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Veterans – particularly those that have served in combat zones – have much higher percentages of hearing loss than the general public. Considering that 20 percent of the public in the United States has some form of hearing impairment, the rates among veterans are alarmingly high. The most prevalent service-related disabilities among soldiers that served in Iraq and Afghanistan are hearing loss and tinnitus. 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 is a widespread public health problem that will only get worse in the future, as these veterans’ noise-induced hearing loss is compounded by aging. 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. But tinnitus is only part of the problem, because many veterans have experienced more profound hearing loss or deafness.

The reason that there is so much hearing loss in the military, according to VA-accredited claims agent Brett Buchanan, is that “The military, in general, is just a high noise-producing environment.” Sailors in the Navy spend most of their time below decks in environments he describes as filled with “the constant drumming of engines and metal-on-metal noise.” Soldiers in the Army and Marines may spend substantial portions of their day in or around noisy tanks and 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. Many efforts are made to reduce the risk and exposure. The US military provides hearing protection and noise-reducing ear plugs. 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 is doing what it can to increase the use of hearing protection by providing more sensitive earplugs that block loud noises but allow soldiers to hear even the faintest normal 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.