Veteran: “I’m hearing better now than I have in 20 years”

Hearing aid fitted via audiology telehealth


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In Vietnam, Army Veteran Jerry Smith was a paratrooper. When he got home, he thought he would never be able to hear again.

“In the Infantry, machine guns, rifles, hand grenades, all those noises blew my hearing away,” he said. “Helicopters, artillery, everything happening at once, all day, every day. When I came home from Vietnam in ‘71, they didn’t know how to fix that kind of stuff.”

For years, Smith has been getting his health care at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System’s community-based outpatient clinic in Baton Rouge. He said the clinic has taken great care of him over the years.

“Before I started wearing hearing aids, I couldn’t hear you at all. Then after I got the first hearing aids, if there was background noise, it would block sounds and I couldn’t hear well.

“I just kinda got used to thinking it would always be half-way. You’re always asking, ‘What’d you say?’ and people kind of shied away from wanting to hold a conversation.”

Decided to give telehealth fitting a try

The Baton Rouge clinic has three audiologists working in-house and one audiologist who sees patients via telehealth. When hearing aids are prescribed, telehealth fittings are offered as an alternative to in-person fittings. Smith decided to give it a try.

“The audiology department has been awfully good to me. They’ve gone out of their way to be helpful.”

Upon arrival for a telehealth fitting, Veterans meet audiology health technician Audrey Fleet. First, Fleet makes sure Veterans are prepared for the fitting, looking into their ears to make sure they are clear and ready. Then she goes over the aids with the Veterans, giving a basic orientation on how to use them, take care of them and order supplies–and how to get in touch with the clinic for potential questions or problems. During orientation, Dr. Jessica Riggs remotes into the conversation on screen from her office in Mobile, Alabama. Once all three parties are in place, the telehealth fitting can begin.

Fleet places a collar on the Veteran’s neck and a small, flexible probe into the ear canal, which Riggs uses to perform real-ear measurements using readings of the sound the Veteran is receiving from the probe while listening to recorded speech samples.

Then Riggs remotely adjusts the sound levels of the hearing aid to match target amplification levels based on the Veteran’s hearing loss across the speech frequencies. This ensures the Veteran gets a just-right level on amplification–not too loud, not too quiet.

Smith said his telehealth fitting appointment with Fleet and Dr. Riggs was almost like being in the room with the audiologist. “Audrey was able to put me at ease. With the telehealth, the doctor was able to say, ‘You’re gonna hear some bells ringing for a minute as I adjust the aids’ and it was instantaneous.”

Fleet explained why she thinks tele-audiology is a good fit for Veterans of her clinic. “Most of the time they can get in a little sooner if they do a telehealth fitting,” she said. “The primary benefit is the time saved, less wait for an appointment. We’ve had very good survey results.”

Riggs agreed, “It’s neat! It cuts down on the Veterans’ wait times. I like it because I know they are getting their hearing aids faster, and I’m happy to help. Technology is always advancing!”

Grateful for the Baton Rouge hearing clinic

As technology has improved, so have Smith’s hearing aids. He said, “I’m hearing again. Before I started wearing hearing aids, I couldn’t hear you. Now I can hear. If I’m sitting out there in the hallway and you’re talking to me, I can hear what you said. These aids are fine-tuned to what I need.”

Having good hearing is very important to Smith. “I’m active in life. I do a lot of theater, I work backstage with lights and sounds, choreography and as a hobby. I love it. Once you’re able to hear what you’re doing after the work you put into it, it’s very satisfying.”

Smith said he’s grateful for the Baton Rouge hearing clinic and for how they have helped him.

“I’m hearing better now than I have in 20 years.”


Jamie Mobley is a Public Affairs Specialist at the New Orleans VA Medical Center.

Author

VAntagePoint Contributor

— VAntage Point Contributors provide insight and perspective on a wide range of Veterans issues. If you’d like to contribute a story to VAntage Point, learn how you can submit a guest blog at http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/how-to-submit-a-guest-post/

Comments

  1. Vedam Eco Resort    

    Thank you author. Keep it up.

