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What Should We Do about the Rates of Hearing Loss and Tinnitus among Veterans?

Approximately 20 percent of all Americans have some level of hearing loss, but there is one segment of the population where that percentage is significantly larger – veterans, especially those who’ve served in foreign war zones. The most frequent service-related disabilities among military personnel who served in Afghanistan and Iraq are hearing loss and tinnitus. 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.

The result is a public health problem of the highest order, one that cannot help but get worse in the future, as the noise-induced hearing loss experienced by these soldiers gets worse as a result of normal age-related 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. On top of that, many veterans have suffered profound levels of hearing loss and deafness. 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. The U.S. military, to its credit, tries to do what it can to prevent hearing loss by providing soldiers with hearing protection in the form of noise-reducing earplugs. 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. Meanwhile, the VA has become the largest single consumer of hearing aids in the U.S., providing them to veterans who need them at little or no cost. If you are (or know) a veteran who has suffered hearing loss, encourage them to get tested. Our expert staff would be happy to determine the extent of the loss, recommend solutions and help you navigate the VA benefits system.

This entry was posted on Monday, February 18th, 2013 at 2:46 pm. Both comments and pings are currently closed.