Noise - Veterans

We Won the War But I Lost My Hearing

When soldiers go to war, they often bring an unwanted souvenir home with them...a hearing loss. About Deafness/HOH interviewed a veteran, Doug Smith, who acquired a hearing loss:

Smith Loses Hearing

Q: What happened in the military to cause your hearing loss?

A: I was a navy diver..and submarine sailor...I crushed my eardrums. This happened in 1976. Quite a few submarine sailors have hearing damage due to the pressures we deal with.

Q: How much of a hearing loss did you sustain?

A: Over 50 percent in both ears.

Smith Returns Home

Q: What kind of help did you get (medically) from the military? Were you given any assistive devices like a hearing aid (circa 1976 of course)?

A: The military gave no real help. The military didn't really do anything about my ears. I got no disability to speak of. My case was transferred to the VA (Veterans Administration, now the Department of Veterans Affairs). I went for a hearing test and the VA said yep, you've got significant hearing loss. Have a nice day.

Q: That was 1976. Are things better today? If a veteran acquires hearing loss today, can that veteran look forward to better treatment than you got in 1976?

A: I would say probably not. Most of the medical help comes from the Veterans Admin. Don't get me wrong. The military hospitals and the VA hospitals are great places, but there is not a whole lot medically they could do to help me.

Smith Gets Discharged

Q: What impact, if any, did this hearing loss have on your military career?

A: After 14 years (in the military) I was medically discharged for the hearing loss as well as a seizure disorder.

Articles on Veterans and Hearing Loss

Doug Smith is just one of many veterans affected by hearing loss. In addition to Mr. Smith, in one of my early college classes I encountered a veteran who had been deafened in the military.

Other articles have been written about veterans and hearing loss. Some articles appeared in Hearing Health magazine, which printed several articles on the issue, hoping to draw attention to the matter.

  • Veterans Report, Spring 2002. This is an essay that reprints a letter from Rocky Stone, founder of Self Help for Hard of Hearing People.
  • On the Other Hand: The VA: More Money, Better Service? Spring 2002. Continues from previous article.
  • The Veteran's Dilemma: To fight or walk away from the VA, Winter 2001. Tells the story of a Vietnam war veteran who sustained a hearing loss.
  • Veteran Care: Today's and Tomorrrow's, Fall 2001.

Other Resources for Veterans with Hearing Loss

The VA has the following resources on hearing loss:

  • Hearing Aids Information Bulletin 90-3, which addresses the evaluation of hearing aids by the Veterans Administration
  • VA Handbook 1173.7, Audiology and Speech Devices
  • Directive VHA DIR 2002-039,07/05/02, Prescribing hearing aids and eyeglasses
  • Network Memorandum 10N2-98-00, "Network 2 Provision of Hearing Aids and Other Assistive Listening Devices"
  • VHA DIRECTIVE 96-069 concerns itself with prosthetic services

For more information, contact the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Are you a veteran? Did you acquire your hearing loss as a result of your service? What happened after you returned home? Read others' stories below and share your story.

Marine Veteran

My story is a lot like Doug's. In the early 70's I was in the Marine Corps. I noticed that I was having trouble hearing things, like the radio, TV, conversations in crowded rooms. I was always saying "huh," if I wasn't looking at the person that was talking's face. All I would hear was mumbling.

When I was inducted, my hearing was excellent, now something was different. I had been to the rifle range and wore hearing protection. However, we rode in helicopters a lot without hearing protection. I would notice my hearing was bad after these rides.

Getting Hearing Tested

I went to the base hospital and was given an audiogram. I went over my hearing test with the doctor. He said I had a definite hearing loss in both ears. Then he pulled out a tuning fork about as big as my forearm and hit it on his desk. Holding it up in front of my face he said "Can you hear that?" I said "yes" and he said I was fit for duty and sent me away.

Hearing Test Almost Failed

On my first reenlistment I almost didn't pass my audiogram. The nurse said she would check to see if I would need a waiver for my hearing from the doctor. She came back and said I was okay but I probably would not pass my next reenlistment physical. Sure enough I didn't, so I asked about disability and was told that was only for 100% hearing loss but I was welcome to go before the Navy medical board to plead my case. It would take six to eight months beyond my ETS, so I just let it go.

Hearing Loss Worsens

When my hearing kept getting worse after a couple years out of the service I went to the VA, and filled out a ton of paper work. It took three months to get my first appointment, then another six weeks until I could schedule an audiogram. After the audiogram it took six months to hear back from them to set an appointment with an ear doctor. The earliest appointment I could make was in three months. I waited six hours. I saw the doctor and he went over my test with me and said I had possible "sensorineural damage" with, judging by my complaint, possible "tinnitus" or "cochlear" damage.

No Help Given

He asked "what would I expect them to do for me?".

I said maybe I could get some hearing aids or something? He said they don't do that and sent me on my way.

Vietnam Veteran

I was discharged from the USMC in 1969. I had served 8 months in Vietnam with a rifle company. I am a 40 percent disabled veteran due to shrapnel wounds from a mine blast that wounded me in 1968. My discharge fron the service was eight months after the injury. In the 70's I had my hearing tested by the company I worked for. The test showed I had high pitch hearing loss.

At that time I didn't think it was a problem. My hearing gradually got worse. I went to a civilian doctor and had my ears tested. The result was I have a 60 percent hearing loss in both ears. The doctor also advised me that I have severe scar tissue and nerve damage in both ears.

The VA did the same exam with the same results, and supplied me with hearing aids for both ears. Because nothing referencing a hearing problem is in my service records, the VA is taking the stand that it is not service related, even though their own doctors feel that it is. Has anyone else encountered this problem? How was it resoulved? Does anyone have a suggestion, other than forget it?

Another Vietnam Veteran

I have heard that the Mickey Mouse type ears that the military used for wearing on the flight decks and flight lines, were of little use. I am referring to the period prior to 1983, when hearing conservation laws came into being. I remember them as looking like ear muffs and having a tension strap going over the top of your head. These were not issued to everyone.

Recent Retiree

I just retired a few months ago with 20 years in the army. During that time, I was infantry (airborne) and armor (M1 tank series). In my initial infantry days I was an M60 gunner (try firing thousands of 7.62 mm that go off about 6 inches from your head in a matter of minutes) and I can recall losing my hearing for up to 5 days even though I wore ear protection.

My chain of command was aware of it at the time but did nothing. Subsequently, I thought nothing of it. I was also a grenadier,and rifleman... basically using all weapons our infantry has available.

I lost count of the times my hearing went bad or was temporarily lost when firing. I became increasingly alarmed and made the best of available hearing protection. But in some situations hearing protection is not an option - an example is a patrol - when you need your ears keen - then suddenly are in action.

Tanks have their own brand of BOOM BOOM and the turbine engine and more. Recently, in my last physical before parting service, they documented substantial hearing loss but did nothing more. I am seeing the VA now about it. I figure that I have nothing to lose.

Combat arms in the military is certainly detrimental to one's hearing (among other things). I have no animosity to the military. But I can say that no hearing protection is going to stave off hearing dangers in the military. My father is a WW2 who lost hearing in one ear because of an explosion (artillery). It's part of the job.

World War II Veteran

Eventually the hearing came back to some extent but in 1950 an audio doctor checked me out and verified my loss. I was told it would gradually get worse which it has. I was told the name of this type of loss that related to loud noise like cannon fire but have since forgot.

VA Provides More Hearing Aids

An About visitor wrote to let me know that "A while back (circa 2000?) the VA started offering hearing aides to more veterans that are in their system."

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