FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Noise-induced hearing loss, which is often both permanent and preventable, can directly affect a Soldier’s ability to perform the mission. It is one of the most prevalent injuries among military and civilian personnel, representing a significant portion of the annual cost for service-connected disability compensation.
According to the Government Accountability Office, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has reported that tinnitus (ringing or other noises in the ears) and hearing loss are two of the most common service-connected disabilities. Approximately $1.1 billion in disability compensation was paid for these two conditions in fiscal year 2009, and this number continues to rise, as Soldiers and civilians support noise-hazardous operations unprotected.
The primary goal of the Army Medical Department is force health protection.
Along with ensuring that warfighters are healthy and fit for duty, the Army also wants them to have the advantage on the battlefield. Hearing loss is a disadvantage on the battlefield.
Studies prove that the ability to identify low level combat sounds, such as a rifle bolt closing, decrease with the amount of hearing loss present. Enemy forces are often heard before they are seen. Sound has the ability to travel around objects and through barriers, which makes hearing a vital sense for survivability.
Protecting your hearing takes place in and out of theater operations.
In garrison, it is important for Soldiers to train as they fight. Practice and consistent use of hearing protection during training allows a Soldier to trust and depend on it in combat operations.
The Combat Arms Earplugs TM (CAE) is hearing protection that is available to Soldiers. CAEs allow auditory situational awareness, while protecting from impulse noise (i.e., loud and fast sounds, such as weapon fire) in the open position. When traveling by vehicle or aircraft, the rocker switch can be placed in the closed position and the CAE works likes traditional hearing protection. The CAE adapts for the dismounted infantryman or mounted artillery.
In addition to the hazardous noises encountered at work, Soldiers also should consider their recreational activities.
Personal listening devices, loud music concerts and car audio systems that shake the stoplights also put the hearing health of this population at risk. In an era of iPods, iPads and personal video game systems, all of these devices deliver sounds directly to the ear and potentially at dangerous levels.
Avid hunters and motorcycle riders within the military also need to take care to protect their hearing.
Contact your local audiologist if you have questions regarding your hearing or about the noises you encounter in everyday life.
Fort Drum Audiology, located in Clark Hall, can be reached at 772-3622. Hours are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. If you are a military Family Member, see your primary care manager for a referral.
To learn more about hearing conservation, check out the Department of Defense Hearing Center of Excellence website at http://hearing.health.mil/.
Capt. Jennifer Noetzel, Contributing Writer
(Noetzel serves as chief of audiology for Fort Drum MEDDAC)