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

Veterans – particularly those who’ve served in conflict zones – have considerably higher percentages of hearing loss than the general public. Considering that 20 percent of the public in the United States has some level of hearing loss, the percentages among veterans are disturbingly 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. As a condition, tinnitus is disturbing in itself as a result of the ringing or buzzing sounds one hears constantly, but tinnitus also often causes disturbing side effects such as mood changes, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, nausea, vision changes, and depression. But tinnitus is only part of the problem, because many veterans have experienced more profound hearing loss or deafness.

The military is a high-noise-producing environment.

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.” For example, he describes the working and living conditions below deck on most Naval ships at 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.”

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. 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 if you are a military veteran who has experienced some form of hearing loss, contact us for an accurate diagnosis of the nature of your hearing problem. We can recommend the best hearing aid to solve the problem, and help you work with the VA to obtain them at the lowest cost to you possible.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

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