Hearing loss among veterans

Published: Nov. 8, 2023 at 7:17 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - From engines to cannons and gunfire, there are many reasons people in the military have hearing loss. According to Veterans Affairs (VA), 37.5 million Americans have lost their hearing, and that is by far the most prevalent service-related disability.

As of 2020, more than 1.3 million veterans were receiving disability compensation for hearing loss, and more than 2.3 million received compensation for tinnitus, according to the Veterans Benefits Administration Compensation Report.

“Hearing loss is very prevalent because of the noise exposure that our veterans and military people are exposed to,” said audiologist Michelle Fornelli.

Those loud sounds impact all veterans to some degree, no matter their age or service.

“Noise will come into the ear canal and it will vibrate the structure, the eardrum, the middle ear bone, and it gets into the nerve and that’s how the signal goes up to the brain,” Fornelli explained. “So normal sounds vibrate these structures gently, in a normal manner. Loud, explosive sounds or repeated loud sounds will overdrive that system and it will cause damage over time.”

“Gun shots, cannons, 20 years of being a marine you see and hear too much,” said Gerry Harrison, a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran.

“Couldn’t hear nothing,” Harrison explained. “People are looking at you, they’re talking and you’re getting closer and closer. You know, my wife gets on me all the time. I got the TV set on 90; she’s like please turn it down to like 20.”

Being exposed to blasts increases the likelihood of decreased sound tolerance in veterans and service members. A study by the VA shows people with decreased sound tolerance have negative reactions to everyday sounds, such as being overwhelmed by background noise in a public place.

“They cannot hear well in noise,” Fornelli explained. “They feel that people are mumbling instead of speaking clearly.”

Most hearing loss might not be able to be fixed, but it can be managed.