11/16/2013 01:07 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Sounds of Silence

I learned way more than I ever knew about tinnitus this week. I attended The Wisconsin Warrior Summit, which addressed the readjustment challenges confronting the nation's newest veterans and their families. The challenges are many and they are formidable, but I was struck by how many presenters, and veterans, mentioned the prevalence of tinnitus.

Clinically, tinnitus is hearing loss that is irreversible and permanent, meaning once the damage has been done to the ear, there's no replacing or repairing the cells. There truly is no cure for tinnitus or hearing loss. Worse, researchers at Washington University in St, Louis have discovered that "people with bothersome tinnitus have problems with concentration, memory, attention and other neurocognitive functions. "

The number of veterans with tinnitus is large, and growing. In almost epidemic proportions. "One of the hazards of the job," one veteran of Iraq joked to me.


But the more I thought about it, and the more testimony I heard at the Summit from veterans and mental health professionals about PTSD among vets, and suicide rates among vets and military sexual trauma and readjustment difficulties, etc., the more I realized it isn't the soldiers and veterans who have tinnitus when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan.

It's us.

Yet even more than a ringing in our ears, we are tone deaf to the problems and the trauma and the pain that our newest veterans are experiencing. A mere 1 percent of the population has fought these last two wars, neither of which is close to being over. Most/all of us don't know anyone who's been through this horrific experience, let alone has any appreciation of their loss and suffering.

But we're content with the applause on an airplane or in a ballpark, we're pleased with ourselves for delivering the "thank you for your service" line early and often.


But we are deaf to veterans' voices, to their stories, to their pain.

Just because these men and women signed on to fight these two wars doesn't mean they signed on to bear the entire moral burden associated with them. It's past time we opened our ears and our homes and our hearts. We need to listen. We need to help. We need to heal.

And then let's agree to not be silent when we're asked to send another generation of men and women off to do this again.