While hearing issues can impact a wide variety of individuals, noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus are the top two health conditions faced by veterans, according to the Hearing Health Foundation. The majority of these issues are caused by exposure to loud noises, including explosions or working at an airport hangar.
Although wearing hearing protection devices can prevent hearing loss from occurring in the first place, dealing with existing issues can be a costly and difficult process for our veterans. The good news is that the Veteran Affairs (VA) offers free and low-cost hearing care services depending on eligibility.
Tinnitus is one of the most common hearing issues faced by veterans, which occurs as a ringing or similar noise in one or both ears. Other people are unable to hear this noise, which can lead to distress and anxiety throughout daily life.
There is no cure for tinnitus, but it can be managed through a treatment program or through specialized hearing aid technology. Some hearing aids can aid the relief of tinnitus symptoms by reducing or masking persistent ringing through white noise and similar sounds.
In addition, even veterans that score normally on hearing tests may suffer from other disorders. This includes auditory processing disorder or central auditory processing disorder, which can negatively impact their understanding of speech. It often occurs after exposure to a blast.
To help lessen costs for veterans, the Veteran’s Administration has contracts with some of the most reputable hearing aid manufacturers available in the United States. This includes GN ReSound, Oticon, Phonak, Signia, Starkey, and Widex. Many of these models are compatible with smartphones, including the Jitterbug.
While some of these manufacturers sell high-end models in the private sector, the VA sells them at a more affordable price point or at no charge. They also provide hearing aids to active military personnel.
GN ReSound offers a variety of options for veterans. The ReSound Linx Quattro is a receiver-in-ear model that can cater to different hearing loss levels. The REI 61 version comes with rechargeable batteries for added convenience.
The ReSound Linx 3D features Android and iPhone compatibility, along with surround sound technology. Lastly, the ReSound Enzo 3D is a great option for veterans who are looking for a virtually invisible hearing aid and suffer from severe to profound hearing loss.
One of the most established hearing technology companies on the market, Oticon has been in operation since 1904. They offer seven different model lines, including receiver-in-canal, behind-the-ear, and in-the-ear options.
For veterans who suffer from tinnitus, their Tinnitus SoundSupport program can be operated through a mobile app, featuring sounds like ocean waves and white noise. Veterans can work with a hearing care professional to fine-tune the sound and volume that works for their unique needs.
Like most hearing aid brands, Phonak offers smart device connectivity and plenty of color options. Veterans with an active lifestyle might prefer to choose Phonak’s rechargeable hearing aids that have a maximum life of 24 hours and a three-hour charging period.
Their patented sound technology means that their more advanced hearing aid models can still provide clear sound quality in complex sound environments, such as educational settings.
As one of the more expensive brands on the market, a high-end pair of Signia’s hearing aids can cost upwards of $6,000 for the typical consumer. Main features include smartphone app controls, Bluetooth compatibility, tinnitus apps, and own voice processing for a more natural sound.
The Signia Styletto is particularly sleek and stylish and rests discreetly behind the ear. In contrast, the Signia Pure line is designed for those with higher levels of hearing loss, coming with features like directional microphones, exchangeable housing, and water resistance.
Starkey is a great choice for veterans who want to support a top American-owned and operated hearing aid manufacturer. A standout feature is the Starkey Livio AI, which is the first hearing aid to use sensors and artificial intelligence to measure physical and brain health.
It can even send notifications to loved ones in the event of a fall while keeping track of the number of steps the wearer has walked. They have a broad selection of styles for veterans who suffer from mild to severe hearing loss, with many options offering tinnitus relief along with smartphone compatibility.
For first-time hearing aid users, Widex’s Acclimatization Program helps users adjust to the range of new sounds they’ll be hearing. In addition, the Widex Zen program has received a lot of positive consumer reviews for its role in combating the symptoms of tinnitus.
They also offer a 30-day trial period that comes with every model, along with online hearing tests for added convenience. Lastly, for those with a passion for music, their Audibility Extender can help wearers hear more high-pitched sounds.
For United States veterans who are experiencing auditory issues due to their service, they might be entitled to VA disability compensation in addition to other forms of assistance.
Due to the MISSION Act of 2018, veterans now have access to local providers through VA community Care if they live too far from a VA clinic or unable to get an appointment. The VA also offers teleaudiology for veterans with travel difficulties.
Most VA devices come with a six-month trial period for veterans, unlike the month-long trial period that many brands offer to consumers. They also offer services like sound therapy, counseling, and cognitive behavior therapy classes to help veterans manage tinnitus symptoms.
To receive hearing aids through VA, you must first register at a VA Medical Center. You’ll need a copy of the Veteran's DD214, driver's license, and health insurance if you have it. You can either enroll in person at the medical center, online by filling out the Form 10-10EZ, or mailing in the form to a medical center with a signature.
After registration, you can schedule an appointment at the nearest Audiology and Speech Pathology Clinic for a hearing test. Here you will meet with an audiologist to determine which hearing technology is best for you.
To cope with the many effects of hearing loss, veterans should wear effective hearing aids, schedule regular hearing checkups, and minimize their exposure to noisy environments as much as possible. With aid from the VA, it’s possible to obtain the latest and greatest in hearing aid technology to suit their needs.
If you’re a veteran who needs assistance in applying for a hearing aid or choosing the best model for your needs, contact Senior Strong today!
Nathan Justice manages community outreach programs and forums that help many senior citizens. He completed a counseling program at the University of Maryland’s Department of Psychology.