[…] Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs ranks hearing loss as the number one disability among vets. At least 60 percent of those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan—some 600,000 vets—suffer permanent hearing loss or tinnitus, a chronic ringing in the ears. It’s also the fastest-growing of all postwar disabilities, more than doubling over the past decade, and among the most costly in terms of lost productivity. Lose your hearing and you’re more likely to lose your job, suffer from high stress, or experience social anxiety, depression, and early-onset dementia. And though it can be treated, there is no cure.
Soldiers are suffering from hearing loss for a simple reason: War is loud, and getting louder. The F-35 fighter jet, which was declared operational in 2015, is among the most deafening flying machines ever created—four times louder than the F-16. It’s so loud that aircraft carriers need to be specially outfitted with extra sound-dampeners to protect the ears of sailors, even below deck. In Vermont, where the F-35 is scheduled to be deployed in 2019, an initial Air Force evaluation found that the jet’s decibel level during takeoff and landing would render 1,366 homes in the area “unsuitable for residential living.”
More firepower also means more noise. The crack of the military’s standard-issue pistol, the M9, is nearly as loud as the F-35. And the Mach 7 boom of the Navy’s new rail guns and other “kinetic weapons systems” are eight times louder than traditional artillery systems.