Loss of hearing is pervasive in America, with an estimated 20% of the general population having experienced it, but veterans who’ve served in combat zones have significantly higher percentages of hearing difficulties. Among soldiers who’ve served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the most common service-related disabilities 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 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.” 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.” 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. But, while these are fine on the target range while practicing, when bullets are actually blazing by and IEDs or mortars are exploding around them, no one stops to put in their earplugs.

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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