A newspaper report is indicating that hundreds of British soldiers who have served in Afghanistan have had their hearing permanently damaged because of the noise of intense combat.
Requests by The Times under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that in one regiment, nearly one in ten soldiers have hearing defects that could bar them from further frontline service and hamper their chances of a civilian job.
The Royal British Legion veterans organisation said it had dealt with 1,195 hearing loss claims against the Ministry of Defence in the past three years.
According to The Times, 37 out of 411 soldiers in the Grenadier Guards have severe hearing problems. Nearly 240 of 691 soldiers in the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglians, back from Afghanistan last October, also suffered difficulties.
In 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Worcesters and Foresters), who also returned last October, 34 out of 555 soldiers reported hearing problems.
The newspaper reports the Ministry of Defence as saying earplugs and ear defenders were issued to all troops. However, it says ear protection is not rigidly enforced except in helicopters.
Britain has 7,800 troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and US-led operations, and has suffered 121 fatalities since the US-led invasion in late 2001.