Soldiering on: veterans’ experiences of tinnitus

Tinnitus is the number one Service-related disability in US military veterans[i], yet little is known about the impact of tinnitus on veterans in the UK. Most previous research has been conducted in the US so, the BTA, in collaboration with the University of Nottingham, wanted to find out more about UK veterans and explore the impact tinnitus might have on them. This project was funded by The Royal British Legion using the Aged Veterans Fund funded by the Chancellor using LIBOR funds.

In order to find out more information, we asked veterans to complete a questionnaire and take part in a focus group or interview. One-hundred-an-twenty-five veterans aged sixty-eight to ninety-plus years completed the questionnaire.

Many of the veterans who took part had lived with tinnitus for a long time; over three-quarters had tinnitus for over a decade with almost half having tinnitus for over thirty years. We found that tinnitus affects UK veterans more than a general research population or US veteran population.

Findings from the interviews were categorised into four key themes. Each finding has a related recommendation aimed at the Government, health care professionals, and service providers, including charities:

1. Experience of tinnitus – There was a lack of knowledge about tinnitus, how it can be experienced, and the available management options.

Inform: Share information with the veteran community about what tinnitus is and how it may be experienced.

2. Hearing, health and safety – During their time in the Services, veterans were exposed to high levels of noise and had no access to (adequate) hearing protection or information.

Prevent (worsening) tinnitus through training about healthy hearing behaviours with the veteran community.

3. Help-seeking barriers – Veterans believed there were no effective treatments because tinnitus cannot be ‘cured’, and that tinnitus was not a priority health care demand compared to other conditions.

Encourage older veterans to challenge any potential tinnitus help-seeking barriers.

4. Identity and the ‘military mind’ – veterans viewed themselves as different to civilians. Veterans’ have an increased acceptance of difficult situations; many had accepted their tinnitus and come to endure it instead of seeking help.

Educate the public about who is a veteran and the characteristics of the ‘military mind’.

 [i] US Dept. of Veterans Affairs 2016

If you would like to know more, the full research report is available to download here or you can e-mail Dr Georgina Burns-O’Connell at: [email protected]

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