Battling the unseen wounds of war

28 Oct 2009 | Cpl. Katie Densmore

When rounds are flying over head down range being able to hear is critical. If the platoon commander is screaming for the Marines to begin squad rushes and several of the Marines can’t hear the orders, those who can’t hear are putting everyone at risk.

Hearing loss is one of the most common injuries seen as a result of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is often referred to as a silent wound because there is no blood and sometimes it is not an immediate obvious impairment.

“We have seen a dramatic increase especially since the war started in Marines with hearing loss.” said Lt. Cmdr. Alan Ross, the departmental head for hearing conservation with the Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune. “We have really started to see a large number of younger Marines come in and receive hearing aides. In fact, 52 percent of the people we fit with hearing aides are between the ages of 18 and 27.”

Ross believes the increase in hearing loss is do to an increased operational tempo and more time at the ranges. However, most of the hearing loss Ross has seen is preventable. He added, Marines can lessen their chances of hearing loss by wearing proper protection, but there are also steps the command can take to ensure their Marines are informed and tested.

“We do safety stand downs where we show options for hearing protection and how to properly use hearing protection,” he said. “We even have mobile hearing test trucks, so we can go to a battalion. We want people to take advantage of our services, so we are as user friendly as possible. We will come to you if you can’t come to us.”

The hearing conservation program even offers service members custom fit hearing protection and headphones.

“Most people don’t know they can have special hearing protection made here,” Ross said. “We actually pour silicone in the ear to create a mold and then ship it off to a company we use to create custom-fit ear protection or headphones for about $30 to $40. For this service out in town, it costs anywhere from $250 to $300.”

Ross’ is working to ensure Marines realize the importance of their hearing and how it can affect them beyond the Marine Corps.

“My main concern is military careers and civilian careers later on,” he said. “By the time you are in your 40s, the hearing loss will catch up with you. At this age some hearing loss is natura,l and if you suffered hearing loss in your 20s it will be much worse. Especially if you don’t have it listed in your service record, (Veteran Affairs) won’t pay for it, and you will have to pay for a hearing aide out of pocket.”

For those who already have hearing loss, it is not a career ender. Ross has sent several Marines to Iraq and Afghanistan with hearing aides, but hopes with education the rate of hearing loss will decrease.

“The biggest tragedy is this doesn’t have to happen,” he said. “The hearing loss I see is almost 100 percent preventable, if people would just wear their hearing protection like they are supposed to.”

For more information on services offered by the Hearing Conservation Program call 451-2930 or 451-2533.