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Heroes With Hearing Loss®

Lehman, Sean MSgt USAF, Retired

doi: 10.1097/01.HJ.0000525530.56431.5a
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Sean is a retired Master Sergeant who spent his 20-year military career as a combat correspondent for the U.S. Air Force and Defense Department. His time in uniform took him from Desert Storm operations in the First Gulf War to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Now he works with Heroes With Hearing Loss® to provide effective solutions to veterans with hearing loss and other related injuries.

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Q What's the greatest challenge in treating veterans for hearing problems, and how does your program address this?

Auditory issues are by far the top service-connected disabilities facing veterans of every generation (VBA, 2015). However, what can be overlooked is that hearing loss and tinnitus are often intertwined with other injuries—both psychological and physiological—that often also afflict patients who served in the military. Other physical, combat-related injuries like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) can make management of a veteran with hearing loss a complicated process for hearing health care providers.

The Heroes With Hearing Loss® program raises awareness by creating a conversation that enables veterans, their families, and hearing health care professionals to better understand the unique obstacles that veterans with hearing loss face. In this program, we want to make sure that this group receives a holistic treatment that considers other possible comorbidities.

We also want health care providers and others to recognize the behavioral differences among veterans. Each patient, regardless of background, has his or her own story. However, the specific training, lifestyle, and mentality that veterans have can make their hearing loss journey a bit more colorful and complicated than that of your average patient. We've found that in more than a handful of cases, hearing health care providers may not even realize that their patients are veterans with different needs.

Fortunately, getting to know veteran patients can be easy. Start by asking where they served. Don't be afraid to ask about their time in uniform and let them tell you their story. Not only will this quickly build rapport, but you may also learn some valuable information that can help you better treat your patient.

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Q What are the most common comorbidities that veterans face along with hearing loss?

Well, it can certainly vary. A U.S. Census Bureau study shows that nearly 60 percent of disabled veterans with higher disability ratings have more than one disability (U.S. Census Bureau, 2014). The average number of service-connected disabilities reported by Gulf War veterans is six. That's an incredibly high number. Simply put, there's almost always a lot more going on with your veteran patients than meets the eye—or ear, as the case may be.

The top comorbidities include PTSD and TBI. For many veterans with hearing loss or tinnitus, overcoming those injuries also means overcoming the source and memories associated with them. A sudden and dramatic hearing loss resulting from an explosion or combat injury can lead to a veteran reliving that day in his or her mind every time it is discussed. In the case of TBI, the brain injury can overshadow the hearing loss, making it incredibly difficult to treat. Compounding this difficulty is the reality that veteran patients may be hesitant to discuss traumatic experiences from combat. However, to effectively and holistically treat veterans, these comorbidities must be acknowledged. That means a few more questions and a little extra patience may be in order.

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Q What strategies can you share in providing veterans and their families with insightful solutions?

Awareness is key—and that's what we push to achieve with the program. The more hearing health care providers know about their patients, the better they can treat them. This can be more challenging when dealing with veteran patients. However, cracking through the tough veneer and helping veterans understand that receiving treatment is not a weakness are essential to providing care and improving the lives of veterans and their families.

Once again, start by asking your patients if they're a veteran. If they are, introduce them to Heroes With Hearing Loss so they know there are proven, lifestyle-focused solutions that can work for them and, more importantly, so they know they are not alone in their hearing loss journey.

For more information about the Heroes With Hearing Loss Program, visit HeroesWithHearingLoss.org or email Info@HeroesWithHearingLoss.org

Heroes With Hearing Loss is Provided by Hamilton®CapTel®

Hamilton is a registered trademark of Nedelco, Inc. d/b/a Hamilton Telecommunications. CapTel is a registered trademark of Ultratec, Inc.

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