Those who have served our country deserve the best quality of health care. And yet, when it comes to hearing health, they have taken some of the greatest risks, as well. The top two reasons that veterans seek health services are for hearing loss and tinnitus. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals treat these veterans for these conditions, and the costs are incredible. For instance, in n 2017, 1.79 million veterans received disability compensation for tinnitus, and 1.16 million received compensation for hearing loss.
These numbers reflect the importance of continued care for our veterans but also the value of protection during the years of service. As you might expect, those who serve in active duty can be exposed to loud noise from transportation, machinery, and weapons, but those who do not serve in active duty are exposed to many of these same noise-producing elements in training. When you consider that hearing conditions are connected to anxiety and depression, the justification for care and protection is even more convincing.
Yet, protection has been compromised in some instances, either improperly implemented or through faulty devices. In a landmark case, the 3M corporation provided faulty earplugs to military service members, leading to much higher rates of hearing loss than were necessary for the roles performed by these soldiers. Let’s take a closer look at noise-induced hearing loss, considering how veterans are particularly at risk.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in Military Service
Those who serve in the armed forces are put in harm’s way, and one of those potential harms is noise exposure. One of the most common forms of noise exposure comes from heavy transportation machinery. Aircraft and ground transportation produce incredibly high decibel levels of noise, and military members use this transportation to get between military bases and to locations of service and training.
Advanced protection is necessary when operating or maintaining these transportation machines. Disposable earplugs often are not enough to protect us from these high decibel levels, and military service members are required to wear noise-canceling earmuffs or helmets to get the protection they need. This protective equipment is particularly effective because they come equipped with communication devices built-in, making it possible to block out the sound of the aircraft or other vehicle while also enabling communication in dangerous situations. The use of weapons is another high risk for military service members.
A single blast or gunshot can be enough to cause permanent damage if it happens at close range without protection. For this reason, hearing protection is necessary not only in active duty but also during all training missions. Noise exposure is not only measured in decibel levels, however. The duration of exposure matters, as well, so limiting the time of exposure is an important way to reduce the risk of hearing loss.
Protection and Treatment
Protection is only one part of the puzzle when it comes to hearing loss among veterans. For many veterans, the opportunity for protection has long passed, and they are facing the challenges of hearing loss and tinnitus in the present. The first step is to make sure that these veterans have access to thorough and regular testing. Though the general public is advised to get a hearing test at least once every five years, veterans should be getting tested more often.
An annual test is a good recommendation for anyone who has been exposed to noise in a history of noise exposure through military service. Along with the consistent diagnosis, treatment is crucial for our veterans. Getting treated for hearing loss and tinnitus not only helps with communication and quality of life. The benefits of treatment extend into physical health, mental health, and cognitive ability, as well.
If you have a veteran in your life who could benefit from treatment for hearing loss, take this opportunity to encourage them to seek services. The benefits of treatment begin as soon as you take the step toward hearing assistance, so don’t delay making an appointment for diagnosis and treatment. These benefits continue long into the future, and our veterans deserve the best quality of care for all aspects of health, including hearing and tinnitus support.