This Memorial Day, there will be very few parades to celebrate our veterans. But it’s a good time to remind ourselves of the toll that war takes on hearing.
When we think about the injuries our servicemen and -women endure, we focus on major life-changing injuries like Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. We worry about suicide in veterans. We see veterans struggling to learn to walk again with prosthetic limbs or learning to hug a child using a prosthetic arm. These are all horrifying consequences of war and no one would minimize them.
But there is a war wound we don’t see, and for the most part don’t think about. Hearing loss and tinnitus are the two largest categories of disability in the military, and have been for some time.
These are not comparable injuries in terms of the scale of destruction, and they are not life-threatening. They are often secondary to TBI or other debilitating injuries. But they’re permanent. And long after a veteran has begun to recover from these other wounds physically and emotionally, he (or she) begins to realize the hearing loss or tinnitus is not going away.
Hearing loss is even more an invisible disability in the military than it is elsewhere, but it is intertwined with other injuries 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,” one veteran told an audience at the Hearing Loss Association of America‘s (HLAA) annual convention in 2014 in a presentation by Heroes with Hearing Loss, who speak to veterans’ groups and others about the impact of hearing loss and tinnitus. I wrote about their 2014 presentation in “An Invisible War Wound,” published on November 11th, 2014, Veterans’ Day. (This post is an adaptation.)
HLAA was founded in 1979 by Rocky Stone, who also suffered service-related hearing loss. It continues to honor and offer resources for veterans, on both the national and chapter level. Donald Doherty, a retired Marine and Vietnam veteran, is a former Chair of the Board of Directors of HLAA. He lost his hearing as a result of gunfire and artillery noise during a 1965-66 tour in Vietnam and has worn hearing aids since June 1970. During his tenure as board chair, he established a virtual veterans chapter of HLAA, which offers many services to veterans. Here’s a link to the HLAA page.
Doherty offers another explanation for the invisibility of hearing loss among veterans. “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,” he said. Eventually, he said, you realize it’s affecting “not only yourself but everyone around you.” Heroes with Hearing Loss helps veterans accept help. If you’d like to read more about the Heroes with Hearing Loss presentation at HLAA, here’s a link to my earlier post, The Noise of War.
For more about living with hearing loss, read my books at Amazon.com.
Smart Hearing is a guide to everything about hearing loss. Shouting Won’t Help is my personal story of loss and renewal. Both are available in paperback and on Kindle. Available only at Amazon.com unless you can persuade your local bookstore to order one for you.