Sean Lehman Video (Text Version)
Title: Confronting the Challenges of Hearing Loss: A Veteran’s Perspective
MSgt Sean Lehman, USAF (Ret); Heroes With Hearing Loss, Consumer
I was told by an audiologist one time that the very first time you have an M16 sitting right next to your ear and you pull the trigger, that’s when your hearing loss has started.
I spent 20 years in the Air Force. I was on the deck of an aircraft carrier with an F-14 landing, which is about 130 decibels. I’ve fired weapons. I’ve been close to explosions. And I have tinnitus in both my ears, so I’ve—every single Service member is exposed in some way for sure.
The more traumatic cases of hearing loss are what you hear about because they’re dramatic—so blast injuries and things like that. But the reason that tinnitus and hearing loss are the number one and number two disabilities that affect Veterans is mostly because of the degradation over their years of Service.
So I’m not a scientist. My role in HRRP is as a consumer advocate. So it’s my job to take a look at the research that’s being done from a consumer point of view and say to myself, “How will this affect Veterans? How will this affect the end-user?”
Initially, I felt a little bit out of place in a room full of PhDs and a room full of researchers or surgeons. They’re using words that all sound like English to me, but I have no idea what they mean. So there was a lot of Googling involved to learn what some of the terminology was; there was a lot of research on my own part just to get educated enough to be in the same room.
But it became apparent to me pretty quickly that everybody is looking out for the end user. Everybody is looking out for the consumer. Everybody is looking out for the Veteran and the military member. So the value that was being placed on my opinion gave me the confidence to speak up and to speak on behalf of the Veterans and military members.
Service changes you in a lot of ways, both physically and emotionally, and whether that’s post-traumatic stress disorder or whether that’s a possible traumatic brain injury or just physical injuries or deterioration, those all play a role in hearing loss.
You’re told over and over again to wear hearing protection because that’s what’s supposed to happen. But when you’re in a convoy in a Humvee and you’re wearing ear protection, you can't hear your driver or you can’t hear the person in the backseat. You can’t hear the radio. So getting people to wear any kind of hearing protection in a combat environment is almost impossible.
Technologies are coming along that give you the option of wearing hearing protection, but also being able to hear certain things around you. But that’s very early stages of research, and those kinds of things aren’t being deployed right now. So as a result, what happens is people just don’t wear hearing protection.
Global war on terrorism Veterans who come back, come back with an average of six comorbidities, which means there’s six different medical things that they’re challenged with on average. So Veterans often times don’t even realize they have a hearing loss until those other things have started to heal.
Often times there’s a link between hearing restoration and cognitive abilities, and that’s always been a little bit of a gap, it appears, in research. And so the research that I’m most interested in is stuff that connects those two things together. So if you have hearing loss, but you also have a traumatic brain injury, now you have to try to determine whether your inability to understand something is because of the hearing loss or is it because of the cognitive side.
One of the biggest challenges that I have as part of the Heroes with Hearing Loss Program is getting Veterans to go seek treatment. Particularly the younger they get, the more challenging it is to get them to do things like wear hearing aids because they’re just for old people or find different ways of solving that hearing loss problem.
So what we’ve discovered is, it becomes about credibility. So, if a Veteran goes to an audiologist and the audiologist says, “Hey, here’s a great solution for your hearing loss,” often times the Veteran says, “Great; Thanks.” Goes home; doesn’t do anything. But if you’re at a VFW convention and one Veteran says to another Veteran, “I got these great new hearing aids; and they can do this, this, this, and this; and I’ve never had hearing aids like this before; and you should try them,” there’s a very high probability that that second Veteran is going to do that. And so getting Veterans to talk to one another, I think, is the key.
One of the things that excites me is just the amount of research that’s out there that I didn’t even know existed. I didn’t know it was possible. It seems like science fiction, and when I hear some of these things being spoken of around the room, it really dawns on me that these are realities that are possible. And that’s amazing. It gives me a lot of hope. I didn’t know that kind of thing existed in many ways.
Last updated Thursday, May 26, 2022