Military service often requires duty in noisy environments that can cause hearing loss, and it doesn’t just happen during combat operations at deployed locations far from home station.
From flight line operations to firearms qualification ranges, aircraft maintenance back shops, vehicle repair shops, civil engineering shops or even Air Force research laboratories where innovative and agile technologies are born, noise brings the potential of hearing loss if proper personal protective hearing equipment is not available or utilized.
“In fact, Veterans Affairs records show that auditory conditions such as hearing loss and tinnitus are the number one and number two most prevalent disability claim in the VA,” said Dr. Tanisha Hammill, research coordination branch lead at the Department of Defense Hearing Center of Excellence in San Antonio. “In terms of number of claims, this is the most prevalent injury among our veterans. So there is an obvious need to focus on reducing those injuries among our service members.”
In 2009, the Congressionally-mandated Hearing Center of Excellence was stood up to combat hearing and balance disorders. As part of the HCE, the Collaborative Auditory & Vestibular Research Network, or CAVRN was formed to bring together researchers with an auditory research focus to discuss current research efforts across the DoD and VA enterprises, providing unique opportunities for collaboration, Hammill said.
Annual CAVRN meetings are held at federal facilities and are hosted by member organizations. This year the annual meeting was April 24-26 and hosted by the 711th Human Performance Wing’s Airman Systems Directorate, Warfighter Interface Division, Battlespace Acoustics Branch; the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and the Naval Medical Research Unit – Dayton.
Brig. Gen. Mark Koeniger, commander of the 711th Human Performance Wing, welcomed the CAVRN meeting attendees and cited numerous opportunities for collaboration with the 711 HPW.
“As you go forward, the Human Performance Wing wants to be part of what you all do to help soldiers, sailors, Airmen and Marines maintain their hearing so that hopefully in the future, hearing loss ceases to be the No. 1 disability.
“The Air Force chief of staff’s focus areas converge on a singular vision – to create healthy squadrons full of resilient and credible warfighters primed to excel in multi-domain warfare,” Koeniger said. “Certainly, nobody can do their job, or at least they would have a very difficult time doing their job, if they couldn’t hear well.”
Hearing is a critical sense and is required for all service members to communicate effectively within dynamic and often chaotic environments.
“The ability to hear and communicate is critical to the safety of each warrior and their unit and is central to command and control, and mission accomplishment,” Hammill said.
The CAVRN aims to foster knowledge sharing and facilitate greater communication, coordination, awareness and transparency between community members.
“The CAVRN promotes collaboration, translation and best practices that influence auditory-vestibular readiness, care, and quality of life for warfighters and veterans,” added Hammill.
Hammill stated that as she toured the 711 HPW, she thought about all the tremendous crossover opportunities between auditory research and so many other disciplines within human performance.
“We are a very interdisciplinary team, and that’s a big part of our growth – to discover and reach out to these other teams who are somehow focused on auditory or balance disorders,” she said.
“When you bring these folks together, they end up having very meaningful conversations. They are able to incorporate perspectives of their colleagues, who are subject matter experts across the DoD and VA and incorporate their perspectives and really make smarter projects and make more multiservice projects,” Hammill said.
She explained that the CAVRN is built on a translational model, including bench scientists, clinician scientists, funding program managers and public health experts, adding, “The whole scope from idea to application to practice, all in the same room so they can plan everything out together right up front.”
“This is a complex issue. Losing your hearing is not a part of doing business in military service, and there are a lot of smart people working diligently to come up with better solutions to protect their hearing, both from a personal protective equipment stance but also efforts in noise reductions and efforts in communication enhancement while making sure they’re able to do their job and have a reasonable quality of life after service,” Hammill said.
For more information about the DoD Hearing Center of Excellence, visit https://hearing.health.mil/.