Outsmarting the Most Common Military Injury: How One Veteran Is Helping Future Generations

By Imani Rodriguez

After 26 years of military service, Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) Board Chair Col. John Dillard (U.S. Army, Ret.) lives with tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss. Tinnitus is one of the most prevalent war injuries among American veterans—and hearing loss is equally common—and Dillard is dedicated to improving the lives of millions through the advancement of tinnitus research that will lead to more reliable treatments and, eventually, permanent relief through cures. Tinnitus is the perception of ringing or buzzing in the ears without an external sound source.

In addition to supporting the advancement of more viable treatments and cures for tinnitus through HHF’s groundbreaking research, Dillard is a U.S. Department of Defense consumer reviewer for the Peer Review Medical Research Program (PRMRP), part of the U.S. government’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs. 


After meeting qualifications through a rigorous annual application process, Dillard has been a tinnitus consumer reviewer for three years, a role he expects to continue. As a senior lecturer for systems acquisition management at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, he is well connected with members of the military community, many who also live with tinnitus. He is a valuable contributor to discussions about tinnitus with scientists and the general public alike.

As a tinnitus consumer reviewer for the PRMRP, Dillard is responsible for evaluating and scoring tinnitus research proposals based on their potential for scientific and clinical impact. His academic experience as a military researcher has allowed him to assist with the critical thinking and reasoning aspects of each proposal. And from his own military experience, Dillard is keenly aware of how vital this research is for those returning from combat.

Tinnitus is a chronic condition without an existing reliable treatment, although certain products on the market claim otherwise. “There are no nutritional, pharmacological, surgical, deep brain or transdermal electrical stimulation, sound, transcranial magnetic, or other therapies proven efficacious for tinnitus,” Dillard says. “There are many treatments marketed to the naive consumer or patient/sufferer, but none of them are truly effective. Most folks who know me understand my extreme cautions against what I consider ‘snake oil’ treatments. People should spend no money on these products.”

Dillard says one exception using sound therapy is Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), currently considered the gold standard in coping with—but not eliminating or curing—disruptive levels of tinnitus. “I have personally benefited from TRT,” he says. TRT involves wearing ear-level devices that work to deliver masking noise to the brain, with or without hearing amplification; the therapy can typically be incorporated into hearing aids. 

Dillard is confident progress will continue to be made by both HHF and the Department of Defense. “We know now that tinnitus is more of a ‘brain problem’ that usually starts from damage to the ear in the form of noise-induced hearing loss,” he says. 

“We need to help the brain heal itself and correct what is actually an auditory ‘hallucination’ of hyperactive neuronal activity. It’s a very resilient, maladaptive feedback loop that works much like learned pain,” Dillard adds “We also hope for various pharmacological approaches being tried that can help tamp down this hyperactivity. I’m hopeful that we will see progress on treating tinnitus in our lifetimes.”

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Col. John Dillard (U.S. Army, Ret.) was appointed Chair of Hearing Health Foundation’s Board of Directors July 1, 2019, after joining the Board in February 2018. He wrote about his experience in the military and how it affected his hearing as the Fall 2017 Hearing Health cover story. HHF marketing and communications intern Imani Rodriguez studied communications and public relations at Rutgers University. 

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Suffering After Sacrifice

By Lauren McGrath

Every Veterans Day, Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) celebrates the brave individuals who have served and sacrificed to defend our country. We are grateful to our active military members and veterans for their courageous protection of American values and freedoms.

As we honor those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, we acknowledge a tragic and troubling health problem. An astounding number of veterans—60% of those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan—live with tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss. In 2017, the Veterans Administration reported 1.79 million disability compensation recipients for tinnitus and 1.16 million compensation recipients for hearing loss, the number one and two disabilities, respectively. In an HHF video about hearing loss treatment, Retired Army Colonel John Dilliard, Chair-Elect of HHF’s Board of Directors, explains, “The noise from repeated gunfire and high-frequency, high-performance aircraft engines takes its toll on the human hearing mechanisms.” Col. Dillard lives with both tinnitus and hearing loss following 26 years of service.

