Loss of hearing is extremely common in the United States, with an estimated 20 percent of the general population having experienced it, but veterans who've served in combat zones have significantly higher percentages of hearing loss. Hearing loss and tinnitus are now the most prevalent service-related disabilities among soldiers who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Of the over 800,000 veterans who received disability benefits that year, 148,000 (18.5%) received them for tinnitus or hearing loss; by comparison, the number receiving compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was 42,700 (5.3%).
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." And in other branches of service such as the Army or Marines, solders often spend much of their time around or inside of incredibly noisy vehicles such as transport carriers or tanks. Now add to the ever-present high volumes of background noise the intermittent sounds of gunfire and explosions, and you have a recipe for hearing loss.
Many efforts are made to reduce the risk and exposure. The US military provides hearing protection and noise-reducing ear plugs. 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."
The military has been working on ear plugs that cancel the loudest noises, while allowing hushed conversations. And the VA has become the nation's largest consumer of hearing aids, providing them to veterans who need them at little or no cost. 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.