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Military

Tinnitus most common ailment among veterans

The outside of the San Diego VA Medical Center is shown on Nov. 2, 2018.
Megan Wood
The outside of the San Diego VA Medical Center is shown on Nov. 2, 2018.

New research shows nearly a quarter of vets suffer from the ringing in the ears.

Tinnitus is one of the most reported injuries among veterans a fact that is not lost on Yolanda Tyler. The retired chief petty officer spent 20 years in the Navy. Her entire career was in payroll either in San Diego or based on ships home-ported here.

“First, it was the ringing. And ringing and buzzing and then late within the last seven months I've begun to have popping along with that ringing,” Taylor said.

It’s more than annoying to those afflicted because the sound can be so pronounced that she has a difficult time concentrating during a conversation.

“I lose my focus because I hear this,” she said. “When people are talking to me, sometimes I just block it out, I hear you, but I hear this.”

The Defense Department's Millennium Cohort Study, which follows post-911 vets, shows about 24% of male veterans already report they suffer from tinnitus.

It isactually the most common disability among all veterans, with 1.5 million suffering veterans recognized by the VA.

“Probably one of, if not the top one or two, service connected disabilities for several years,” said Paul Gaudiano, an audiologist at the San Diego VA.. “I mean it's really been a long standing issue for a long time for a lot of veterans out there.”

Noise exposure is a major reason it’s most common in vets, though it can also be caused by medication or other underlying conditions, he said.

“There's no direct cure for the ringing in the ears,” Gaudiano said. “There's no pill. There's no magic fix there's no, you know, take this and it goes away, unfortunately.”

Instead, patients are taught coping skills. Distraction is the key. Taylor has a white noise machine to drown out the hum she hears. Patients are taught to stay away from silence. Some vets can’t sleep.

“When I go to bed I'm asleep within 10 Minutes, but oh boy, when I wake up, there it goes,” Taylor said. “I don't even try to lay in the bed, I just get up because it's so annoying.”

Despite how common it is among veterans, the VA is currently looking at lowering the disability rating for new patients diagnosed with tinnitus, as part of a reclassification of several conditions. So future veterans with tinnitus may find it harder to qualify for benefits.