John Dillard and fellow soldiers, Fort Irwin National Training Center, 1977.

John Dillard and fellow soldiers, Fort Irwin National Training Center, 1977.

Dr. Bruce Douglas, 93, remembers the moment his hearing became severely compromised while serving in the Navy during the Korean War. “On what was my 26th birthday, after pulling the trigger on the M1 rifle with no protection (none of us had any) multiple times, I was left with tendonitis in both knees—and worse, permanent, chronic tinnitus due to acoustic trauma. My hearing went downhill ever after, and every imaginable kind of sound and sensation has resulted from my tinnitus,” Douglas writes in the Fall 2018 issue of Hearing Health.

Hearing protection training must start as soon as one enters the military. But there is a misconception that hearing protection inhibits vital communication and mission readiness because hearing signs of danger is imperative to survival. “Soldiers want to be able to hear the snap of the twig and want to be able to be situationally. As a result, they are often resistant to wearing hearing protection,” Col. Dillard says.

Fortunately, sophisticated hearing protection technology does exist so that military personnel do not have to choose between protecting their ears or their lives. Examples include noise-attenuating helmets, which use ear cups to protect against hazardous sound, and Tactical Communication and Protective Systems, which protect against loud noises while amplifying soft ones.

The U.S. military continues to work toward safer hearing in the service. The U.S. Army has developed the Tactical Communication and Protective System (TCAPS), which are earbuds that dampen dangerous noises to safe levels using microphones and noise-canceling technology, while also providing amplification of softer sounds and two-way communication systems. An initiative by the U.S. Air Force called Total Exposure Health (TEH), meanwhile, focuses on overall health both on and off the job, will measure cumulative noise exposure over the course of 24 hours. These developments and others, which HHF applauds, are covered in greater detail in Hearing Heath’s Fall 2017 issue.

As greater preventative technology for our military becomes available, HHF remains dedicated to finding better treatments and cures for tinnitus and hearing loss to benefit the lives of millions of Americans, including veterans, a disproportionately affected group. We hope you will join us in remembering their sacrifices with gratitude and compassion.

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Let’s Make Noise Safer

By Vicky Chan

April 25 is International Noise Awareness Day, an annual, vital reminder to take a stand against noise exposure and to spread awareness about the underestimated threat of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Seemingly harmless rhythms, roars, and blasts heard daily from music, trains, and machinery are, in fact, among the top offenders of NIHL.

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) progressively occurs after chronic exposure to loud sounds. The frequency and intensity of the sound level, measured in decibels (dB), increases the risk of NIHL. Gradual hearing loss can result from prolonged contact with noise levels of 85 dB or greater, such as heavy city traffic. Noises of 110 dB or more, like construction (110 dB), an ambulance (120dB), or the pop of firecrackers (140-165 dB) can damage one’s hearing in a minute’s time.


NIHL is the only type of hearing loss that is completely preventable, yet billions of individuals endanger themselves daily. Over 1.1 billion young adults ages 12 to 35—an age group that frequently uses headphones to listen to music—are at risk. Already, an estimated 12.5% of young people ages of 6 to 19 have hearing loss as a result of using earbuds or headphones at a high volume. A device playing at maximum volume (105 dB) is dangerous, so exposure to sounds at 100 dB for more than 15 minutes is highly discouraged.

Most major cities around the world have transit systems that put commuters in contact with sounds at 110 dB. BBC News found that London’s transit systems can get as loud as 110 dB, which is louder than a nearby helicopter taking off. The sound levels of some stations exceed the threshold for which occupational hearing protection is legally required. New York City has one of the largest and oldest subway systems in the world where 91% of commuters exceed the recommended levels of noise exposure annually. In a study on Toronto’s subway system, 20% of intermittent bursts of impulse noises were greater than 114 dB.

People who work in certain fields are more vulnerable to NIHL than others. Professional musicians, for instance, are almost four times as likely to develop NIHL than the general public. Military personnel, who are in extremely close proximity to gunfire and blasts, are more likely to return home from combat with hearing loss and/or tinnitus than any other type of injury. And airport ground staff are surrounded by high-frequency aircraft noises at 140 dB. In all of these professions, the hazard of NIHL can be significantly mitigated with hearing protection.