  2. HVACInstallationandReplacement    

    Hearing loss is one of the most common health conditions affecting older adults, but it affects individuals of all ages, from newborns on up. Known for its negative impact on communication, age-related hearing loss, if left untreated, can lead to depression and other health problems as well.

  3. JACK ROBERTS    

    I understand new and improved hearing aids offered through the VA might possibly be of assistance to those who are severely aurally challenged like … with a 100% disability rating for hearing loss. IF the new technology in assisted listening devices can actually help me hear … I am afraid my disability rating will be adjusted downward … something I simply cannot afford. As a result, I have avoided making an appointment with the audiology clinic. Any advice?

    1. Andrew Lee Widener    

      They won’t reduce your disability. Bottom line is your hearing is damaged and you require prosthetics to hear. It’d be like reducing a veterans disability for a missing leg after the VA gave him/her a prosthetic leg. They can’t do that. Hearing loss is classified as permanent and total. Meaning it’s not gonna change. Disabilities like ptsd, depression etc are NOT permanent and total and percentage of disability can decrease for those as the providers determine the conditions are getting better. I’m 50% bi-lateral hearing loss and 10% tinnitus. Those will never go down, they can only go up as I get older. My advice…go get some hearing aids. You’ll get 4 or 5 grand worth of hearing aids, Bluetooth microphones and a streaming device for your tv and phone for no cost. Do it

    2. John Martin    

      Jack-Also talk with the VA Audiology center, at your VA hospital. Ask them to do the paperwork for a hearing impaired telephone, for your home. It has the screen to shown you what is being said. The VA will do the paperwork and you mail it in. Mine came from CAPTEL. There is no charge. It has been a great help for me…

  4. Dr Krittaya Jantarasoon    

    After I graduated from medical school, I went to practice internship at Fort Jakrapong Hospital, Thailand.
    That period s meaningful for my life.
    Now I apply for VA. The great honor Career is to be and to work as medical soldier. For helping people.

    Honor

    DrKrittaya Jantarasoon

  5. Joseph Anthony St. Angelo Jr    

    I too have lost a considerable amount of my hearing, and have received aids from my local VA hospital in Johnson city Tennessee. After doing some research into hearing loss due to rifle fire and looking at other sources of news, I have a question I have not been able to get an answer on.
    I understand silencers are being made for a variety of rifles and handguns. Is it possible to get silencers fitted for military weapons used in combat . The cost for this alteration to military style arms would save thousands over the cost of hearing aids, not to mention preventing the enemy from detecting our location during maneuvers. They are made now for private civilian use already with no damage to the shooter’s hearing. Its certainly worth looking into as far as the vet shooter is concerned….Thanks

  6. Jack Ryan    

    Very nice thank you so much..

  7. Ron    

    Find out where your local VA Advocate is and they will help you with the paper and submission.

  8. Kelly M Ross    

    My nephew Timothy Ross Keathley graduated with a BA and is engaged to be married in 2020.

  9. Jud Keith    

    I applied for hearing aids through the Ga. Dept. Of Veterans Services which is a state Dept. set up to assist veterans to work through situations with the VA. I was given a hearing test but denied hearing aids. Said my tinnitus and hearing lost wasn’t severe enough to warrant aids. I appealed but was denied again. I appealed again, but denied again. 4 years had gone by. I was at an American Legion meeting and a lady from the Ga. Dept. Of Veterans Services was there and her title was “Appeals Officer”. I mentioned my heating aid attempts and she told me to email her the dates/details of everything I had done trying to get hearing aids. I did that night. 2 weeks later I get a call from her telling me everything has been approved!! 2 months later I had my hearing aids!! I tried for 4 years and she did it in 2 weeks!! GO THROUGH YOUR STATE VETERANS OFFICE . I know your state has one. They are there to help you get things done through the VA. Good luck, Vietnam Veteran.

