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Q&A with Gary
Roush, US Army Veteran
Gary Roush is a Vietnam Veteran who served in the US Army as
a helicopter pilot. He flew in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969 and was diagnosed with
service connected bilateral hearing loss during his exit physical from the Army
in 1970. He began wearing aids purchased from a private practice audiologist in
1981. After a local veterans’ service organization officer noticed his hearing
aids, he was encouraged to seek hearing healthcare support from the local VA in
1985. He discovered that veterans could be compensated for tinnitus caused by
service-related noise exposure in 2003 after reading about it in an
audiologist’s waiting room. His journey to a cochlear implant began ten years
Q: How did your CI
journey begin? Did anyone from the VA suggest you might benefit from cochlear
implants? Who told you that you might be a candidate for a cochlear implant?
A: I experienced
additional hearing loss in late 2013 likely exacerbated by a tooth implant
procedure. I was referred to the
Cleveland Clinic and told by an ENT there that I was a candidate for a hybrid
cochlear implant. I followed up with my
VA audiologist in Bath, NY who referred me to the VA hospital in Buffalo, NY to
be evaluated for a cochlear implant in late 2014. No one at the VA had ever talked to me about
cochlear implants up to this point, though one of my audiologists had a
cochlear implant. After several appointments, I had the cochlear implant
surgery in late 2015. Some of the delay
was likely due to this being the early days of hybrid implants as well my
personal situation with my wife’s medical problems.
Q: How did you learn
about the services at the VA?
A: By chance from the
local county veterans’ service agency and also reading about them in veterans’
Q: What was the
hardest part about the process of getting a cochlear implant?
A: Having to hire
someone to take care of my wife while I spent most of many days traveling 125
miles each way to Buffalo, NY for repeated appointments that lasted an hour or
more each. I had to work around my
wife’s medical appointments (surgery, chemo, radiation), trips to the emergency
room, multiple hospital and nursing home stays along with the schedule of the
VA ENT cochlear implant surgeon—who was only available one day per month.
Another frustration I am still experiencing is reimbursement
for travel, which is automatically based on the closest VA audiologist which is
in Bath, NY. However, that hospital is
not equipped to treat someone for CI services; hence the reimbursement system must
be adjusted for each trip I need to take to Buffalo. After almost four years of complaining about
this, I still have to explain each trip in order to get the proper travel reimbursement.
It is tedious!
Q: What could be done
to improve the process of getting a cochlear implant for veterans?
A: Having access to a
patient advocate similar to what the county veterans’ service agency provides to
help someone through the process and also having the VA audiologists be
proactive in explaining available hearing healthcare to veterans.
Q: What worked well
for you? What compliment(s) can you make
of the VA process?
A: Receiving hearing
aids, batteries, etc. from the VA is very efficient. Most of the VA audiologists I worked with over
the years have been knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful.
Q: Who performed your
surgery and where was it done? What
about the follow up services? Was follow-up
hard for you (i.e., travel, getting appointments scheduled)?
A: The surgery was
done by Dr. Ernesto Diaz-Ordaz, a civilian under contract with the VA. Surgery was done at the Buffalo, NY VA
Hospital. Follow-up with the surgeon was
not offered until I requested it. I then had to work with his one day per month
availability so it was almost a full year before I saw him for a follow-up
appointment. I already discussed the
challenges of travel and scheduling appointments. Mapping with the VA
audiologist required many visits to the Buffalo VA Hospital.
Q: I understand that there
were hiccups in the process, such as losing paperwork. What was the nature of those mishaps and how
long did it take to get them resolved?
A: There are two tracks here: one is treatment and the other
is disability compensation. Eight months
after filing for disability payments, I received a letter saying my original
paper work had been lost. Another eight
months after re-filing the claim, I received another letter asking for more
information. Nine months after that I
was awarded disability retroactive for nine months. One process does not automatically trigger
the other. It would seem to me that
almost every step in the treatment process should automatically trigger a
disability compensation review. That
never happened so I went years not receiving earned disability compensation. It
was due to chance encounters with county veterans’ service officers that
prompted me to explore compensation evaluations. It is almost as if VA audiologists are under
orders not to offer compensation advice unless specifically asked about it by
Q: Can you provide
some suggestions on what would have made the process of dealing with the VA
A: Having a VA
patient advocate to help navigate through the process, having audiologists who
offer full information to veterans and streamlining the process so that
treatment and disability are related.
Q: Did you have any auditory
rehabilitation besides mapping your sound processor?
A: No. It just
occurred to me that the services of a speech language therapist might have been
helpful to me.
Q: Do you have any
tips for those veterans who might be candidates for a CI?
A: 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. The website of American Cochlear Implant Alliance has
excellent information about the process of cochlear implantation, candidacy,
Mr. Roush’s experience highlights that often a veteran must self-advocate for compensation and services. It also underscores ongoing issues with an insufficient amount of time allocated for appointments with VA CI surgeons as well as the complications of long-distance travel. Nonetheless, there are individuals within the VA and with veterans’ service organizations that are able to assist including https://www.va.gov/statedva.htm. The key can be knowing what to ask. Gary Roush hopes that by sharing his experiences and insights, other veterans will have a head start in their own journey.