NIHL is permanent. Increased exposure to excess noise destroys the sensory cells in the inner ears (hair cells), which decreases hearing capacity and leads to hearing loss. Once damaged, the sensory cells cannot be restored. To find a solution, Hearing Health Foundation’s (HHF) Hearing Restoration Project (HRP) conducts groundbreaking research on inner ear hair cell regeneration in hopes of discovering a life-changing cure.

Nearly three-quarters of those who are exposed to loud noises rarely or never use hearing protection. It is our dream that someday, NIHL will be reversible as a result of the HRP. Until then, to make noise safer, HHF advises protection by remembering to Block, Walk, and Turn. Block out noises by wearing earplugs or protective earmuffs. Walk away or limit exposure to high-levels of noises. Turn down the volume of electronic devices.

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You Can Change Lives

By Nadine Dehgan

On behalf of folks like John—Thank you for your continued support of Hearing Health Foundation (HHF), the largest U.S. nonprofit funder of hearing loss and tinnitus research in America.

We are dedicated to discovering better treatments and permanent cures.

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John—a Retired U.S. Army Colonel—served during the Cold War. Constant exposure to gunfire and high-pitched helicopter engines took a toll on his hearing. He was diagnosed with tinnitus and hearing loss in 1996. His diagnosis fueled his desire to improve the lives of active duty personnel and veterans since.

Tragically, John's circumstances are not unique. Tinnitus is the most common physical ailment for returning military personnel, followed by hearing loss. 60% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from one or both of these conditions.

Many Veterans, even those who pass their hearing test, have trouble understanding speech. This condition, known as auditory processing disorder, is often caused by blast exposure.

Today John teaches at the Naval Postgraduate school where he often counsels young military officers as they cope with their tinnitus, as tinnitus can cause significant sleep, concentration, and mood issues.

Can you help bring us closer to better treatments and cures for tinnitus for John and the 65 million other Americans with tinnitus, many of whom are also veterans? 


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One Man's Military Perspective

By Colonel John T. Dillard, U.S. Army (Retired)

The top two disabilities for our returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are hearing loss and tinnitus, or ringing of the ears (which is actually a sound inside the brain). Both conditions became a problem for me and for many of my friends in the service. A lifetime spent in the U.S. Army, starting in the 1970s, meant frequent exposure to gunfire and proximity to screaming jets and helicopter engines.

Even during a peacetime career in the military, our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are subject to a barrage of auditory insults from the weapons and equipment they operate. It all stacks up to a gradual, although sometimes very abrupt, loss of hearing, usually starting at the higher frequencies. For those in the service, any age-related decline in hearing gets accelerated, to the extreme, by repeated exposure to noise at unsafe levels.

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For me, tinnitus began faintly and increased with more hearing loss, reaching a crescendo with one big acoustic trauma—a gunshot right next to me in 2009. I immediately began searching for any kind of treatment that would alleviate the loud ringing in my head, which was actually measured in a laboratory at being around a constant 70 decibels. That is roughly equivalent to the noise inside a fairly strong shower, and I soon discovered that people would use long showers to find a bit of relief by masking their tinnitus. (However, I take short showers!)

Armed with a background in biology and technology, I began to review all the research I could find. As it turns out, the typical tinnitus condition consists of several brain components: auditory (hearing it); attentional (your awareness of it); memory (persistence); and emotional (how it affects your mood). After many hours on the web, I spent thousands of dollars on things that didn't work, undergoing treatments in all areas of pharmacology, sound therapy, acupuncture, hyperbaric oxygen, and even transcranial magnetic stimulation.

None of these had any effect for me whatsoever. And despite some incredible recent advances in neuroscience to better understand all of the brain’s complexities, there is still no proven cure or even a viable treatment for tinnitus or to reverse hearing loss.

