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Veterans & Hearing Loss: Advice From an Audiologist

By CaptionCall

On November 11, we honor the brave servicemembers of the United States military for their past and continued service to our country. As we celebrate Veterans Day, we reflect on the sacrifices these men and women have made, and we acknowledge their families for providing unending support through unimaginable challenges.

CaptionCall recognizes these challenges, and that is why we are proud to support the military! Through partnerships, like Military Makeover with Montel on Lifetime Network, and our continued employment of former servicemembers and those who advocate for their health, we strive every day to help our Veterans.

Steve DeMari recently joined CaptionCall as the Director of Business Development and Education, bringing with him more than 30 years of experience in the audiology and hearing aid industry. After earning a master’s degree in audiology from Syracuse University, he completed a clinical and research audiologist fellowship at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Long Beach, California. He is also a member of both the American Academy of Audiology and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

We recently had the opportunity to interview Mr. DeMari about Veterans with hearing loss and how CaptionCall can help them stay connected.

Q: What is the prevalence of hearing loss in the Veteran population?

A: Hearing loss and tinnitus have been among the most common service-related disabilities in every period from World War II through the Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf Wars, and they have been prevalent even during peace time. Today, approximately 1.1 million Veterans have some degree of hearing loss, and about 1.7 million experience tinnitus. These conditions cause communication difficulties, which in turn contribute to isolation, frustration, and depression. Tinnitus is a sign of hearing loss that can manifest itself as constant or intermittent sounds heard in the ear when no external noise is present. This can take the form of ringing, buzzing, whistling, white noise, static, roaring, and humming, among other sounds.

Q: What are some of the causes of hearing loss?

A: Hearing loss can have several causes. Most Veterans experience noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), which can result from gunfire, aircrafts, tanks, and blast explosion trauma. This damage is made worse by longer exposure and a more intense sound pressure level. Additionally, aging, disease, and heredity can be contributing factors to hearing loss.

Q: Are there different types of hearing loss that Veterans may face?

A: There a few different types of hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss occurs in the outer and/or middle ear. It can be caused by debris, excess ear wax, disease, or trauma. Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL), resulting from noise exposure, age, disease, or a combination of these, occurs in the inner-ear and/or auditory nerve. Severity of SNHL can be mild to profound, the most common type among Veterans being high-frequency SNHL. Hearing ability can also lessen with age, the process of which is known as presbycusis. Finally, as people decline cognitively, they may develop auditory processing disorder.

Q: What are some of the symptoms a Veteran may experience if they have hearing loss?

A: Symptoms include: tinnitus (ringing in the ears); a feeling of fullness; asking people to repeat themselves; needing the television volume louder than normal; difficulty understanding speech, especially in the presence of background noise; or a significant other stating that they notice a hearing problem. In some cases, tinnitus effects can be alleviated by a hearing aid or tinnitus program.

Q: Does hearing loss only affect older Veterans?

A: Hearing loss can affect all ages. As we grow older, our cognitive ability to understand speech naturally declines, as does our hearing sensitivity. If exposed to sustained, unprotected noise levels during combat or training, a servicemember can experience hearing loss. To reiterate, high-frequency SNHL is the most common form amongst Veterans, old and young.

Q: Are there things Veterans and active military members can do to prevent hearing loss?

A: The only preventative methods are avoiding the noise and wearing hearing protection when possible. Otherwise, the VA has programs available, offering NIH prevention and aural rehabilitation services to optimize residual hearing. Veterans have inevitably been exposed to high levels of noise during military service. Even though they may not yet have NIHL, their ears have been damaged.

Q: What steps should Vets take if they are experiencing hearing loss or tinnitus?

A: Contact the local VA, enroll in medical services, and schedule an audiological evaluation.

Q: How do Veterans go about getting a hearing test in the VA?

A: Once enrolled for medical services at a VA, they can arrange for an audiological evaluation. If they are deemed eligible for hearing aids, they will then be scheduled for a fitting. Many hearing aids can now be adjusted remotely through the VA’s live video conferencing service, VA Video Connect. Veterans can contact the VA audiology clinic to see if telehealth visits are available in their area.

Q: Any tips for navigating the VA to get treatment for hearing loss?

A: After contacting their local VA and enrolling in medical services, including diagnostic audiology, many Vets are eligible for hearing aids. According to Dr. Rachel McArdle, National Director of Audiology and Speech Pathology, “Veterans who are enrolled and eligible for VA care can call their VA audiology clinic and ask to be scheduled to have their hearing tested. Additionally, they can always stop at the audiology clinic if they are already at the hospital or clinic for another appointment and ask to be scheduled.”

Q: Are VA Audiologists licensed professionals?

A: Yes. Each of the over 1300 audiologists employed by the VA must hold a state license and participate in continuing education according to state regulations.

Q: Does the VA provide the best hearing aid and accessory technology?

A: Yes. If eligible, the VA dispenses hearing aids from the top six manufacturers. It also offers FM systems and provide other assistive devices and accessories to Vets based on professional recommendation and need. These include TV amplifiers and transmitters, remote microphones, and captioned telephone service.

Q: How can CaptionCall help Veterans with hearing loss?

A: CaptionCall provides telephone captioning service that helps Vets with hearing loss stay connected by transcribing phone conversations at no cost. Vets can ask their audiologist about our no-cost service, and they will be given certification if they are eligible. Once the certification is submitted to CaptionCall, we handle the rest via our renowned Red-Carpet Service.

Q: How do Veterans qualify for CaptionCall service?

A: The CaptionCall service is available at no-cost to anyone with hearing loss that necessitates the use of captioned telephone service. Vets who meet this eligibility requirement may receive certification from an audiologist. We will then help them through the registration and set up process.

Q: Why is CaptionCall no cost to Veterans and those who qualify?

A: In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed, benefiting those with hearing loss by leading to the development of telephone relay services. More specifically, Title IV of the ADA requires that assistive services be made available to qualified end users in any state, at any time, and at no greater cost than what a person without hearing loss would pay for telephone services.

As technology advanced, telephone relay services (TRS) were developed, enabling those experiencing hearing loss to communicate effectively and naturally. Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service (IP CTS) uses the internet to provide captioning services to eligible hard-of hearing individuals.

CaptionCall’s IP CTS service is regulated. It must meet all standards set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Telecommunications companies, which are required by the ADA to make their networks accessible to people who are hard of hearing or deaf, provide funding for IP CTS by contributing to the Telecommunications Relay Service fund. These companies usually generate the required funds through charges passed on to their customers.

Q: Do Veterans need to have internet access to use CaptionCall service?

A: No internet? No problem! Our 78T phone can receive captioning if there is no internet service available.

Q: Does CaptionCall have a mobile app to answer calls on-the-go?

A: Yes! iPhone and soon, Android, allow the on-the-go usage of captioning services through the CaptionCall Mobile app for those that qualify.