By Sewell RK1, Song C, Bauman NM, Smith RJ, Blanck P.
To examine the prevalence of hearing loss (HL) in Union Army (UA) veterans by year, birth cohort, and occupation, and to compare Civil War pension and contemporary disability programs by examining monthly dollar awards.
A retrospective review of medical records for 17,722 UA veteran pension applicants, a subset of some 35,000 soldiers retrieved randomly from the Military Archives.
The diagnosis of HL was based on review of medical records, which used gross measurements because of the unavailability of audiometric testing.
One third (5,891 or 33%) of pensioners sampled received compensation for HL. The veterans with HL suffered predominantly from left-sided HL (4,091 or 70%), which is consistent with noise-induced HL in a right-handed individual firing a rifle. Comparison of civilian occupations reveals minimal variation in prevalence of HL. Civil War pensions for unilateral HL averaged $134.04 per year, representing nearly one third of the average annual income in 1890. Bilateral HL received nearly twice that amount. Today, military veterans receive $1,248 annually for unilateral loss and $27,288 annually for bilateral loss. Social Security disability benefits are granted only for bilateral HL, with an average 60-year-old individual receiving $11,400 per year.
HL was a common disability among UA Civil War veterans, with noise exposure a likely etiology for the HL. The differing levels of compensation for HL may reflect differing perceptions on the incapacitating effects of HL.
Image: 19th century ear horn