Hearing Loss Association of America along with nine other organizations representing people with hearing loss, parents of children with hearing loss, hearing health professionals and hearing aid manufacturers sponsored a briefing in honor of the Congressional Hearing Health Caucus (CHHC) on February 8. The CHHC has been reinvigorated this year by Representatives Tom Latham, R-IA, and Carolyn McCarthy, D-NY. The briefing attracted a record 125 Congressional staffers and members of hearing health organizations to examine “how the Military and Veterans Administration are handling the surge in hearing loss and tinnitus cases related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Rep. McCarthy, a long-time hearing health champion, welcomed the audience and emphasized the importance of people seeking treatment when they suspect they have a hearing loss. She also described her own experience with hearing loss and how important hearing aids have been to her. Rep. Latham, another leading hearing health champion, also welcomed the crowd and described how the use of hearing aids helped his brother tremendously after experiencing hearing loss related to service in the Vietnam War. He also urged attendees to support the bi-partisan hearing aid tax credit bill which he and Rep McCarthy champion.
The briefing was presented by Lucille Beck, PhD, Chief Consultant and National Director for Audiology and Speech at the Office of Rehabilitation Services, Veterans Health Administration; and Mark Packer, M.D., Col(s), USAF, Interim Director of the Hearing Center of Excellence which was formed in part to insure seamless services for soldiers with hearing-related injuries while they are in the military and as they transition to civilian life and care through the VA.
The speakers focused on the large increase in the number of both tinnitus and hearing loss cases which are the most common service-connected disabilities overall. They reported that more than 810,000 veterans have been service connected for tinnitus, and more than 730,000 have been service connected for hearing loss as of the third quarter of 2011. The numbers are also quite high for veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where almost 215,000 veterans have been service connected for tinnitus and about 199,000 have been service connected for hearing loss. The two conditions account for 12.1% of all service connected disabilities among veterans in 2010.
The speakers also focused on the combination of symptoms beyond hearing loss and tinnitus that are often reported by soldiers dealing with polytrauma such as traumatic brain injury, memory loss, visual impairment, PTSD and other issues. They emphasized that the military and VA work to coordinate care related to these multiple conditions and also provide the best technology to patients to treat hearing loss and tinnitus. The speakers also discussed the substantial research efforts conducted in relation to the treatment of hearing loss and tinnitus management.
The sponsoring groups, organized as the Friends of the Congressional Hearing Health Caucus (FCHHC) plan to host a Hearing Screening Event & Reception on Wednesday, May 16, 2012 for Congressional staff and other guests. FCHHC members include the A.G. Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; Academy of Doctors of Audiology; American Academy of Audiology; American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery; American Speech-Language-Hearing Association; American Tinnitus Association; Hearing Industries Association; Hearing Loss Association of America; International Hearing Society; National Association of the Deaf; National Court Reporters Association; and Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf