In honor of Veterans’ Day, which just passed a few days ago, we pause to remember those who have served to protect our rights and freedom. Veterans sacrifice a great deal to serve our country, from leaving their families to risking their lives. Many veterans also sacrifice is their hearing. In fact, the field of audiology expanded significantly after World War II to provide care for veterans returning home with debilitating hearing loss.
Who Do So Many Veterans Suffer Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss among veterans isn’t a thing of the past. Military personnel are still some of the most at-risk Americans when it comes to hearing loss. Veterans are over 30% more likely to have hearing loss than nonveterans, while veterans who served between 2001 and 2010 in overseas operations like Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom are 4 times more likely to suffer severe hearing loss, with over 414,000 veterans coming home with hearing loss in the past few years.
Serving in missions like the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan exposed veterans to loud blasts and heavy gunfire. These extremely loud noises cause damage both to the ear and to the regions of the brain responsible for hearing. This noise induced hearing loss can be instant and severe, since at these noise levels, all it takes is one explosion to do permanent damage. For military personnel serving a tour in a dangerous zone, they’re exposed to far more than just one blast.
Think about this another way. Without hearing protection, your ears can take 8 hours of exposure to noises up to 85 decibels, things like traffic noise, or a crowded restaurant in the evening. But once sounds reach 115-120 decibels, like a chainsaw or rock concert, you only have a few minutes before your hearing is affected. Gunfire and explosions can reach up to 160 decibels! No wonder military personnel face hearing loss. “If there is a single injury that afflicts military personnel more than any other, it would be hearing loss and tinnitus,” says former Army infantryman Stephen Carlson. For many veterans, living with hearing loss seems to be inevitable. But does it have to be?
When training, military personnel always wear hearing protection. At the gun range or at the base, earplugs are in common use. However, when it comes to being stationed in the field, no one wears hearing protection. If people know that being exposed to all these extremely loud sounds is damaging their hearing, why don’t they keep using earplugs? In life and death situations, being alert and aware could make all the difference, and wearing earplugs that muffle all the sounds around you, including all the soft sounds, could be very dangerous. Most military personnel risk their hearing rather than risking their lives.
The Impact of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss may start out as a nuisance, but before long it becomes debilitating, interfering with daily life, making social situations a struggle, and isolating veterans from their family and friends. Unfortunately, hearing loss among veterans continues, with few people talking about this major issue in military health. As an invisible disability, hearing loss often goes unnoticed.
Veterans Affairs – Resources for Veterans
If you are a veteran, or have a family member who is, there are many resources that you might not know about, such as access to education, free health care, and compensation and pension programs. Veterans Affairs (VA) works in every state, providing support to our nation’s heroes. To learn more about Veterans Affairs in your state, visit www.va.gov to access the help you deserve.
VA provides pensions for veterans and their loved ones, offering financial aid for costs like assisted living or medical care. Did you know that both hearing loss and tinnitus, that awful ringing of buzzing in your ears when you’re in a quiet room, are considered disabilities that resulted from your service? As such, you’re eligible for a disability compensation that could see you owning a sophisticated hearing aid in no time.
Visit the nearest My Hearing Centers location for a hearing test and consultation. We’ll find the perfect hearing device for your needs, so you can get back to enjoying time with your family, improve your relationships, and put your hearing health struggles behind you.