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i G A O HEARING LOSS PREVENTION
Accountability * Integrity * Reliability
H ei ig s Improvements to DOD Hearing Conservation
I_ IIts Programs Could Lead to Better Outcomes
Highlights of GAO-11-114, a report to
Why GAO Did This Study
Exposure to hazardous noise can
have negative implications for both
servicemember health and readiness.
Moreover, in fiscal year 2009, some of
the most common impairments for
veterans receiving Veterans Affairs
(VA) disability benefits were hearing
related, as annual payments for such
conditions exceeded $1.1 billion. To
examine Department of Defense
(DOD) efforts to prevent hearing loss,
GAO is reporting on (1) how well the
DOD and armed services identify and
mitigate hazardous noise; (2) how
well the military evaluates hearing
conservation program performance;
and (3) 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. GAO reviewed DOD and
services' policies and guidance,
reviewed DOD performance data,
interviewed officials and
servicemembers, and conducted site
visits to nine military bases.
What GAO Recommends
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. In reviewing a draft of
this report, DOD concurred with
GAO's recommendations. DOD and
VA provided technical comments,
which GAO incorporated as
View GAO-11-114 or key components.
For more information, contact Daniel Bertoni
at (202) 512-7215 or email@example.com.
What GAO Found
Each of the armed services is taking steps to monitor hazardous noise, but
inconsistencies in some hearing protection strategies and limited training
weaken mitigation efforts. Services monitor noise periodically, depending on
the level of risk servicemembers 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 be controlled by setting exposure limits and
requiring the use of hearing protection, these strategies are not consistently
used. For example, servicemembers told us that they do not always wear
hearing protection, citing concerns with comfort and communication. Annual
hearing-related training is required for at-risk servicemembers, but services
are not able to fully determine who has completed annual training, and many
servicemembers told GAO that training is not necessarily well timed.
DOD's evaluation of services' hearing conservation programs has key
weaknesses, but some services have taken steps to review and improve their
own programs. First, DOD performance indicators are not sufficiently
comprehensive. One key indicator--the rate of hearing loss among
servicemembers in the hearing conservation programs-only measures
program performance after hearing loss has occurred. Second, evaluation is
limited by weaknesses in the processes used to capture, track, and use
performance data. For example, the data may not accurately capture the
number of servicemembers enrolled in the respective programs-a number
required to calculate compliance rate. Third, audiologists, and other key
stakeholders do not, on some bases GAO visited, 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. For example, once the Army decided that
soldiers would not be deployed if the individual had not completed a required
hearing test, the number of hearing tests rose significantly.
DOD has developed, though not yet finalized, a plan for a Hearing Center of
Excellence to improve hearing loss prevention and treatment as well as a plan
for its registry to track and share information with VA on injured military
personnel and veterans. Neither Congress nor the DOD set a date for when
planning should be formally approved to implement the center, but a key DOD
official estimated that plans may receive final DOD approval in the near
future. In the meantime, an interim director for the center has begun to lay the
groundwork for implementation of both the center and the registry. While
data sharing between DOD and VA has been very limited to date, military and
VA officials said the registry should ultimately facilitate sharing and
development of best practices.
United States Government Accountability Office
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United States. Government Accountability Office. Hearing Loss Prevention: Improvements to DOD Hearing Conservation Programs Could Lead to Better Outcomes, report, January 31, 2011; Washington D.C.. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc302177/m1/2/: accessed April 19, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.