I eventually realized I would have to tackle my tinnitus with the only things out there that to me were credible for managing tinnitus. I eventually found an audiologist who would fit me with hearing aids that provided a built-in tinnitus masking sound. Without a doubt, this became the best purchase decision of my life...

Continue here to read the full version of "One Man's Military Perspective" in the Fall 2017 issue of Hearing Health. Colonel John T. Dillard, U.S. Army (Retired), resides in Carmel, California, with his wife of 30 years. A senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Dillard spent his army career serving in mechanized and parachute infantry assignments and managing programs to bring new technological capabilities to warfighters. He serves on a consumer review panel of tinnitus treatments for the Department of Defense (DoD)’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs and also conducts acquisition policy research for the DoD.

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What's That Noise?

By Laura Friedman

In honor of World Tinnitus Day April 18, Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) wants to draw attention to the effects and challenges associated with tinnitus.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates some 15% of Americans—about 50 million people—have experienced tinnitus. Roughly 20 million people struggle with chronic tinnitus, while 2 million have extreme and debilitating cases. It is also a top war wound among active U.S. military personnel and veterans.


Tinnitus is defined as the perception of sound when there is no external, acoustic source. Individuals with tinnitus may describe the noise as buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, or clicking. Roughly 90 percent of tinnitus cases occur with an underlying hearing loss.

Tinnitus can be either intermittent or chronic. People who experience intermittent tinnitus occasionally hear sounds in their ears that can last from minutes to hours after being exposed to excessively loud noises. An example would be someone sitting near the fence of a NASCAR race without wearing hearing protection. People with chronic tinnitus, on the other hand, often experience noise more frequently, which can last for more than three months.

The impact of tinnitus on everyday life differs from person to person. Researchers found that most people with chronic tinnitus are not too bothered by it. Many of these people prefer to only see a doctor for assurance that their tinnitus is not an indication of a serious disease or impending deafness. People who were bothered by their tinnitus reported that it was annoying, invasive, upsetting, and distracting in daily life. In a small tinnitus self-help group, some members frequently describe having problems sleeping, understanding speech, poor concentration, inability to relax, and depression.

People with age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, may also experience a ringing, hissing, or roaring sound in the ears. Presbycusis progresses over time and is generally more severe in men than in women and the risk increases with age, as shown in epidemiological surveys.

Although there is no cure for tinnitus, there are available treatments that can minimize tinnitus symptoms. Tinnitus Activities Treatment (TAT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) are sound therapies that can lessen the effects of tinnitus, often times very helpful in combination with counseling. Furthermore, by using hearing protection and noise reduction technologies, and by avoiding excessive noise, many people can prevent significant hearing problems.

Taking care of your hearing should always be part of keeping healthy overall. If you suspect a hearing loss or tinnitus, HHF recommends getting your hearing checked. If you do have a hearing loss or tinnitus, talk with your hearing healthcare professional about available treatments. For more information, visit or email us at

Laura Friedman is the Communications and Programs Manager of Hearing Health Foundation.

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Veterans Day

By Morgan Leppla

Can you guess the number one and two war wounds among veterans? Tinnitus and hearing loss, respectively.

Sixty percent of vets return from war with hearing loss and tinnitus. Enlisted for 11 years, Sergeant Nathan Heltzel has a 40 percent hearing loss in his left ear, a 30 percent hearing loss in his right ear, and tinnitus that is a direct result of gunfire and loud jet engines on flight line duty.

He recalls that during his time in the military from 1995 to 2009 there technically was a requirement to wear ear protection, but hearing the radio, team, and anything else that could be advantageous was prioritized over protection, so it was not enforced.

He left service because of hearing loss and has learned to manage tinnitus on his own, using a white-noise machine to mask ringing sounds while he sleeps.

Another serviceman, Major Richard Uzuanis, says it is not in military culture to address things that could impact one’s ability to perform duties and missions, so many people ignore their hearing loss or tinnitus. Uzuanis adds that it contributes to the overall safety of troops if people are hearing clearly.

