An estimated 20% of all Americans have some form of hearing loss, however, there is one portion of the population in which that percentage is significantly higher – veterans, especially those who have served in war zones. Hearing loss and tinnitus have become the most common service-related disabilities among troops 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. 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.” 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. 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. 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 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. Meanwhile, the VA has become the largest single consumer of hearing aids in the U.S., providing them to veterans who need them at little or no cost. 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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