Loss of hearing is extremely common in America, with an estimated 20% of the general population having experienced it, but veterans who have served in war zones have experienced significantly higher percentages of hearing loss. Among troops who’ve been in Afghanistan and Iraq, the most widespread service-related disabilities are hearing loss and tinnitus.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%).

The result is a public health problem of the highest order, one that cannot help but get worse in the future, as the noise-induced hearing loss experienced by these soldiers gets worse as a result of normal age-related hearing loss. As a condition, tinnitus is disturbing in itself as a result of the ringing or buzzing sounds one hears constantly, but tinnitus also often causes disturbing side effects such as mood changes, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, nausea, vision changes, 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.” In the Navy, most sailors work below decks in high-noise environments, filled with “the constant drumming of engines and metal-on-metal noise.” Soldiers in the Army and Marines may spend substantial portions of their day in or around noisy tanks and transport carriers. Of course, in a war zone this background noise is often punctuated by the sounds of gunfire and explosions, creating pretty much an ideal environment for creating hearing loss. Many efforts are made to reduce the risk and exposure. The US military provides hearing protection and noise-reducing ear plugs. And while these earplugs may help while soldiers are practicing on the target range, during an actual fire fight, with bullets flying by and IEDs or mortars exploding all around you, a soldier’s first thought is not, “Wait. Time out. I’ve got to put in my earplugs.”

Some of the problem may be solved in the future by providing more sensitive earplugs to soldiers that selectively block out loud sounds such as explosions or guns firing, but allow soldiers to hear even whispered commands. 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. So if you are a military veteran who has experienced some form of hearing loss, contact us for an accurate diagnosis of the nature of your hearing problem. We can recommend the best hearing aid to solve the problem, and help you work with the VA to obtain them at the lowest cost to you possible.