Veterans' Stories

We are grateful to the Veterans who generously shared their experiences with receiving a cochlear implant via the VA system.  The Veterans we spoke with hope that their positive CI outcomes will encourage others to “go for it” and that their suggestions for improving the process will be considered.

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Q&A WITH Magio madjerec, US ARMY VETERAN

Magio Madjerec served in the U.S. Army from 1990-1994. His hearing loss resulted from exposure to an explosive device.

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

A: The hardest part for me was just deciding on whether to get a CI or not. I had become so comfortable with the fact that I was now deaf that I was afraid that I would lose a part of myself if the surgery worked. The process itself was seamless.

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Mr. Madjerec’s experience highlights the uniqueness of everyone’s CI journey as well as the critical role a primary care physician can have in encouraging a referral for a CI evaluation.


Q&A WITH larry graham, US army VETERAN

Larry Graham was drafted into the Army in 1966, wounded in Vietnam and discharged in 1968.

Q: How did your CI journey begin? Who told you that you might be a candidate for a cochlear implant?

A: As my hearing steadily became worse, I asked my private ENT for suggestions on what would help me hear better. He conducted testing and concluded that I was a candidate for a cochlear implant. My private ENT was an invaluable help throughout the entire process. My first visit with him was in 1970 and I continued to see him until his retirement.

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Mr. Graham was referred to the VA by his private ENT though he was in the VA hearing health system at the time. Once referred in for a CI evaluation, he received excellent patient-centered care.


Q&A WITH David walker, US AIR navy VETERAN

David Walker served as a Captain in the U.S. Navy in the surface and diving community during the 1980s.

Q: What compliment(s) can you make of the VA process

A: Nearly everything was very good. I had all my follow up appointments either via trips to West Haven VA Hospital or telehealth. The follow up services were great, no issues there. The VA was fantastic! I could not be more pleased. The implant has made such a dramatic change in my life.

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Mr. Walker’s experience highlights the critical role of an informed primary care physician in supporting one’s hearing journey. By recognizing the signs and referring him on to CI clinicians, his primary care doctors helped facilitate the process of obtaining a cochlear implant. Once in the CI system, he was pleased with his care and the flexibility his VA clinic has shown for follow-up care.


Q&A WITH Rick berger, US Air force VETERAN

Rick Berger served in the US Air Force for four years during the Vietnam War as combat journalist. He continued serving the country in the FBI for 30 years and has since been an entertainer. Since receiving his implants, he has enjoyed hearing music again.

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

A: Waiting to see if I would be approved was the most taxing part. I was concerned that I would be turned down since I had single-sided hearing.

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

A: Yes. Seriously consider getting a CI. We’re incredibly lucky to be living in an age of technology where this miracle process is available. I’m so glad I have my hearing back thanks to my implant!

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Mr. Berger has experienced important quality of life improvements from a CI to address his single sided deafness. He has been pleased with the all aspects of the process including the post-surgery follow up.


Q&A WITH CH, US AIR FORCE VETERAN

CH served in the Air Force for 22 years having first enlisted in 1975. She served in Desert Storm and Desert Shield prior to retirement. 

Q: Did you have any post-surgery follow up?

A: All of my follow up care and subsequent testing and mapping for my CI and hearing aid were at the local hospital. Fortunately, my Tricare Prime insurance covered everything. My CI activation and progress towards speech comprehension was slow but steady. I worked hard on the rehab, and after a few months saw really encouraging results.

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CH’s experience with VA audiology services was decidedly mixed. She is grateful for the CI referrals she received from the VA but struggled with VA provided CI audiology care that was not what it should have been. She pivoted and went outside the system to receive high quality audiology services for her CI programming. 


Q&A WITH ray toombs, US ARMY VETERAN

Ray Toombs first served as a Navy Hospital Corpsman attached to the Marines and was at Khe Sanh in 1968. After his Navy Service, he joined the Army Reserve and went back on Active Duty with the Reserves as an RN.

