Some of the most common disabilities veterans face include everything from mental health issues to muscle aches and pains. But, the number one service-related disability for American veterans is actually hearing loss or other auditory issues like tinnitus.
Often, hearing problems are associated with age, so you might not immediately connect your auditory issues with your service. But, it’s important to take the necessary steps to improve your hearing, no matter the cause.
As a veteran, you’ve been through enough. The last thing you should have to worry about is finding support and dealing with hearing loss as you enjoy your retirement. With that in mind, let’s cover several ways you can cope with these issues, and what you can do to get the help you deserve.
Find the right support
Hearing loss is a more serious disability than most people realize. It can sometimes be connected to traumatic brain injuries, especially if your hearing was impacted due to explosions or gunfire. Even if your mental health is in a good place, dealing with hearing loss from your service now can be frustrating, debilitating, and stressful. You might struggle to find work, have a hard time conversing with other people, or even just find it difficult to concentrate and stay focused.
That kind of frustration can lead to isolation, mental health problems, and substance abuse issues.
Thankfully, other veterans who struggle with hearing loss or tinnitus have stepped up to provide support. You can do the same by joining organizations like the Hearing Loss Association of America or volunteering with the Red Cross. Even going to your local VA can help you find the support you deserve. Swapping stories with other vets and talking about your struggles will remind you that you’re not alone. You may even learn some useful management techniques from other former service members with similar issues.
Know your medical rights
If you’re dealing with hearing loss, it’s important to get a proper diagnosis so you can find a treatment solution that makes things easier. The natural first step is to see a doctor or hearing specialist.
Unfortunately, if you’re hard of hearing, you risk miscommunication with your doctor. Thankfully, there are legal protections in place that can give you access to your most basic rights as a patient. For patients who are deaf or have hearing issues, accessibility accommodations can include:
- Working with a doctor who knows sign language
- Utilizing an ASL interpreter
- Virtual interpretation services
Medical information must be communicated clearly, especially for those with a disability. But, if you live in a more rural area or don’t feel comfortable traveling to a bigger city to see a specialist, you’ll face even more challenges in receiving the care you need. Transcultural nurses and travel nurses can make a big difference in those circumstances. They can help to ensure a high standard of care, talk to you about financial options, and direct you to practices that are closer and may make you feel more comfortable.
After receiving a proper diagnosis, you might receive specialized equipment to improve your condition. Often, veterans will be equipped with hearing aids that can make it easier to communicate with others. Some hearing aids can even help with tinnitus to “drown out” the buzzing or ringing sound often associated with it.
However, taking care of yourself – mentally and physically – can also help to improve your hearing or keep it from degrading further. Self-care isn’t always something veterans think about since they’re so used to serving others. But, some of the following activities can strengthen your hearing health and help to prevent further issues:
- Regular exercise
- Avoiding tobacco use
- Avoiding alcohol
- Staying away from loud noises
- Checking the side effects of certain medicines
As you can see, coping with hearing loss is a three-pronged process. It requires you to both take care of yourself and be an advocate for yourself. You don’t deserve to struggle with the effects of hearing issues forever.
The second prong involves your doctor or a hearing specialist. Don’t be afraid to do your research on different treatment options, and find a doctor, nurse, or specialist who is willing to work with you to make each visit (either in-person or via telehealth) as comfortable and proactive as possible.
Finally, surround yourself with support. You’re not the only one who’s experienced service-connected hearing loss. Talk to other vets in similar situations to learn more about how they’re coping and to provide your own advice and support, in return. Connect with vets and organizations that are advocates for medical rights and accessibility, and you’ll learn a lot more about your healthcare options and entitlements.
It’s also a good idea to lean on family and friends, especially when things like everyday conversations or the ability to concentrate on something become difficult.
Hearing loss is an unfortunate side effect of service and one that can end up being a constant reminder of what you had to go through. Use these ideas to get the care you need, and it will be easier to cope with your hearing issues as you readjust to civilian life.