Approximately 20 percent of all US residents have some form of hearing loss, but there is one particular portion of the population in which that number is substantially higher – veterans, especially those who’ve served in foreign conflict zones. Hearing loss and tinnitus are now the most common service-related disabilities among soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2011, the number of veterans receiving disability benefits as a result of hearing loss or tinnitus (148,000) was more than triple the number of veterans receiving benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder (42,700). 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. The tinnitus component is often worse because of the side effects. The constant ringing in the ears is know to lead to headaches, mood changes, anxiety, insomnia, vision changes 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.

According to Brett Buchanan, a VA-accredited insurance claims agent who has made a study of hearing loss in veterans, “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. These safety measures are used consistently in training, but are a secondary concern in actual battle. When faced with bullets flying, IEDs and mortars exploding, the soldier isn’t going to turn back for ear plugs. It is worth noting that a soldier wearing ear plugs may not be able to hear whispered instructions or may miss clues about the enemies whereabouts.

The military has been working on ear plugs that cancel the loudest noises, while allowing hushed conversations. 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. 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.

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