This Memorial Day, as we honor veterans with parades and flags and, yes, barbecues, we should remind ourselves of the toll that war takes on hearing.
Two and a half million veterans have service-connected hearing disabilities. Tinnitus is the number-one claim for all service related disability, with more than 1.5 million veterans receiving disability benefits for it. Another million receive benefits for service-related hearing loss.
Master Sgt., Donald Doherty, a retired Marine and Vietnam veteran who is now the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Hearing Loss Association of America, lost his hearing as a result of gunfire and artillery noise during his 1965-66 tour in Vietnam. He has worn hearing aids since June 1970. He recently retired from the Department of Veterans Affairs after 25 years of service.
Doherty is a member of “Heroes with Hearing Loss,” supported by HamiltonCapTel. Heroes with Hearing Loss is group of veterans who hold interactive workshops to help veterans and their families come to terms with hearing loss and find solutions. You can follow them on Twitter at @HWHLVeterans.
Hearing loss is even more an invisible disability in the military than it is elsewhere. Among veterans it is often overshadowed by other injuries. But as Heroes with Hearing Loss notes, hearing loss and other injuries are “intertwined both physically and emotionally — as a trigger, a constant reminder or an everyday frustration. It is a very unique and personal challenge for many veterans.” The website has a useful list of resources and web addresses.
For the past several years the group has held a packed workshop at HLAA’s annual convention, which will be held this year June 21-24 in Minneapolis. I wrote about their 2014 presentation in “An Invisible War Wound,” published on November 11th, 2014, Veterans’ Day.
“Marines — and anyone in the armed forces — have been instilled with a sense of pride, the need to act independently, to do it yourself. It’s a sign of weakness if you reach out for help,” Doherty said at that event. Eventually, you realize it’s affecting “not only yourself but everyone around you.” Heroes with Hearing Loss helps veterans accept help.
Captain Mark A. Brogan, Ret., was one of the speakers that year. He was injured in a suicide bomb attack while on active duty in Iraq in 2006, sustaining a severe penetrating head injury, multiple shrapnel wounds, and a nearly severed right arm. He spent months in a coma at Walter Reed Medical Center. It was not until his traumatic injuries had been treated, he said, that he began to be aware of his hearing loss and its permanency. He also began to realize how hearing loss and TBI were entwined. The part of the brain that controls speech perception was injured in the blast, he said, and that damage combined with physical injury to the ear to make speech difficult to understand. He knew he needed help, but like many in the military asking for help was difficult.
HLAA was founded in 1979 by Rocky Stone, who also suffered service-related hearing loss. HLAA continues to honor and offer resources for veterans, on both the national and chapter level. Mark Brogan joined the Knoxville, Tenn., chapter: “It’s just good to get with others who have the same type of disability,” he says.
For more information about living with hearing loss, see Katherine Bouton, Amazon.com.