GAO Recommends Defense Department Improve Hearing
Exposure to hazardous noise can have negative implications for both
service member health and readiness, says the United States Government
Accountability Office (GAO), and is recommending that the Department of
Defense (DOD) improve its hearing conservation program for service members.
The full report is called "Hearing Loss Prevention: Improvements to DOD
Hearing Conservation Programs Could Lead to Better Outcomes" and is
available online - http://gao.gov/products/GAO-11-114 .
Improving the hearing conservation programs is not only important for
service members, but also the Veteran Administration's (VA's) budget.
According to the GAO's report, in fiscal year 2009, some of the most common
impairments for veterans receiving disability benefits were hearing related.
In fact, annual payments for such conditions exceeded $1.1 billion.
To examine DOD efforts to prevent hearing loss, GAO is reporting on how
well the DOD and armed services identify and mitigate hazardous noise, and
how well the military evaluates its hearing conservation program
performance. The report also evaluates the status of DOD's Hearing Center of
Excellence and the extent that DOD and VA are sharing information to inform
this and other efforts.
The GAO found that while each of the armed services is taking steps to
monitor hazardous noise, there are inconsistencies in some hearing
protection strategies and limited training that results in the weakening of
Services do monitor noise periodically, depending on the level of risk
service members have in being exposed to hazardous noise; for example,
annually for firing ranges and flight decks, and every 5 years for
administrative offices. However, they lack a reliable system for detecting
changes in noise levels that may occur outside the scheduled review cycle.
Although DOD requires that noise to be controlled by setting exposure
limits and requiring the use of hearing protection, these strategies are not
consistently used. For example, service members told the GAO that they do
not always wear hearing protection, citing concerns with comfort and
communication. Annual hearing-related training is required for at-risk
service members, but services are not able to fully determine who has
completed annual training, and many service members told GAO that training
is not necessarily well timed.
The GAO also found that DOD's hearing prevention program performance
indicators are not sufficiently comprehensive and thus, evaluation is
limited by weaknesses in the processes used to capture, track, and use
performance data. Finally, audiologists and other key stakeholders do not
routinely coordinate to share and evaluate hearing loss data to identify and
mitigate noise hazards. Individual services have, at times, conducted
reviews of their own programs and made some improvements.
While the DOD has developed, though not yet finalized, a plan for a
Hearing Center of Excellence to improve hearing loss prevention, neither
Congress nor the DOD have set a date for when planning should be formally
approved to implement the center.
In conclusion, the GAO recommends that to improve hearing conservation
programs, DOD should address issues with the type, timing, and tracking of
training and education; develop an appropriate set of performance
indicators; improve processes to collect and use performance data; and
examine services' reviews to identify opportunities for program improvement.
SOURCE: United States Government Accountability Office (GAO)