Hearing Health Foundation wants to thank service members and veterans and remind them that they are disproportionately at risk for sustaining hearing loss and tinnitus. Hearing loss affects how one conducts missions and follows instructions. Take precautions and protect your ears from the dangers of noise, to ensure your safety, and the safety of those around you.

Lastly, check out our veterans’ resources page today!

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Promoting Research to Improve Hearing Health - Seven Questions - ARMY Magazine - Dec 2015

Promoting Research to Improve Hearing Health

ClaireSchultzistheCEOofHearing Health Foundation (HHF), a 501(c)(3) tax- exempt organization committed to ensuring the public—especially service members, veterans and their families—have the opportunity to enjoy life without hearingloss and tinnitus.

  1. What is Hearing Health Foundation’s mission?

    HHF’s mission is to prevent and cure hearing loss and tinnitus through groundbreaking research, and to promotehearing health. Through our Hearing Restoration Project, we are working on a biological cure for hearing loss and tinnitus for millions of Americans—including hundreds of thousands of military service members and veterans.

  2. What military-specific initiatives has HHF worked on?

    In 2012, we joined the DoD’s Hearing Center of Excellence as a partner through general outreach, radio programs and co-authored articles. We share many of the same goals in raising awareness, providing resources and information, and continually improving the health and quality of life of service members and veterans.

    In 2014, HHF launched an online campaign geared toward veterans to provide information and resources about tinnitus treatments and the Hearing Restoration Project’s efforts, and including links to expert content in our magazine and to other hearing and veteran-related organizations and associations. [Visit]

    Pharmaceutical intervention for hearing loss is a major research area for the military.

  3. Some military members feel hesitant about seeking treatment for hearing-related issues. What does HHF do to mitigate that stigma?

    Service members may feel stigmatized about seeking treatment for their hearing problems because there are many myths and misconceptions about people with hearing loss. At HHF, we provide factual information as well as resources to help reduce the stigma of hearing loss, and to encourage getting treatment as soon as possible.

  4. Do many service members regard hearing loss as a “badge of honor”?

    HHF has not heard this sentiment, but it is our hope that members of the military take every effort to prevent hearing loss while in the service, and to address any hearing issues they may have developed as soon as they are discovered. Untreated hearing loss can lead to many additional medical problems; for example, depression, isolation and dementia.

  5. Are more Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seeking hearing loss treatment?

    At least 60 percent of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistanhave acquired hearing loss or tinnitus because of noise exposure during their service. According to the Hearing Center of Excellence, in the past decade, 840,000 service members have been diagnosed with tinnitus, and just over 700,000 have hearing loss.

  6. What are the most effective treatment options?

    Current treatments include hearing aids, cochlear implants and other devices. Treatments available for tinnitus include sound therapy, drug therapy, psychological interventions, brain stimulation and tinnitus retraining therapy, which is being tested through clinical trials at six flagship military treatment centers.

    A sequential program known as progressive tinnitus management has emerged as one of the most promising research-based methods. In order to help patients, it is necessary to mitigate the functional effects of tinnitus, such as difficulties with sleep, concentration and relaxation.

  7. How can service members prevent hearing loss?

Traditional earplugs are effective in preventing hazardous noise from entering the ear canal, but they can interfere with speech communication or low-level combat sounds. Level-dependent earplugs have a small filter that enables soft noises to be conveyed with full strength while eliminating high-frequency or impulse noise.

Earmuffs are another option. … They provide greater attenuation than earplugs [but] make it harder to pick up the softer sounds that may be necessary for verbal communication. An electronic communication system in the earmuff allows wearers to communicate clearly with each other.

Noise-attenuating helmets should be used by military personnel operating combat vehicles or aircraft. These helmets protect the wearer from hearing loss, crash impact and eye injuries while also increasing communication ability through a radio communication piece.
Technologically advanced helmets include an active noise-reducing technology that monitors the sound energy around the ear and cancels any unwanted noise while preserving verbal communications. A communications earplug with a microphone can be worn in addition to the helmet for high-quality verbal clarity.