  10. Jill Duffee    

    I too have tried to get hearing aids for years. I’m retired from the army and have been to war. I worked on chinook helicopters for 6 years as a crew chief and have been around very loud engines which did damage to my ears. I can’t believe how hard it is to get help from the VA, I’m 100% disabled from my 21 years in the service and I am totally fed up with trying to get help from the VA. I finally broke down and got my own and what a difference! I got the Nano hearing aids OUT OF MY OWN POCKET and they work great, I can hear again! So much for taking care of our veterans!

  11. Chuck Krause    

    VA help for hearing loss is a rather long involved process as many of us have discovered. And we are ultimately at the mercy of a person we never see who decides how/if we’re to be treated based on the data and reports they see. I wonder if this information could be interpreted differently by other people to produce different outcomes. If you have not gotten the help you need at one clinic maybe you would get it if you went to a different one. I’ve been very pleased with the treatment my VA clinic has provided but I did have friends who were disappointed by the system. Good luck.

  12. Thomas Clemons    

    It would be a great benefit if the VA would allow veterans like me that are above the income thresholds to qualify for full VA medical the ability to purchase hearing aids through the VA program at the VA cost.

  13. ROBERT WILSON    

    I have had an excellent experience with VA Audiology ever since the first day. Once approved, the Biloxi and Pensacola Clinic have really been fantastic. In fact, the Pensacola Clinic has saved my life once, a big thank you to Dr. JIMENEZ AND HIS TEAM !!

  14. UnHappy Vet    

    I got the hearing aids but they’re totally useless.

    It needs a firmware update which I have t been able to figure out how to do it and I can’t find how to reorder batteries anywhere on the Healthnet site.

    I can reorder prescriptions but not batteries.

    1. Andrew Lee Widener    

      Go to the audiology clinic for batteries. And you reorder batteries on the va.gov site now. You have to be authenticated in person though

  15. Bob Roman    

    The best hearing aid are at your VA. I bought three in my life time from vendors. These are the best I had.

  16. Home Remodeling Service    

    Most of us with hearing losses shy away from social contact. I am waiting for their reply to my application for health benefits coverage, especially for hearing aids. I am 75, and not sure how many more years I have to wait. I was not given any physical or examination al all prior the my honorable discharge in Jan. 1967.

  17. Graeme C. Payne    

    Vietnam veteran. In addition to noise from small arms & artillery, I was a mechanic on amphibious tracked vehicles (AMTRACS). Among other things, they (LVTP-5) had a massive 12-cylinder gasoline engine. Extremely LOUD. No mufflers. No hearing protection. Never heard anything about ear protection until 20 years later when I started a civil service job at a Navy shipyard. Now dealing with hearing loss & tinnitus but the audiologist wants old hearing tests for comparison. If I had any tests done in the Marines I suppose they would be in my record & the VA could get them, right? But I guess now I have to do all the grunt work. Again. Now I have to be looking at my wife when she talks to be sure I understand what she’s saying …….

    1. Deborah Anne Freiberg    

      Hi Graeme, Hopefully you’ll check in here to see this. You can contact your Senators or your Congressional Rep. All three of these individuals will have a “military rep” who knows all the back doors to the VA. Send this person a letter with your information and copies of what documentation you have. They will speed you through the process. I have ReSound “tinnitus aids” from the VA. They also have combined tinnitus and hearing aids. My tinnitus aids are fantastic. I wear them 23 hours a day and they really help me stay focused during the day and sleep at night.

  18. Charles Alan Hannert    

    I had a comment on here today but it was deleted. What’s up with that ? And I did not receive an email as to why it was deleted. t was a perfectly legitimate commnet.

  19. Charles Alan Hannert    

    All I have to do now is to get the VA. to acknowledge that I am alive. I am waiting for their reply to my application for health benefits coverage, especially for hearing aids. I am 75, and not sure how many more years I have to wait. I was not given any physical or examination al all prior the my honorable discharge in Jan. 1967. Had they done that my life surely would have been a whole lot different. Hopefully they will answer me soon. I have given them a ton of information on the IDme site,so the ball is in their court.

