Veterans and hearing health
Tinnitus and hearing loss are the most common service-related injuries for service members and veterans (Ehrenfeld). According to the Veterans Benefits Administration compensation report, in 2020:
Tinnitus can sound like hissing, whistling, clicking, static, crickets, screeching, whooshing, roaring, pulsing, ocean waves, dial tones, jackhammers or even music (American Tinnitus Association, “Understanding the facts”
- A person may have tinnitus in one or both ears.
- Tinnitus is often caused by exposure to loud noise.
- Tinnitus can develop gradually or suddenly.
- Some people only notice tinnitus occasionally. Other people notice tinnitus daily.
- Everyone experiences tinnitus differently. For some people, tinnitus is just a mild annoyance. For others, tinnitus makes it hard to concentrate or sleep. The sound a person hears and how often they hear it may affect how they cope.
- About 33% of veterans with tinnitus also have hyperacusis or decreased sound tolerance (DST). Hyperacusis makes sounds seem louder than they actually are. Veterans with hyperacusis may feel overwhelmed by everyday sounds, such as water running, background noise or traffic. Loud sounds can cause physical pain.
- Approximately 90% of people who have tinnitus also have hearing loss (Ehrenfeld).
- Hearing loss and military service Some common causes of hearing loss from military service include: Blast exposure or injury. Even when there is no visible injury, vibrations or waves from a blast can cause hearing loss or ear damage. Blast exposure is also linked to hyperacusis and auditory processing disorder. Exposure to noise from:
- Ship engine rooms and carrier decks.
- Fighter planes and jets.
- Military vehicles.
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI).
- Defective ear plugs and improper hearing protection (U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, Office of Research and Development; Puntillo).
- Other loud noises common in military service.
Auditory processing disorder
Auditory processing disorder is caused by changes inside the brain. A person with auditory processing disorder may have typical hearing but still have a hard time understanding speech. Blast exposure and exposure to hydrocarbon chemicals in jet propulsion fuel-8 (or JP-8) may cause auditory processing disorder (American Academy of Audiology, “Blast exposure”; U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, Office of Research and Development).
Effects on overall health
If you think you have tinnitus, hearing loss, auditory processing disorder or hyperacusis, it is important to get help early. Ignoring these issues can have a big impact on your life and health. Left untreated, you might have more stress, fatigue, anxiety and confusion. You might be frustrated by misunderstanding people.
Untreated hearing loss may also contribute to early onset dementia, depression, reduced cognitive capacity, divorce and family problems, social isolation and withdrawal. This is why getting help early is so important.
Your first step is to see a doctor.
If you are already signed up for VA health care, ask for a referral to audiology.
- The audiologist will give you a diagnosis and recommend treatment.
- The audiologist will also determine if your tinnitus, hearing loss, auditory processing disorder or hyperacusis is covered by the VA. If it is, the VA may provide hearing aids, cochlear implants, assistive listening devices or other devices.
- If your clinic doesn’t have an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor or audiologist, the VA may pay for care through a local provider if you qualify.
If you are not signed up for VA health care, sign up at the VA Medical Center of your choice. Your County Veterans Service Officer (CVSO) can help you do this.
The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Linkage Line (LinkVet) offers resources and information for veterans and their families. They can connect you with your local County Veteran Services Officers (CVSO) and VA Medical Center. You can call the Veterans Linkage line at 1-888-LinkVet (546-5838) or visit their website at linkvet.org.
Most hearing loss is permanent, but there are many technologies that can help. Hearing aids help many people hear and communicate better. Cochlear implants may be another option if hearing aids do not help. There are also tinnitus masking devices and strategies. Hearing aids can also help reduce tinnitus. DHHSD’s website has more information about tinnitus
A mental health therapist can help you adjust to life with hearing-related health issues. It can be helpful to work with a therapist experienced in counseling adults with hearing loss. The Mental Health Provider Directory lists some therapists who have experience working with people with hearing loss. If you already have a therapist, DHHSD has a free online Mental Health Practitioner Training. It was developed to help mental health care providers understand hearing loss, but it is helpful to anyone who wants to learn more about hearing loss.
Do you need to talk to someone right away? The Veterans Crisis Line offers support to veterans and their families. Call 988 and press 1 to talk, or send a text to 838255. You can also visit their website to chat. The Veterans Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Connecting with others who can relate to your experiences is another way to adjust to life with hearing loss.
American Tinnitus Association
Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) Veterans Across America Virtual Chapter
Heroes with Hearing Loss
The Hyperacusis Network
Adjusting to hearing loss
Assistive equipment and technology
Communicating with people with hearing loss
Getting hearing aids
Hear for the health of it
Hearing loss home modification checklist
Preventing noise-induced hearing loss
Signs of hearing loss
The Americans with Disabilities Act and hearing loss