—Thomas B. Spincic

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How Hearing Loss and Tinnitus Affect Our Veterans

By Emily Shepard

Today is Veterans Day. The holiday is important not only because it honors our soldiers, but also because it is a time to raise awareness about their experiences on and off the battlefield. Hearing loss is a major health issue for soldiers, both active duty personnel and veterans. Any form of hearing loss can be detrimental to soldiers on duty, as the ability to hear signs of danger and to communicate with fellow soldiers is crucial for mission success and, more importantly, survival. According to the U.S. Department of Defense’s Hearing Center of Excellence (HCE), a whopping 60% of veterans have returned home with hearing loss or tinnitus over the last decade.

The Fall 2015 issue of Hearing Health magazine focused on hearing loss and tinnitus among U.S. military service members and veterans. In “Tuning Out the Noise,” Ashleigh Byrnes explains that tinnitus is one of the most prevalent injuries among veterans.  The number of veterans diagnosed with service-connected tinnitus is estimated at 1.5 million. According to Byrnes, persistent tinnitus can be “described as noise that prevents sleep or the ability to concentrate” and may “leave patients more vulnerable to other mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety.” Luckily, there are treatment methods, new and old, that can ease the symptoms of tinnitus. 

Sound therapy, long regarded as one of the most successful ways to treat tinnitus, has been practiced for more than 30 years. Between 60-90% of patients report relief from their symptoms using this method. Another option is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which may include the use of relaxation or distraction techniques, or altering the way patients think about their symptoms. Those who try sound therapy or CBT may be able to cope with tinnitus with more positive outcomes.

When it comes to hearing loss, soldiers are at an increased risk. They are susceptible to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) due to exposure to loud machinery and explosions on a constant basis. In combat, soldiers are often exposed to sudden noises, such as from an improvised explosive device (IED) or other similar weapons, which are difficult to predict and prevent against.  These sudden noises can result in temporary hearing loss and put military personnel at risk. However, the word “temporary” should be approached with caution. Repeated short-term hearing loss can damage the sensitive hair cells in the inner ear, causing hearing loss that becomes permanent.

With an inability to grow back, inner ear hair cells, when they are damaged or die, can lead to permanent hearing loss. HHF is actively working to reverse this trend. Researchers funded by HHF’s Emerging Research Grants program (ERG) discovered that birds have the ability to spontaneously re-grow inner ear hair cells after they are damaged and restore their hearing—unlike mammals. Through HHF’s Hearing Restoration Project (HRP), a consortium of top hearing scientists is working to translate this finding to the human ear. The HRP’s goal is to regenerate inner ear hair cells in humans and permanently restore hearing to those affected by hearing loss, such as soldiers and veterans. The HRP researchers have made significant strides in this research and have been working hard to find meaningful answers, which you can read about here.

To learn more about hearing loss and tinnitus, please visit our Veterans’ Resource Page.

Your support helps us continue this extraordinary research.

Celebrate Veterans Day and honor our troops by donating today.

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One Day in 1967

By Michele Ahlman

Growing up, I remember thinking how cool it was that I had a German birth certificate: a hand-typed, raggedy piece of paper identifying, in German, my birth in a U.S. Army hospital in Heidelberg.

In the late ’60s my dad, Richard Uzuanis, was a 23-year old tank commander for the 3rd Battalion 68th Armor stationed in Mannheim. I’ve always known my dad lost a lot of his hearing while serving in the military. But we never talked about it or the impact it had, until recently. Apparently, during a live fire tank gunnery exercise in 1967, one of the tanks misfired. And at the time, hearing protection was not standard-issue equipment.

It was Dad’s responsibility to remove the misfire. “I got into the tank and opened the breach to remove the misfired round,” he says. “But the round was swollen due to overheating. I couldn’t get it out or close the breach. As I moved quickly to evacuate through the tank hatch, the round exploded, sending me 20 feet in the air.”

To read the full article, please visit the Fall 2015 Issue of Hearing Health Magazine.

If you are a veteran, current service member, or have family or friends who have bravely served our country, review these resources about hearing loss and tinnitus.

Show support for our veterans via one of these ways:

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