According to an article written by the Center for Public Integrity, hearing loss among post 9/11 veterans is worse than ever before. Hearing injuries cost more than $1.4 billion in veterans’ disability payments annually, and the Veterans Affairs Department is reported to buy one out of every five hearing aids sold annually in the United States..
While public concern is primary with post-9/11 troops suffering from missing limbs, traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder, the most widespread injury is actually hearing loss. Auditory injuries don’t get as much attention as the other injuries because they very rarely result in death.
Here’s how a post 9/11 service member suffers a hearing injury:
- The ear is especially prone to flying debris and blast pressures from improvised explosive devices
- Blast overpressure can cause an eardrum to rupture. The sensation is described as being shoved by something massive and then sucked back
- The outer ear can be damaged by flying debris, leading to severe, deforming cuts and tears
- Blast injuries can damage the brain’s hearing center. While hearing tests may be normal, the brain can no longer process the sound
- Hearing and balance problems occur when the delicate structures of the inner ear are disrupted by pressure and vacuum waves
While hearing protection seems an obvious solution, many service members interviewed admitted not wearing hearing protection because of problems with comfort and communication.
What’s the solution? More education about hearing loss in the military? Or, the development of more comfortable hearing protection that doesn’t impede communication?