The Royal British Legion is calling on the UK’s veteran community to seek help during Deaf Awareness Week, after finding that 300,000 ex-service personnel are living with hearing loss.
Whilst the life-changing issues of PTSD and limb loss are widely recognised as results of warfare and Service, relatively little attention has been given to the number of ex-service personnel living with hearing loss, or the support made available to them.
Hearing loss can have a profound effect an individual’s quality of life, and has been linked to depression, stress and loneliness as well as reduced physical and mental health.
Research from The Royal British Legion’s ‘Lost Voices’ report suggests that veterans under 75 are three and a half times more likely than the general population to report difficulty hearing. The report, which is a comprehensive review of service-related hearing problems, also found that those who served in more recent conflicts may be at even greater risk; audiometric tests on infantry troops returning from Afghanistan indicated that up to 14 per cent had suffered from hearing loss.
Steven Baynes, Head of Grants and Social Policy at The Royal British Legion said: “Many of us take our ability to communicate with others for granted, however it’s vital to so many aspects of a healthy, productive and fulfilling life.
“Hearing loss is one of the hidden injuries of conflict which is often forgotten about, and consequently many veterans don’t seek support. I would urge anyone affected from a Service-related hearing problem, however big or small, to contact the Legion for help.”
As a result of the ‘Lost Voices’ report, the Legion received £10 million of LIBOR funding to set up the Veterans Hearing Fund. The fund provides grants for pioneering treatment and state of the art hearing aids to veterans who developed hearing loss during Service, including Bluetooth streamers (to link hearing aids to household items), and lip-reading courses to help veterans engage more confidently in social situations.
Since its launch in 2015, the Veterans Hearing Fund (VHF) has received over 1,700 applications for support, however, with 300,000 veterans living with hearing loss the Legion is urging more people to come forward to get life-changing support. Among those helped by the VHF is ex-Marine Harris Tatakis (39), who was injured in 2007 when his Land Rover drove over an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) while serving in Afghanistan. The blast left Harris with a shattered leg, shin and ankle, a broken foot, two ruptured eardrums, and tinnitus.
“Of all of them, the tinnitus has been the worst. Because it’s an unseen injury, it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. There is not enough understanding of how life-limiting tinnitus can be, it’s hugely debilitating.” Harris said.
In 2017, Harris Tatakis became the first veteran in the UK to receive revolutionary ‘Levo’ treatment for tinnitus, paid for by the Legion. ‘Levo’ uses iPod technology to administer treatment during sleep when the brain is more prone to be responsive to sound therapies that strive to change brain activity patterns.
“The Legion has helped to change my life for the better. It’s fair to say that the treatment – and indeed the Legion, have given me my life back.”
He added: “I’d encourage anyone in my position to make the most of the help out there. The Legion is here for us whether we’re young or old and that’s a wonderful thing.”
Working to develop new treatments like ‘Levo’ is Dr Tobias Reichenbach, a researcher with a background in auditory neuroscience who works at The Royal British Legion’s Centre for Blast Injury Studies at Imperial College London. The Centre, which opened in 2011, is the only place in the UK where military medical officers, civilian engineers and scientists collaborate to address the issues surrounding blast injury.
For the past three years, Dr Reichenbach and his team have been studying Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), a hearing problem common amongst veterans. APD affects the ability to distinguish between competing noises, with sufferers often struggling to make out a human voice against conflicting background noise.
”APD is a common problem among veterans, but I don’t think it’s been picked up before because it’s not fatal,” said Dr Reichenbach.
“At the moment there is no treatment available, but we hope to change that. For people who are born with APD it can be difficult to cure. However in veterans it has been acquired, so we are hoping it can be reversed through auditory training or brain stimulation.”
Deaf Awareness Week runs from Monday 14th May to Friday 18th May 2018.