just a high noise-producing environment.” In the Navy, most sailors work below decks in high-noise environments, filled with “the constant drumming of engines and metal-on-metal noise.” In the Army or Marines, soldiers spend most of their day inside or near noisy vehicles such as tanks or transport carriers. In a war zone, these become background noise with gunfire and explosions layered on as the foreground. Taken together you have ideal conditions for hearing problems. To their credit, the military does what it can to prevent noise-induced hearing loss, providing soldiers with earplugs and other forms of hearing protection. And while these earplugs may help while soldiers are practicing on the target range, during an actual fire fight, with bullets flying by and IEDs or mortars exploding all around you, a soldier’s first thought is not, “Wait. Time out. I’ve got to put in my earplugs.”
Some of the problem may be solved in the future by providing more sensitive earplugs to soldiers that selectively block out loud sounds such as explosions or guns firing, but allow soldiers to hear even whispered commands. While better solutions are in the works, the Veteran’s Administration has become the largest buyer of hearing aids in the US. Hearing aids are provided at little or no cost to veterans who need them. So for veterans who are reading this and who may have experienced some form of hearing loss, please get in touch with us. Allow our trained professionals to help diagnose the nature of your hearing problems, recommend the best solutions to those problems, and help you work with the VA to obtain an effective hearing aid.