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AF launches baseline hearing testing program for new recruits

Basic Military Trainees in their first week of training, sit in a waiting room prior to taking a baseline hearing assessment May, 15, 2015, on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. As part of the Air Force’s effort to establish a baseline hearing screening of all new recruits, trainees are now required to receive an initial hearing assessment within the first three weeks of training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jerilyn Quintanilla)

Basic Military Trainees in their first week of training, sit in a waiting room prior to taking a baseline hearing assessment May, 15, 2015, on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. As part of the Air Force’s effort to establish a baseline hearing screening of all new recruits, trainees are now required to receive an initial hearing assessment within the first three weeks of training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jerilyn Quintanilla)

Basic Military Trainees take a baseline hearing assessment May 12, 2015, on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. The assessment measures trainees’ hearing status to ensure they are in compliance with communication and safety needs for their projected Air Force Specialty Code. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jerilyn Quintanilla)

Basic Military Trainees take a baseline hearing assessment May 12, 2015, on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. The assessment measures trainees’ hearing status to ensure they are in compliance with communication and safety needs for their projected Air Force Specialty Code. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jerilyn Quintanilla)

Carmen Puig-Martinez, audiology technician, instructs Basic Military Trainees of baseline hearing assessment procedures May 12, 2015, on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. The hearing assessment was created to provide an accurate hearing assessment of all recruits upon entering military service. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jerilyn Quintanilla)

Carmen Puig-Martinez, audiology technician, instructs Basic Military Trainees of baseline hearing assessment procedures May 12, 2015, on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. The hearing assessment was created to provide an accurate hearing assessment of all recruits upon entering military service. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jerilyn Quintanilla)

Audiology technician Tiffany Oliver verifies a Basic Military Trainee’s information prior to conducting a baseline hearing assessment May 12, 2015, on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Smith is part of a five-member team responsible for conducting all BMT hearing assessments. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jerilyn Quintanilla)

Audiology technician Tiffany Oliver verifies a Basic Military Trainee’s information prior to conducting a baseline hearing assessment May 12, 2015, on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Smith is part of a five-member team responsible for conducting all BMT hearing assessments. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jerilyn Quintanilla)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- The Air Force launched the service's first baseline hearing testing program March 30.

Developed by the Department of Defense Hearing Center of Excellence located at the Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, in partnership with the 559th Medical Group, the program tests and documents audiograms providing a hearing readiness screening for all Air Force Basic Military Trainees and officer recruits.

"Our goal with this program is to provide an accurate hearing assessment for new recruits before exposure to job-related hazardous noises," said Michael Elliot, HCE Health Systems Administrator.

The Air Force previously relied solely on hearing tests administered at Military Entrance Processing Station. To better ensure readiness, Air Education and Training Command and the Air Force Surgeon General leadership gave the "green light" to develop the program last summer.

"Early testing enables the staff to diagnose, intervene and explore treatment options for the trainee. We're also in a better position to measure exposure to high noise levels throughout a service member's career," Elliot said.

All recruits undergo the hearing assessment as part of medical in-processing within the first three weeks of training. Those needing additional evaluation will retest before their fifth week of training.

Tests are conducted on the training installation; enlisted basic trainees undergo testing on JBSA-Lackland and officer recruits at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. A five-member team, including one audiologist and four audiology technicians certified by the Center for Occupational Hearing Conservationists, supports the high volume of basic trainees.

"At a minimum trainees will receive at least one other hearing test upon either separation or retirement," said Elizabeth Flanders, program audiology technician. "[Medical personnel] will then be able to compare the results of the two tests and get a better picture of any impact the military service may have had on the member's hearing."

Although not the original intent, testing has already identified trainees who do not meet accession or Air Force Specialty Code standards. Early identification is projected to save the DOD approximately $350,000 in avoidance costs.

Those failing to meet standards for their projected AFSC have the opportunity to retrain into another career field. Trainees not meeting accession standards must separate from the Air Force.

"This program is just another tool we have to ensure new Airmen are fit and ready to serve in every aspect. It's helping us build a better, stronger force," Elliot said.

For more information about the HCE, visit http://hearing.health.mil/.
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