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Hearing problems most prevalent military service-connected disability

in Contributors/Larry Dandridge/Military by

This is the first in a series of three articles on Veterans’ Administration hearing care and military service-connected disability for hearing problems. This column will answer, among other things, 23 questions about the Ralph H. Johnson VA Health Care System’s audiology services.

According to the Department of Veteran Affairs Hearing Services website at

https://www.research.va.gov/topics/hearing.cfm#more, hearing loss affects approximately 37.5 million Americans aged 18 and older, including more than half of those older than age 75. Hearing problems, including tinnitus, which is a perceived ringing or other type of noise in the ears are by far the most prevalent service-connected disability among American Veterans.

Some hearing loss can be reversed through surgery or medication. In other cases, hearing loss is permanent but can often be improved through the use of hearing aids.

As of fiscal year 2020, more than 1.3 million Veterans were receiving disability compensation for hearing loss, and more than 2.3 million received compensation for tinnitus, according to the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) compensation report (see https://www.benefits.va.gov/REPORTS/abr/docs/2020_compensation.pdf).

The VA employs more than 1,370 audiologists, 410 audiology health technicians, and 450 speech-language pathologists, making VA the largest employer of audiologists and speech-language pathologists in the United States. They provide hearing services that include screening and prevention, treatment of hearing loss and balance disorders, tinnitus education and management, and auditory rehabilitation services to optimize residual hearing at 490 VA sites of care.

The Lowcountry’s world-class Ralph H. Johnson VA Health Care System (RHJVAHCS) provides hearing health care services to veterans living from the N.C.-S.C. border to Hinesville, Ga., and as far west as Orangeburg. All eligible veterans living in the S.C. coastal counties, east of I-95, and the Savannah and Hinesville, Ga., areas are supported by RHJVAHCS.

The Ralph H. Johnson VA Health Care System operates three full-service audiology (hearing care) clinics. Those clinics are located at:

Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, 109 Bee Street, Charleston, S.C. 29401; phone: 843-577-5011 (General Number); Audiology Hours of Operation, M-F, 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Myrtle Beach VA Community-Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC), 1800 Airpark Drive, Myrtle Beach, S.C. 29577; phone 843-477-0177, Audiology Hours of Operation, M-F, 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Savannah VA Community-Based Outpatient Clinic, 1170 Shawnee Street, Savannah, Ga., 31419, phone, 912-920-0214, Audiology Hours of Operation, M-F, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

As the volunteer Vice President for Veteran Affairs for the Association of the US Army (AUSA) Coastal S.C. Chapter and as a hearing-impaired veteran, who uses the Ralph H. Johnson VA Health Care System for hearing care, I am frequently asked the following kinds of questions about the RHJVAHCS’ audiology services.

  1. Are the RHJVAHCS Hearing Clinics modern and do have the best available hearing aids and services?

Answer: The RHJVAHCS Audiology Department has the modern equipment and highly-qualified staff needed to provide a wide variety of services and to fit and repair hearing aids from the largest hearing aid manufacturers.

  1. How many patients does the RHJVAHC Hearing Clinic capable of serving simultaneously?

Answer: The Audiology Department is capable of providing services to 80 veterans each day.

  1. How many doctors (*otolaryngologists or audiologists), technicians, and other employees work at the RHJVAHCS Hearing Clinic?

Answer: The Ralph H. Johnson VA Health Care System’s Audiology Department currently employs 11 audiologists and 2 Hearing Aid technicians. The department is looking to add an audiologist at our Myrtle Beach CBOC and a hearing aid technician at the Savannah CBOC. Audiologists are clinical doctorates who diagnose, manage, and treat a patient’s hearing, balance, or ear problems.

*Note: An otolaryngologist is a physician who specializes in ear, nose, and throat disorders. An audiologist is a hearing health professional who identifies and measures hearing loss and will perform a hearing test to assess the type and degree of loss.

  1. How can a veteran find out if he or she needs a hearing aid?

Answer: Veterans can call to schedule a hearing test directly with an audiologist at one of the three sites in Charleston, Myrtle Beach, or Savannah or have their Primary Care Team submit an Audiology Consult request to Audiology. The audiologist will collect case history, perform a comprehensive hearing test, and recommend hearing aids; as appropriate.

  1. How does a veteran in the footprint of the RHJVAHCS make an appointment at the hearing clinic (Online thru My Healthy Vet, direct phone call, etc.)? What phone number(s) does the Veteran call?

Answer: You can schedule an audiology appointment by phone or online. The fastest way to make all your VA appointments is usually to call the VA Medical Center or community care health facility where you want to receive care. The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center’s Appointment number 843-577-5011; the Myrtle Beach CBOC phone is 843-477-0177; and the Savannah, Ga., CBOC number is 912-920-0214.

The schedule is online at https://www.va.gov/health-care/schedule-view-va-appointments/.

Larry Dandridge is a retired Lt. Col. In the U.S. Army. He is a Vietnam War era wounded warrior, a combat and 100 percent disabled veteran, a former Infantryman, former Warrant Officer and pilot. Dandridge is also a past Veterans Service Officer, and a current volunteer Patient Adviser, CEO Advisory Council Member, and Patient and Family Advisory Committee Member at the RHJ VA Medical Center, as well as a published author and free-lance writer. He can be reached at LDandridge@earthlink.net.

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