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From Sacrifice to Silence



KFOX - El Paso, Texas
Thursday, February 5, 2015

For decades, men and women have heard the call to serve their country and answered it with pride. Many, however, have come back with hearing loss as a result of their work in the military. According to the Veteran’s Administration, hearing loss and tinnitus (a constant ringing in the ears) are the two most prevalent service-connected disabilities among all veterans.

The VA reports that 2,116,528 veterans received disability compensation for hearing loss in fiscal year 2013, an increase of more than 200,000 since 2012 and over 766,000 since 2009. It’s a problem that spans from generation to generation, from World War II veterans to Korean conflict, Vietnam era, Gulf War era, Iraq, Afghanistan and even peacetime veterans.

Although the issue is widespread, some veterans say they aren’t receiving the disability compensation they deserve, because they can’t prove that their hearing loss is a direct result of their service.

“I’ve tried to go to the VA several times, and they don’t acknowledge it, saying I don't have hearing loss,” Francisco Herrera said.

Herrera served as an active duty member of the Navy from 1983 to 1987 and then served in the reserves until 1999. He worked as a cook on the ship, with the boiler room situated below and the landing deck above.

“Every day, day in and day out, you have this noise constantly, and especially on aircraft carriers where you have aircraft taking off, sometimes going out 24/7,” Herrera said.

Herrera has been appealing to the VA for disability compensation since 2006 and has the piles of paperwork to prove it. In 2014, Herrera was approved to receive 10 percent disability compensation for tinnitus. He is still in the appeals process for compensation due to hearing loss.

According to hearing specialist Rebecca Hernandez, who works with many military veterans from Fort Bliss, Francisco is not alone.

“What is happening now that we are seeing is that they're being recognized as having a hearing loss but it's not being service-connected so they're not getting benefits from the VA or active duty,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez worked with 232 military veterans who have hearing loss in just a three month span last year. She notes that unlike other service related injuries where an exact incident can be pointed out, hearing loss happens over time.

“Because deaf and hard of hearing is an invisible disability they don't understand it,” Hernandez said.

U.S. Congressman Beto O’Rourke has been a longtime supporter of veterans, even dedicating part of his staff to solely dealing with the issue.

Read More  . . . Sacrifice to Silence (Video No Captions)