How We Can Ensure Veterans With Hearing Loss
Don’t Suffer In Silence
While America is proud to honor those who served in the U.S. military, many of America’s veterans return home carrying physical, psychosocial and psychological trauma from their tours of duty. Millions of active service personnel develop hearing loss, tinnitus or other auditory conditions during their military career.
Today, as many as 2.7 million veterans are living with a hearing condition as a result of their military service. Repeated exposure to loud noises from heavy equipment, roadside bombs and gunfire is often the root cause. While hearing loss and tinnitus is often overlooked, they are actually the most common service-related health issue affecting veterans. For friends, relatives, and employers of veterans with a hearing condition, it’s important to understand not just how it can impact their lives but also what you can do to help them.
Adjusting To Civilian Life
Adapting to a new civilian life from a military career is often much more than just simply changing job roles. For most veterans, it means a change in virtually every area of their life. From their home, career and training to their healthcare, lifestyle and the community they are part of. But when a veteran is having to live with a hearing condition, this can all become even harder. They may find themselves struggling to understand friends and colleagues, especially when there is background noise. Hearing loss and tinnitus can make it very hard for veterans to maintain relationships with family members and friends and can have a devastating long-term impact on their lives.
Hearing Conditions Affecting Veterans
Veterans are 30% more likely to have a severe hearing impairment compared to nonveterans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The type of hearing loss that veterans generally experience happens when the sensory hair cells located in the inner ear become damaged or even destroyed. These hair cells are what translates sound into electrical impulses which are then sent to the brain for interpretation. These hair cells do not regenerate.
But hearing aids can amplify sounds and is the most common treatment option. Damage to the sensory hair cells can also lead to tinnitus. Veterans with tinnitus may hear intermittent or constant buzzing, ringing or hissing sounds that can be so severe it stops them from being able to sleep or concentrate. There is no known cure for tinnitus, but in most cases, it can be managed. Hearing aids can sometimes provide enough sound amplification to help mask the tinnitus.
Hearing Loss And Civilian Employment
Veteran unemployment has continued to remain below the national job rate, according to data from the Bureau of Labor. Hearing loss, deafness, and tinnitus should not be a barrier to a veteran applying for and excelling in a job after they’ve left the military. All that is needed is for managers and colleagues to understand and support them.
While veterans may feel reluctant to disclose their hearing loss, especially to a new employer, doing so ensures that managers can make any necessary adjustments to the working environment or even just how they approach the way they communicate to their team. Certain federal laws including The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to make reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities, including hearing loss.
Managers should ensure that any veteran in their team with a hearing condition has the appropriate devices and resources they need such as amplified phones with an extra-loud ringer and adjustable handset volume. Giving team members the opportunity to learn crucial communication skills to support their veteran colleague and other existing colleagues with hearing loss can also be extremely beneficial.
Hearing Loss And Social Isolation
When veterans are living with a hearing condition, they often avoid social occasions especially busy and noisy places, such as a restaurant, as they can feel socially excluded as they simply cannot keep up with the conversations around them. This can have a huge effect on their confidence as well as their relationships and can gradually become a bigger and bigger problem for them. Hearing loss is often linked with a variety of mental health problems such as stress, anxiety, and depression which are conditions that veterans are already at a greater risk of developing.
A hearing loss, however, shouldn’t stop a veteran from socializing and spending time with their friends and loved ones. But it can be hard when certain places are so noisy and it can feel too overwhelming for someone with hearing loss. That’s why it can often be better to choose somewhere that is much quieter and even pre-book to ensure you get a table in the quieter part of the venue.
If the background music is too loud, don’t be afraid to ask the manager to turn it down. If you feel awkward about it just explain that it can be very difficult for people with hearing aids to cope with loud background music. Choose a venue with good lighting, so that anyone in the party that needs to lipread can do so easily. Don’t forget, when everyone takes their seat, make sure the veteran with hearing loss is in the best spot to be able to hear and see everyone.
What Friends And Loved Ones Can Do
Friends and relatives of veterans living with a hearing condition can make a huge difference to the quality of their lives by taking a few simple steps. For instance, when someone has a degree of hearing loss, don’t just suddenly speak at them and expect them to respond. Always make sure you have their attention by using their name before you start talking to them. Try to avoid talking to them from behind, instead tap them on the arm to get their attention. Remember that it can often be harder for them to hear and understand what you are saying if everyone is talking at once, they are tired, they have tinnitus or there’s a lot of background noise such as the TV or the vacuum cleaner.
While we are grateful for the service our veterans have given for their country, many return home with severe hearing loss that can be devastating. As friends, relatives, and employers of veterans, it’s important \we understand the impact of hearing loss and what we can do to ensure they enjoy a happy and fulfilling civilian life.