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What It’s Like to Get a Cochlear Implant, According to an Army Veteran

Photo: Courtesy of Benjamin Faust

U.S. Army veteran Gary Roush served as a helicopter pilot and flew in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969. He was diagnosed with service-connected bilateral hearing loss in 1970 and began wearing hearing aids a few years later. After a local veterans’ service officer noticed his hearing aids, he was referred to the local VA in 1985. It was not until 2003 that he discovered veterans could be compensated for tinnitus in 2003 after reading about it in an audiologist’s waiting room. His path to obtaining a cochlear implant (CI), an electronic medical device designed to restore the ability to perceive sounds and understand speech by individuals with moderate to profound hearing loss, began 10 years later.

His journey highlights that veterans must self-advocate for compensation and services and emphasizes the potential complications that may ensue.

The following is an excerpt from a Q&A published on the American Cochlear Implant Alliance website.

Gary Roush

U.S. Army Veteran

How did your cochlear implants journey begin?

Because of additional hearing loss caused by a civilian tooth implant procedure in late 2013, I was referred to the Cleveland Clinic. I was told by their ENT hearing specialist that I was eligible for a hybrid cochlear implant.  I followed up with my VA audiologist who referred me to the VA hospital to be evaluated for a cochlear implant.  No one at the VA had ever talked to me about cochlear implants up to this point despite one of them actually having one herself.  After several appointments, I had the cochlear implant surgery in late 2015.  In the VA’s defense, this was in the early days of hybrid implants so that may have been a factor, plus my personal situation with my wife’s medical problems caused some of the delays in treatment.

How did you learn about the services at the VA?

By chance from the local county veterans’ service agency and reading about them in veterans’ magazines.

What was the hardest part about the process of getting a cochlear implant?   

Having to hire someone to take care of my wife while I spent most of many days having to drive 125 miles one way to Buffalo, NY for repeated appointments that lasted an hour or more each.  I had to work around my wife’s medical appointments, trips to the emergency room, multiple hospital and nursing home stays along with the VA ENT cochlear implant surgeon who was only available once per month.

What could be done to improve the process for veterans (of getting a cochlear implant)? 

Having access to a patient advocate similar to how county veterans’ service agencies work and having the VA audiologists be proactive in explaining available care to veterans.

What worked well for you? 

Most of the VA audiologists I have worked with over the years have been knowledgeable, friendly and helpful.

Do you have any tips for those veterans who could be candidates for a CI?

Contact their local county veterans’ service agency for help and be a self-advocate.  If you do not ask for something, you are not likely to get it.  The key is knowing what to ask for.

Children and adults who are not sufficiently helped by hearing aids may benefit from a CI as it bypasses the damaged portion of the ear. Most private insurances cover the CI procedure as well as Medicare, Medicaid, TriCare and the Veterans Administration. For more information on adult candidacy for cochlear implants, please visitwww.acialliance.org/page/AdultCandidacy.

To read the Q&A in its entirety, please visit www.acialliance.org/page/VeteranStories.

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