I have spent a bit of time recently looking into the issue of hearing loss and veterans. I met with an American veteran a couple of months ago who had served a number of tours in Iraq and during our conversation it became obvious to me that he had hearing issues.
He seemed to think that this was just par for the course and nothing to write home about. I have since learned that he has been assessed by an audiologist and now wears two digital hearing aids.
I decided to look into this issue a bit in order to see just how widespread this issue is amongst veterans and the reasons behind it.
Hearing loss is very common in military veterans.
I was very surprised to learn that hearing loss and tinnitus (a ringing, hissing or rushing noise in the ear) are the singularly most common disability amongst military veterans.
Most of the information I have been able to pick up comes from statistics specifically relating the the American military. However I would surmise that military life is similar whether you are in America, the UK or anywhere else.
Also, the figures I use here are American military specific. The same numbers may not be quite as high for those nations not involved in the post 9/11 conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan etc…
In America alone it is estimated that there are 414,000 post 9/11 veterans who have hearing loss or tinnitus (or both). I found that to be an absolutely staggering number. Then I thought about it some more and realised that it shouldn’t be all that surprising really.
Why is there such high numbers of hearing loss amongst veterans.
When you think about it, the military is a pretty noisy place. Soldiers have to live with training exercises, live weapons firing, loud engines and massive tanks, helicopters etc…
The link between loud noise and hearing loss is well established. For example in a previous post, “Ways to prevent hearing loss” it states that continued exposure to noise levels above 105 dB (decibels) for periods of more than 15 minutes per week can cause hearing damage.
On a flight deck, noise levels are around 130 decibels and helicopter noise is around 100 decibels, according to military noise assessment. A soldier near an M60 machine gun is exposed to 150 decibels and within 50 feet of an exploding grenade, 160 decibels.
Then if we take the exposure that military personnel are exposed to in a conflict situation such as gun battles or IED’s (improvised explosive devices) then the levels of hearing loss within the military ranks becomes much more understandable.
Why do the military not have better hearing protection for their personnel?
In America, in particular, it has long been recognised that the Navy and the Air Force lead the way in terms of hearing loss prevention and issuing guidelines to minimise the impact of damage to their personnel’s hearing.
In saying that, it is difficult to imagine how even the very best hearing protection can reduce the noise level of a jet fighter sufficiently to prevent hearing damage over a long period of time.
When it comes to the military and ground forces in particular then hearing safety is a much harder issue to solve.The big question for combat soldiers is hearing protection V survivability.
I have read first hand accounts of combat soldiers openly refusing to wear hearing protection when on active duty. The claim is that it reduces their overall awareness in any given situation.
Given that the first objective of any military situation should be to ensure that all personnel come home alive and well then it is completely understandable that soldiers won’t want to take any measures that may impede that objective.
Is there a solution that can meet both needs.
Anyone familiar with the rapid advances in hearing aid technology over the last 10/15 years will know we are developing technology at a rate never before experienced in our history.
In 2010 the American government was spending approximately $1.4 billion on disability payments to veterans due to hearing impairments. I would imagine that figure will have risen significantly since.
There is undoubtedly research ongoing into finding a technological solution to better protect the hearing of combat soldiers whilst ensuring that their safety isn’t compromised.
In the meantime, more needs to be done for the current personnel leaving the forces to ensure that hearing loss is treated with the seriousness it deserves and that help is on hand at the earliest opportunity.
More recognition is required.
The problem with hearing loss is that it is a hidden disability. We can’t see it so it isn’t there. In terms of military veterans, people tend to focus on visible disabilities and others that have become well known due to media exposure over many years.
When talking about veteran disabilities we tend to look at loss of limbs or brain injury or even post traumatic stress disorder. We correctly look at life threatening injuries and the disabilities that follow them.
But we shouldn’t overlook the effects of hearing loss on veterans. Hearing loss can have a devastating effect on veterans lives. It shouldn’t be looked at as an occupational hazard or as a minor injury.
Hearing loss is a disability and comes with all the emotional, psychological, and personal difficulties that come with all disabilities. Everything that can be done, should be done, to ensure that veterans are given the very best opportunity to learn how to live with this condition.
As stated above, most of the facts and figures I have used in this post relate to the American armed forces. If anyone would like any further information or indeed help for veterans affected with hearing loss then you can contact the Hearing Loss Association of America.
If anyone would like information on their national hearing loss associations etc.. then please leave a comment and I will gladly pass the information on
As always I would love to hear from you on this or any topic related to hearing loss. Please leave a comment below. All will be answered. You can also contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org