    1. Deborah Anne Freiberg    

      Hi Charles, Please see my reply to Graeme above. To find out if your coverage application is complete, call the VA’s toll-free hotline at 877-222-8387, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET. A fellow vet at work had thought he’s submitted all the information necessary and wondered why he hadn’t heard anything. He called that number and found out that he was missing some information. He hadn’t received anything from the VA to notify him of the missing information. Now that he knows, he submitted the missing information. Also, every VA hospital has reps who can help you through the process of getting rated for disabilities.

  20. Larry Dale Williams    

    I’ve been trying to get hearing aids for the last 12 years, the way the VA works, if you still can hear out of one ear you don’t need any

    1. Deborah Anne Freiberg    

      Hi Larry, Please see my answer to Graeme above.

  21. David L McSpadden    

    I am almost deaf in my right ear. Should I be looking in to a cochler implant?

    1. Robert Herrera    

      Yes, I have a Cochlear Implant and it is amazing how well I can hear now. It was painless and works really well.

  22. RUFUS ORNDUFF    

    THE NEW HEARING AIDS ARE GREAT BEST HEARING IN AT LEAST 20 YEARS THANKS VA

  23. David Sullivan    

    Yup…
    Great hearing aids
    Been 5 years and the Audiology Department is sending me to a local vendor because it is a 5-hour drive to the VA.

  24. Kerry Good    

    Please help me with my damaged ears with tinnitus from Vietnam along with TBI from landmine stepped on by fella going around me when I said the trail is mined-he did it anyway. I’ve also had around 3 or 4 more concussions since. This latest set of VA hearing aides helps but I still can’t hear with noise in my head and, or, background noise of any kind. Durham VA is great I even got device I wear around neck with a clip on mike device for another person I talk to, it helps but is there any new type of stuff? I been giving up on going anywhere because of it. Thanks. Kerry47

    1. Deborah Anne Freiberg    

      Hi Kerry, Yes, there are combination hearing aids and tinnitus aids. I have just the tinnitus aids and they are great. I wear them 23 hours a day and they help me concentrate during the day and sleep at night. I received mine from the Philadelphia VA, but I’m sure that any of the VA hospitals can help. Also if you had a TBI, you should get evaluated by a VA PolyTrauma center. If you do have hearing loss, tinnitus and a TBI, make sure that your disability assessment includes those issues.

  25. Gerald A Shippe    

    Absolutely. Most of us with hearing losses shy away from social contact. Even trying to hear someone at a drive-thru fast food place is more than difficult. I got fitted about two years ago and am really happy about it. It is so good to be able to hear someone sitting across the room. VA has something that also is surreal. It is called Phonak ComPilot. Plug the unit into your audio on your TV. Wear a neckloop streamer around your neck. The sound goes directly into my hearing aids. It mutes the sound from the TV so that the wife in the other room cannot hear my TV. It comes out like surround sound. I watch it in my bedroom for hours. Without them I would probably just curl up in a ball and sleep all day.

  26. Darwin Jimerson    

    I have tried for many years to get the VA to give me hearing aids from VietNam. (173rd Airborne Recon – 1968 – 1970). Even leaving the Army through JBLM and having my exit health check the tech said ‘WOW Vietnam hasn’t been friendly to your ears’. Or something to that effect – it’s been almost 1/2 century since that day. I have been advised 3 or 4 separate times by my Health care provider to get VA help with that – since I can’t personally afford hearing aids. But all attempts have yet failed. All they have done was bring me in for ‘Agent Orange’ testing. So these postings are just ‘Fake News’. Sure, I am positive these individuals featured are real and in need of these services, but don’t think for a minute it is representative of the VA offerings to vets.

    1. Henry J Hartman    

      I’m with You, VA has always said that my hearing was good enough. I have complained since 1970 no help. Went to the navy hospital in Jacksonville Florida 06/05/19 was given a complete hearing test and was able to buy a hearing aid for cost 800.00
      Thanks navy hospital

    2. Deborah Anne Freiberg    

      Hi Darwin, Please see my reply to Graeme above and get help for yourself as quickly as possible.

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