Why IP CTS is important for veterans and military families

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), hearing issues—including tinnitus—are by far the most prevalent service-connected disability among veterans including veterans of recent deployments. At least 60% of those military members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan—about 600,000 veterans—live with permanent hearing loss or tinnitus. Hearing loss is the fastest-growing of all postwar disabilities, more than doubling over the past decade. In fact, veterans are 30% more likely than the general population to have a severe hearing loss.

The side effects of hearing loss can go beyond issues communicating. According to a 2010 study by researchers at Brigham Young University, loss of hearing can contribute to social isolation and loneliness, which can shorten a person’s life by 15 years. Individuals who experience loneliness are more likely to suffer from insomnia, depression and drug abuse, which can lead to more expensive health conditions and associated expenses.

Veterans are 30 percent more likely than the general population to have a severe hearing loss.

This is true for veterans as well. According to the VA’s Office of Research & Development, veterans who struggle with tinnitus can be more prone to other mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. A study in 2015 found that 72% of veterans with tinnitus also had a diagnosis of anxiety, 60% had depression, and 58% had both conditions. These results are consistent with a growing body of studies linking hearing loss to physical and mental health conditions, including cognitive decline, dementia, falls, depression, anxiety, reduced quality of life, hospitalizations and emergency department stays.

Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service (IP CTS) lets people with hearing loss use a special device for phone calls that allows them speak and listen using their own voices and residual hearing, while also providing captions when the other person responds. While IP CTS can be vitally important for users who are speaking with physicians, health care providers or emergency responders, it is also critical for maintaining day-to-day connections with friends and family. Veterans have access to IP CTS technology–which is a federal program administered by the Federal Communications Commission–from doctors, audiologists, hearing-aid specialists or Veterans Service Officer.

Federal officials want to curb the use of IP CTS because they fear it is growing too quickly and the overall program’s costs have risen. Changes being considered may make it more difficult for people to get access to IP CTS or jeopardize the quality of service. While it is important for the FCC to ensure that no waste, fraud, or abuse enters the program, the needs of veterans and others with hearing loss should be prioritized over cost management.

Destabilizing this program by restricting consumer eligibility, introducing unproven technology or otherwise reducing access to IP CTS would hurt Americans—including the growing number of veterans with hearing loss—who could rely on this program to connect.

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