Veterans and hearing health
November is a month full of reasons to give thanks, not only for the big feast we eat at the end of the month but also for the the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. The Marines celebrate their birthday on November 10 and every year on November 11, Americans pause to honor the men and women who bravely fought for the freedoms we enjoy on a daily basis.
About Veteran’s Day
Armistice Day was proclaimed as a day of remembrance on the first anniversary of the end of the war in 1919 for the more than 17 million civilians and military who had lost their lives during World War 1. It became an annual observance in 1926 and a federal holiday in 1938. The United States renamed it Veterans Day in 1954 to honor all U.S. veterans.
Veterans and hearing loss
Some of our veterans return from war with physical, psychological and psychosocial trauma inflicted during their tours of duty. According to the Hearing Health Foundation, more than one million of our armed forces have been impacted by tinnitus, hearing loss or other auditory disorders in the past decade.
More than 933,000 veterans were receiving disability compensation for hearing loss and 1.3 million received compensation for tinnitus at the fiscal end of 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Tinnitus and hearing loss are the number one and two disabilities our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans develop, with more than 59,000 military members on disability for hearing loss from these two conditions.
Combat veterans are especially prone to hearing damage, most especially sensorineural hearing loss and tinnitus, due to excessive noise from artillery gunfire, battlefield explosions and loud machinery.
- Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when sensory hair cells in the inner ear are damaged or destroyed. These hair cells are responsible for translating sound into electrical impulses and sending them to the brain for interpretation. These hair cells do not regenerate; however, hearing aids can amplify sound and, in many sensorineural hearing loss cases, is the most common treatment option.
- Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, can be caused by sensory hair cell damage or a host of other sometimes unknown causes. Although there is no cure for this condition, it can be managed. Hearing loss and tinnitus often go hand in hand. In some cases, hearing aids provide enough sound amplification to help mask the tinnitus. Many of today's hearing aids also contain standard tinnitus masking features. Other types of sound therapy using music or white noise may benefit others, especially if no hearing loss is present.
Where to find help
One of the first places a veteran should seek help for hearing-related concerns is through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Health benefits are different for every veteran, depending on their eligibility status; however, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, every veteran enrolled in VA health is eligible to receive a hearing evaluation.
After enrollment, the veteran’s VA Primary Care Provider will make a referral to an Audiology and Speech Pathology Clinic for evaluation and treatment of patients with hearing concerns. Eligible veterans receive hearing aids and batteries at no cost.
Veterans who aren’t eligible for hearing health services may be able to receive hearing loss treatment from other sources:
- Local hearing centers: Some hearing centers have patient assistance programs which provide refurbished hearing aids at a reduced cost or small, private foundations to help with the financial cost of purchasing new devices. Others have convenient payment plans which spread costs over a period of months or years.
- Community social service organizations: Local United Way Agencies typically maintain listings of social service agencies in the community which provide services for those who are underserved. Additionally, many local Lions Clubs operate an Affordable Hearing Aid Project, which pairs eligible individuals with local hearing health professionals and affordable hearing aids.
- Vocational Rehabilitation: Veterans with hearing loss who are in the workforce may be eligible to receive hearing aids and other assistive listening devices through vocational rehabilitation. Each state monitors its own program which is funded by federal and private sources and provided through workers’ compensation programs, private insurance and other state programs. Information regarding state VR programs is available through workplace employment offices or state-specific websites.
Right after World War I ended, veterans diagnosed with hearing loss were most likely fit with a carbon hearing aid, a device which had limited range and poor quality sound. Soon after in 1920, vacuum tube hearing aids were invented. Although they were still bulky and heavy, they amplified sound in the user’s environment much more effectively than their predecessors.
Today’s hearing aids amplify sound; however, they are much smaller and more technologically advanced than the were in the 1920s. Circuitry in digital hearing aids is so sophisticated, it can recognize and amplify sounds differently based on their behavior. For example, they can enhance speech while dialing back sounds that interfere with understanding the conversation. Other features like automatic wind noise reduction, feedback prevention and the ability to switch settings automatically depending on listening environment are standard in many current hearing devices on the market. Additionally, most can even connect wirelessly to other technology, such as smartphones and other personal electronic devices.
Untreated hearing loss can lead to additional medical problems including anxiety and depression as well as social isolation and cognitive decline leading to dementia.
Ironically, although hearing aid technology has dramatically improved, research indicates only one out of every five Americans who could benefit from hearing aids actually seeks help. That means in addition to the number of veterans receiving treatment for their auditory problems, there are likely millions of others who have not sought help.
So this year, thank a vet for their service -- and if they have trouble understanding the conversation, share this article and encourage them to seek help for their hearing either through the Veteran's Administration or through any of the hearing healthcare professionals in our extensive directory. On Veterans Day and everyday, they deserve to hear our praise and thanksgiving loud and clear.