Tinnitus and hearing loss affect veterans of all categories and might not get the attention that it deserves.

For the public and this generation’s crop of veterans, the signature wounds from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  However, there is another signature medical condition that affects not only combat veterans; auditory degradation.

The definition of hearing loss is obvious, but tinnitus is not so much.  Merriam-Webster defines tinnitus “as a condition that causes you to hear a ringing or roaring sounds that only you can hear.”  Tinnitus is associated with loud sounds and can affect its victim immediately or even years later.  It can cause loss of sleep, irritability and in general affect quality of life.

Tinnitus and hearing loss do not discriminate between combat and peacetime military personnel as they are exposed to loud noises such as firearms, heavy machinery, aircraft, ordnance, etc..  While exposure to these factors can happen both at home and abroad, it should be noted that tinnitus and hearing loss indeed have a relationship with TBI and PTSD because those conditions are often initiated through explosions, firearms other combat related activities.

Of course, no one has died of hearing loss and in a combat environment, blast/fire, loss of limb or gunshot wounds are more immediate and traumatic injuries.  Additionally, while hearing protection is available, its use could conceivably deaden a service member’s sense and result in a dangerous situation that might not otherwise have occurred if the hearing had not been hindered by protection.  Nevertheless, tinnitus and hearing loss are worthy of attention.

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) reports that in fiscal year 2011, tinnitus was the most prevalent service-connected disability, with 840,865 affected.  While tinnitus affects so many, it is important to note that when it comes to disability rating, it is not based on the degree of impairment.  A veteran is either rated with it or not.  The rating is 10%, but in order to qualify, a veteran need only have impairment in one ear.  One further point about tinnitus, it can affect a veteran years after the event in which the service member was exposed to trauma.

If you have tinnitus, make sure you contact a VSO in order to assist you in making your claim.  For those who may not have tinnitus or hearing loss, please remember to use proper hearing protection when in the presence of heavy machinery, firearms or even music concerts.

Listen to Ross Meglathery, MP, Vice President of VetsFirst discuss hearing loss and tinnitus on a recent podcast of Military Network Radio.