November 11th marks our nation's celebration of those who have served in the armed forces in a time-honored tradition that has continued since the end of World War I: Veterans Day. And for those of us serving the hard-of-hearing and Deaf communities, this day of tribute has added poignancy. 

Image with American flag that reads honoring all who served Veterans Day.
Image Source: U.S. Army

Countless veterans navigate the challenges of combat-induced hearing loss and tinnitus as a result of their time spent protecting our great nation. Accordingly, this holiday is an opportunity to highlight ways to support veterans who are Deaf and hard-of-hearing. 

Technological solutions such as Ava's live caption application are tools that assist with accessibility. Mobile transcription capability can help with communication barriers that arise from hearing impairment. Raising awareness of the issues for hard-of-hearing and Deaf people and also offering a solution is the activism Ava strives to perpetuate.

What to know about hearing loss among veterans

Many are surprised to discover that tinnitus and hearing loss are respectively the first and second most prominent health conditions affecting those who have served in the military. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), these veterans are potentially contending with two broad categories of hearing loss: conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss. And a combination of both conditions are quite prevalent.

Image of a male's side profile with him holding his hand over his ear.
Image Source: Health Partners

Understanding the meaning of these terms is important. Conductive hearing loss describes damage to the eardrum and middle ear, while sensorineural hearing loss describes damage to the inner ear and the auditory nerve. The former can often be reversed with medication or surgery. The latter is permanent, but potentially manageable with the assistance of hearing aids and other tools.

In addition to the two types of hearing loss, an even greater number of veterans suffer from tinnitus. Tinnitus is experienced as a drone, buzz or ringing in the ears that can be accompanied by balance issues. In turn, these symptoms can cause difficulty in day-to-day functionality, sleep and concentration.

Image of two female veterans, one fitting a hearing device into the other's ear. 

Image Source: U.S. Army 

Some veterans may experience Auditory Processing Disorder, which makes it challenging to understand speech even if hearing seems to be unharmed. Together, these various conditions highlight that veterans represent a significant subsection of Deaf culture as well as those experiencing life-altering auditory challenges.

Complexities of combat-induced auditory damage

While it comes as no surprise that military service members are exposed to a greater risk of hearing loss than the average civilian, for many veterans, there is more to the story. 

Certainly, proximity to artillery fire, explosives and heavy machinery increases the threat of hearing impairment.That fact known, between the years of 2002 and 2015, countless American military service members deployed were issued with dangerously defective dual-ended military earplugs.

Source: YouTube

As lawsuits against the manufacturing company, 3M Earplugs, remain ongoing, provisions made to support our brave service men and women are imperative. It is reported that the VA buys one in five hearing aids sold annually in the U.S. Assistive technology such as hearing aids and live caption applications reduce communication obstacles for those impacted by this massive failure to protect our troops.

Image of a veteran and American flag that reads addressing hearing loss and tinnitus among veterans.
Image Source: Orange County Physicians’ Hearing Services

Many veterans are unaware of the disability compensation, financial aid or possibility to join the 3M Earplugs lawsuit options that are available to them. Additionally, they may also be unaware of the accessible and affordable support solutions like Ava to help with everyday communication. Comprehensive hearing healthcare, innovative rehabilitation programs and speech pathology services present various methods of veteran support, and should also be known and accessible.

Accessible technology and assistive solutions for hearing loss

Hearing loss and the presence of tinnitus can have substantial effects for veterans in areas of employment, education, healthcare and relationships with friends and family. When addressing these challenges, the place to start means exploring eligibility for benefits from the VA and accessing practical tools for daily living.

Image of man standing in front of a flag that reads hearing loss and veterans. Hearing problems are the most common service-connected disability among veterans.
Image Source: Healthy Hearing

Those navigating combat-induced hearing loss can explore hearing aids designed to pick up and amplify sound, or cochlear implants created to assist those with severe to profound hearing loss. In cases of tinnitus, hearing aids, medication, sound therapy and even cognitive behavioral therapy can provide much-needed relief. The VA also offers a program to help veterans manage this complex condition.

Going further, there is exceptional value to be found in providing sign language support and closed captioning resources to veterans impacted by combat-induced hearing loss. . Those who work with or serve impacted veterans in any setting can benefit from contemporary captioning software. From business meetings, conference calls, classes and appointments to any and all day-to-day interactions, real-time speech-to-text transcription technology should be fast, accurate and easily accessible. 

Ava branded image with a picture of iPad with text that reads immediately see what people say, it's so accurate!
Image Source: Google 

The call-to-action to support our veterans dealing with accessibility obstacles is clear for many businesses, organizations and individuals. Combat-induced hearing loss impacts the lives of Veterans on a variety of fronts surrounding communication. Recognizing and understanding the issues for those who are hard-of-hearing, and ensuring assistive technology options are known is one way to help. 

By growing awareness of the hearing-related challenges our veterans face and the accessible solutions at our collective fingertips, improving lives with assistive technology is possible.

Post by Ava
November 10, 2022