Washington, DC — A group of hearing health organizations hosted a briefing in honor of the Congressional Hearing Health Caucus (CHHC) on February 8, 2011. The briefing attracted a record 125 Congressional staffers and members of hearing health organizations to examine "how the Military and Veterans Administration are handling the surge in hearing loss and tinnitus cases related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."
The CHHC has been reinvigorated this year by Reps Tom Latham (R-Iowa), and Carolyn McCarthy, (D-NY). In her remarks, McCarthy, a long-time hearing health champion, emphasized the importance of people seeking treatment when they suspect they have a hearing loss. She also described her own experience with hearing loss and how important hearing aids have been to her.
Latham, another leading hearing health champion, also described how the use of hearing aids helped his brother tremendously after experiencing hearing loss related to service in the Vietnam War. He urged attendees to support the bipartisan hearing aid tax credit bill that he and Rep McCarthy are championing in Congress.
The briefing on how the military is handling the surge in hearing loss and tinnitus cases was presented by Lucille Beck, PhD, chief consultant and national director for Audiology and Speech at the Office of Rehabilitation Services, Veterans Health Administration; and Mark Packer, MD, Col(s), USAF, interim director of the Hearing Center of Excellence, which was formed
in part to insure seamless services for soldiers with hearing-related injuries while they are in the military and as they transition to civilian life and care through the VA.
The speakers focused on the large increase in the number of both tinnitus and hearing loss cases that are the most common service-connected disabilities overall. They reported that more than 810,000 veterans have been service connected for tinnitus, and more than 730,000 have been service connected for hearing loss as of the third quarter of FY2011.
The numbers are also quite high for veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where almost 215,000 veterans have been service connected for tinnitus and about 199,000 have been service connected for hearing loss. The two conditions account for 12.1% of all service-connected disabilities among veterans in FY2010.
The speakers also focused on the combination of symptoms beyond hearing loss and tinnitus that are often reported by soldiers dealing with polytrauma, such as traumatic brain injury, memory loss, visual impairment, PTSD, and other issues. They emphasized that the military and VA work to coordinate care related to these multiple conditions, and also provide the best technology to patients to treat hearing loss and tinnitus.