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Treating Veteran Patients: The Unique Challenges of Serving

Lehman, Sean, MSgt, USAF Retired

doi: 10.1097/01.HJ.0000547400.21466.6e
Trade Talk

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® in striving to provide effective solutions to veterans who experience hearing loss and other related injuries.

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Q Hearing loss statistics are pretty consistent across all demographics, so what separates veterans with hearing loss from others who face the same challenges?

Every patient certainly has a unique story and veterans are no different. However, a veteran's experience with hearing loss may be a bit more colorful and complicated than that of your typical patient. For many who have worn our nation's uniform (particularly those who have served in combat), hearing loss is very often intertwined with other comorbidities that can be often overlooked.

Conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injuries (TBI), and other physical combat-related injuries can make treating a veteran's hearing loss a complicated process for hearing health care providers.

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Q How does your program address this unique aspect of treating veterans?

First, the Heroes With Hearing Loss® program raises awareness by creating a conversation among veterans, their family, and hearing health care professionals. This allows everyone in the veteran's life, including the veteran, to better understand the unique obstacles veterans with hearing loss are up against. We want to make sure that treatment for veterans with hearing loss is holistic and considers other comorbidities.

We also want health care providers and others to realize there are behavioral differences among veterans as well. The unique training, lifestyle, and mentality that veterans have can make their hearing loss journey difficult to navigate. Particularly since veterans are often hesitant to talk about their time in service. In fact, we've found that in more than a handful of cases hearing health care providers may not ever realize that their patients are veterans and may have these differences.

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

Well, it can certainly vary. According to a recent Department of Veterans Affairs benefits study, nearly 60 percent of disabled veterans with higher disability ratings have more than one disability. The average number of different 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 to consider are PTSD and traumatic brain injuries. For many veterans with hearing loss or tinnitus, overcoming those injuries also means overcoming the source and the memories associated with them. Combine that with the fact that these are topics that your veteran patients will most likely be hesitant to share. However, to effectively treat veterans holistically, these other 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 are some tips and strategies for health care providers who want to better assist their veteran patients?

The key is awareness. It goes without saying that the more hearing health care providers know about their patients, the better they are able to treat them. That can be a tougher challenge when it comes to veterans. But cracking through that tough veneer and helping veterans understand that receiving treatment is not a weakness is the key to providing holistic care and a better life for our veterans and their families.

Introduce them to the Heroes With Hearing Loss program so they know there are proven, lifestyle-focused solutions out there that can work for them. But most importantly, so that they know they are not alone in their hearing loss journey. You can also check out the Heroes With Hearing Loss blog for further insights.

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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