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Helping SAF veterans with hearing loss

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Firm starts crowdfunding drive to supply hearing aids to them, and raise awareness of their many contributions

Exposure to loud sounds from live firing, demolition exercises and heavy vehicles passing by was common in army life during the early years of Singapore’s independence.

Now, a crowdfunding campaign has been started to help military veterans with hearing loss from such activities, and to raise awareness of their many contributions.

“Hearing loss is an occupational hazard, especially for pioneers in the Singapore Armed Forces,” said Colonel (Ret) Lau Kee Siong, 69, vice-president of the SAF Veterans’ League.

Col (Ret) Lau, who retired in 1999 after 32 years in the SAF, told The Straits Times: “It was just something you took in your stride. Back then, there was also the culture that, if you put on ear protection, you were not macho enough.”

Hearing-aid provider nessa Asia started the campaign after it was linked up with the SAF Veterans’ League through Col (Ret) Lau.

He learnt of nessa Asia from another league member, Lieutenant-Colonel (Ret) Bob Cheah, 76.

The company hopes to raise $20,000, and has pledged to match this dollar for dollar.

The total amount of $40,000 would then go towards supplying about 20 hearing aids and other services, such as consultancy services and batteries, for three years.

nessa Asia decided the campaign would help fund the cost of 20 hearing aids after conducting free hearing tests in July last year for 150 members of the SAF Veterans’ League.

It found that 14 of them had moderate to severe hearing loss and needed hearing aids soon. The others mostly had mild hearing loss.

The company hopes to eventually give hearing tests to all 500 members of the league and to provide them with free hearing aids if needed.

“This campaign helps to highlight the sacrifices of the pioneers, who suffered noise-induced problems without realising the consequences,” said Col (Ret) Lau.

Currently, SAF members are issued appropriate ear protection such as earplugs.

Col (Ret) Lau recalled being exposed to loud sounds when he was in the SAF.

“When I joined the army, I was a combat officer and we were exposed to lots of live firing. When you stand next to a tethering machine gun for about half an hour and then walk away, you hear a ringing or humming sound,” he said.

Lt-Col (Ret) Cheah, who served in the SAF for 23 years from 1969, said: “When I was in the combat engineering unit, we built roads in the jungle and handled various types of equipment that made a lot of noise, such as bulldozers and pneumatic tools used to break up concrete.”

The two veterans have been using nessa Asia’s hearing aids for up to two years.

The company’s payment model lets customers pay in instalments for three years instead of making a lump-sum payment upfront.

Generally, its customers pay $300 upfront and then $75 a month for a three-year subscription package for a hearing aid and support services, or $113 a month for two hearing aids.

The crowdfunding campaign ends on Sept 31.

When asked why nessa Asia wants to raise funds from the public, its senior audiologist Paula Pinheiro said it wanted to raise awareness of hearing loss, the quality of life lost through the impairment, and what can be gained through the use of hearing aids.

Col (Ret) Lau said: “I hope this campaign will raise questions among millennials – Why did (the pioneers) do it? Was it worth it? Should we do it too? We didn’t (join the SAF) for fun – we did it for our families and the nation.”

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