The United States Department of Veterans Affairs was created to ensure that those who were in active duty have accurate resources to take care of any health issues caused by their active duty. This system dates all the way back to 1663 when the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony were at war with Pequot Native Americans. Throughout history, the nature of the department became much more sophisticated, and by World War I in 1917, it included insurance services, disability compensation and rehabilitation services.
In the last few years, the VA has worked to become a modern organization which provides care, research and education for those who come back from war. The biggest changes made to the department include these initiatives:
- Automating GI Bill benefits
- Creating Virtual Lifetime Electronic Records
- Developing the capabilities and systems to drive performance and outcomes
- Eliminating homelessness for veterans
- Enabling benefits and services that are up to the 21st century standards
- Improving the mental health of returning veterans
- Building a veterans Relationship Management to enable convenient, seamless interactions
- Enhancing veteran access to healthcare and improving the overall experience
- Establishing strong management infrastructure and operation
- Performing research to enhance long-term life and overall wellbeing of veterans
- Transforming human capital management
- Improving the quality of healthcare and cutting cost
- Transforming healthcare delivery through health informatics
Prevalence of hearing loss in veterans
According to the VA, more than 59,000 military members experienced hearing loss from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. As the most prevalent injury that veterans experience, it has become a growing complaint for veterans. However it is nothing new. As a matter of fact, the Veterans Health Initiative reported that the field of audiology was established during World War II to treat veterans who came home and were suffering from hearing loss. Between 1945 and 1947, 15,000 veterans were seen for hearing loss, 45,000 by 1949 and 71,000 veterans were identified to have hearing loss by 1957. The VA hearing aids program began in the late 1950s, making them a leader in the development of treatment options, evaluation and technologies.
In the 2001 fiscal year, VA audiologists treated more than 316,000 patients and issued a total of 241,458 hearing aids to those who needed them.
War Related Illness and Injury Study Center
After deployment, veterans' healthcare needs and other concerns are handled by the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center (WRRISC). The clinical program focuses on environmental exposure assessment and medical evaluations to meet the needs of the individuals who served our country. This branch also provides extensive education for veterans, family members and other loved ones.
In 1999, the National Academy of Sciences recommended that there be a branch that helps veterans mange their health conditions, conduct research and apply proper care. By 2001, two centers were open, and by 2008 another center opened its doors to provide wider care. Currently, there are service centers in East Orange, N.J., Palo Alto, Calif., and Washington, D.C.
The WRIISC also conducts an extensive amount of research for veteran health. In order to improve the overall health and well-being of veterans, WRIISC clinicians and researchers work with reoccurring problems in returning veterans to meet theirs and others' needs.
The WRIISC environmental exposure assessment allows veterans to pose questions and concerns about their health that may be related to deployment. Veterans taking advantage of this service can expect to learn about the latest research available about health effects and the link to environmental exposure. To receive these services you must meet these requirements:
- Be a veteran who participated in Project 112 or SHAD (Shipboard Hazard and Defense)
- Be a veteran who took part in military Atmospheric Nuclear Weapon Tests
- Be a veteran who was active in combat
Help with hearing loss
The department works with a number of people who suffer from hearing loss from being in active duty. Veterans who were in areas of combat, especially those who spent an extended amount of time in the force, will find that having trouble hearing is very common. According to the VA website, nearly 10 percent of the disabilities for veterans are hearing difficulties.
Younger individuals who are going into combat now can protect themselves against future ailments by following these protective measures:
Minimize exposure to noisy environments: While it may not be possible for army personnel to determine their level of exposure to loud sounds, they can make sure to avoid it outside of the force.
Wearing hearing protection when around noise hazards: As much as possible, army members should make sure to provide a protective barrier for their ears.
Avoid medications that have effects on ear health: Some medications are known to cause hearing issues such as tinnitus. Before taking any prescription drugs, make sure to check with a doctor that these side effects are not common.
Wearing protective gear on the head to prevent trauma or injury: Covering up the ears and protecting the head against trauma can reduce the chances that debris would cause injury.
Having regular hearing check-ups: The ears are a very important and sensitive body organ, so they should be checked for damage on a regular basis, especially for those individuals who are in a military force.
Risk factors for hearing loss
Our hearing gets worse as we get older – it's just a fact. But veterans may have it a little worse than others because they are commonly exposed to loud sounds. Risk factors for hearing loss increase based on a number of things, including:
Not wearing protective gear for the head and ears
Repeated exposure to loud noises such as gun fire and explosions
Ear trauma or injury
Trauma to the head
- Family history of hearing loss and difficulties
If you are a veteran and think you may have hearing loss, start with a hearing test from a local hearing care professional or contact a VA facility near you. For further support, consider a complimentary membership to the Hearing Loss Association of America available for veterans. This national organization has local chapters across the United States who provide assistance and support to those with hearing loss and their families.
- VA Provided Hearing and Vision Benefits, Military Benefits, http://www.military.com/benefits/veterans-health-care/va-provided-hearing-and-vision-benefits.html
- War Related Illness and Injury Study Center, US Department of Veterans Affairs, www.warrelatedillness.va.gov/education/healthconditions/hearing-difficulties.asp
- Find locations, US Department of Veterans Affairs, http://www.va.gov/directory/guide/home.asp?isflash=1
- Veterans, Hearing Loss Association of America, http://www.hearingloss.org/content/veterans