Legion urges hearing loss support
The Royal British Legion is urging the Government to do more to help veterans and service personnel with hearing problems after a report revealed that those under the age of 75 were three-and-a- half times more likely than the general population to report problems with their hearing.
In the wake of the report called Lost Voices, the legion has called for the Government to provide better support and recognition for members of the armed forces and veterans with hearing problems caused by military service.
The newly-published research found that veterans under the age of 75 were three-and-a-half times more likely than the general population to report problems with their hearing.
The report, produced by the Legion in collaboration with the Ear Institute at University College London, Action on Hearing Loss and the British Tinnitus Association, looked into hearing loss and tinnitus - ringing or buzzing in the ears - and makes a number of recommendations for Government.
It combined findings from a hearing loss survey of more than 1,100 serving and ex-service personnel with results from hearing-related questions from the legion's latest household survey - a representative sample of the ex-service community which included a further 1,943 individuals.
The report said that working-age veterans with service-induced hearing problems should be eligible for "special treatment", in line with the principles of the Armed Forces Covenant.
As a result of its findings, the legion has called on the Government to take several steps, including compensating service personnel and veterans properly for hearing problems caused by their time in the military, considering both damage caused during service and any differences between a veteran's hearing compared with a non-veteran of the same age.
It said the Government should e nable working-age veterans to access higher grade hearing aids, including less conspicuous "in the ear" aids, and make sure all veterans could have their MOD-issued aids serviced and replaced at no cost, as well as saying it should i nvest in the EARSHOT Centre - a proposed new centre of research and clinical expertise.
Chris Simpkins, director general of The Royal British Legion, said: "Hearing loss is one of the signature injuries of war and military service, and it can have a profound effect on career prospects, relationships, social life and mental health.
"Many veterans, some of whom have been discharged due to hearing loss, are not eligible for compensation.
"Some find themselves having to pay out of their own pockets for military-issued hearing aids to be serviced and replaced.
"This is unacceptable.
"Our report calls on the Government to do more to recognise the sacrifices made by service people and veterans suffering from hearing loss and tinnitus, and the importance of good hearing to a healthy, productive and happy life."
James Goodwin served in the army with the Royal Tank Regiment for 17 years, completing tours of Northern Ireland and Iraq, and suffered noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus as a result.
The 42-year-old, from London, said: "My hearing loss has been primarily caused by over-exposure to high-pressure explosions caused whilst firing live ammunition on tanks, over a prolonged period.
"My digital hearing aids, provided in-service by the MoD, were excellent when brand new.
"Their quality has degraded over time - hence the quality of my hearing.
"Now that I have left the service, I need to budget over £300 per pair for servicing and substantially more should I need a replacement.
"The alternative would be relying on lesser-quality hearing assistance through the NHS.
"This, I think, is unacceptable."
An MoD spokeswoman said: " The welfare of our service personnel and veterans is our number one priority and since 2009 the MoD, through our Hearing Conservation Programme, has worked closely with charities Deafness Research UK and Action on Hearing Loss to introduce robust hearing protection on operations and improve diagnoses.
"The MoD will look carefully at the recommendations from the Royal British Legion to ensure we continue to provide the best possible care to our personnel."
Rob Burley, head of public affairs and campaigns at Action on Hearing Loss, one of the charities that contributed to the report, said: "One in six people across the UK already have some form of hearing loss, yet it is shocking that members of the armed forces are three-and-a-half times more likely to be affected because of exposure to loud noise during their service.
"We back the Royal British Legion's call for the Government to recognise hearing loss as a serious health issue - and for it not to be de-prioritised as we are already seeing in certain areas of the NHS."