Q: How did you learn about the services at the VA?

A: I had progressed from in-the-ear aids, to behind-the-ear aids and progressively technology stronger as my hearing deteriorated. Hearing aids were only making sounds louder, I was having a lot of difficulty understanding conversations, TV, radio, etc. The audiologist explained what the cochlear implant was and at first, I thought it was the most radical thing ever—to drill a hole in your head, stick a wire down into the cochlea to enable someone to hear. I read everything I could find on the CI process and decided I had nothing to lose. I had my right side done in April 2017 with a hybrid implant as I still had some residual low frequency hearing on the right side and just recently had the left done (full length implant) in June 2020. I am extremely happy with the results. 

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Mr. Toombs highlights the importance of VA audiologists knowing when to properly refer potential candidates for a CI screening. The VA audiologist played a key role in facilitating the process.


Q&A WITH william ryan, US ARMY VETERAN

William Ryan served in the New York National Guard from 1980–1983 before joining the Army as Active Duty from 1983 until 1982 when he was medically retired, predominantly for Meniere’s Disease.

Q: How long did you wear hearing aids? Where did you obtain them?

A: I received my first hearing aid in May 1984 and my second a few months later from the Army while on active duty. Subsequent replacements over the next 35 years were handled either by the Army or by the VA. The process was seamless enough and I always received high quality instruments. Initially they worked very well for me but as my hearing worsened, my ability to hear and understand diminished greatly to the point where I could understand maybe one word in 5 or 6.

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Mr. Ryan’s experience demonstrates that Veterans may need to self-advocate including gaining access to closer to home (non-VA) resources. His thoughtful ideas on involving significant others in the process, accessing CI user groups, and utilizing assistive listening devices are valuable.


Q&A with James Kaufman, US Army Veteran

James Kaufman served in the US Army Medical Corps from July 1974 - November 1977.

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 think that my hearing loss was due to playing in rock bands when I was younger, working in factories without any hearing protection, and genetics. My mother had progressive hearing loss in her later years and I saw how much it left her socially isolated. As I developed progressive hearing loss it became more difficult for me to understand in large meetings, on the telephone, and at movies. I had heard about cochlear implants, in fact they had been recommended for my mother, but she was 98 at the time and decided against them. I had an appointment with my VA audiologist and I was going to ask her about them, but before I could she recommended that I be evaluated for one, so I jumped at the suggestion. 

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Mr. Kaufman’s story highlights the importance of the relationship between a VA audiologist and proper referral for a CI. It is critical that VA audiologists are aware of the appropriate criteria for candidacy and refer vets on for a CI evaluation.




Q&A with Margaret Pittman, US Army Veteran

Margaret Pittman served in the US Army from February 1990-November 1991 as a radio and satellite operator.

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

A: I was referred out of my VA for the surgery once I qualified. My CI surgeon is now located at the University of Miami and previously provided services at the Miami VA once a week. By the time I was referred to the Miami VA for a CI, the surgeon was no longer there. It took months for my doctor to be accepted by the Triwest Community Care Program. Triwest is one of the regional partnerships tasked with administering the Department of Veterans Affairs Community Care programs to provide improved access to health care to veterans. All medical providers must be accepted into the Community Care Program to provide VA care and be reimbursed via the VA.

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Ms. Pittman’s experience shows that while the VA Community Care program does work in providing excellent CI services to those who cannot receive them from their local VA, there are still issues that need to be addressed such as ensuring the timely acceptance of providers into the program.  


 


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.

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. 

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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.


*Our Veteran members have access to a forum for asking questions and discussing issues relative to their experience. Contact Nichole Westin at nwestin@acialliance.org  for more information. 

The mission of the American Cochlear Implant (ACI) Alliance is to advance access to the gift of hearing provided by cochlear implantation through research, advocacy and awareness.