First things first: As always there are many staff and doctors at the VA who are dedicated to their patients. Those I encounter are certainly dedicated to serving my health care needs. We veterans can be a hard group to communicate with sometimes, but dealing with the VA at the personal level can be a daunting experience. There have been many problems with the VA in Wyoming and nationwide that we all hear about. Veterans and the VA all hope the best service possible can be provided for veterans.

Having said those things, I have had a good year with the VA. Hearing is a big deal for me and the focus this last year was hearing. The VA provided me for the first time with top of the line, new and improved hearing aids through the Choice Program. Under Choice I went to a private sector audiologist who obtained the hearing aids from the VA and set them up for me, as the VA didn’t have enough staff at the time to get the work done in a timely fashion. I called and set up a follow up appointment at the Casper Clinic. I didn’t have to go to Sheridan for any of this, which has been the case in the past. The nurse at the clinic and the specialist from Colorado twice made adjustments via video and online that helped me hear much better. I can hear better as I adjust to the adjustments. I hope other veterans had a positive experience this year.

The last three years have been good for me at the VA. No major problems. I have had the same doctor for three years in a row. Since she was there this year I took Libby to meet her. I do take Libby to a good percentage of my doctor appointments. We both listen and compare notes after to see if we heard the same thing. Our private primary care physician, Jason Lloyd, takes the mystery out of it. He writes everything down, types it up and has you read it before you get a copy of the final. My VA doctor listens to me. I always have a list of four or five questions and she listens and answers my questions. After three years she knows me better and my annual physical is easier.

I have what I call artillery-induced mild hearing loss. The impact of an eight inch gun (sometimes four guns) being fired sends not only a sonic boom sound but also a physical shock wave through your body. What the audiologists refer to as mild hearing loss isn’t mild to me if I can’t hear Libby’s voice when she sits next to me.

My hearing issues remind me of the Vets from Casper and around the northern part of the state who have to go to the Sheridan VA hospital for glasses and hearing aids and other more major services. That is tough on everybody. The Disabled American Veterans provide van service to take vets to Sheridan and other VA hospitals. But the long treks for service don’t make health care any easier.

I drove the DAV van to Sheridan for three years. Lot of the vets were quiet and not communicative on the trips to Sheridan. But on the way back on the trip when they got hearing aids lots of them talked the whole way back; they were joyous to be able to hear. I tell other vets about my hearing aids and suggest the hassle of dealing with the VA can be worth it. I have seen that when someone stops wearing their hearing aids they become isolated, their world gets smaller and their health declines. This happens even faster for those who are so vain they don’t ever get hearing aids. Vanity is a big reason why many people don’t get hearing aids. If you can’t hear your spouse/partner/caregiver get over your vanity and go to the VA for help.

Getting old and dealing with the VA is not for sissies. If you are the spouse of a veteran who deals with the VA and needs assistance with that, or a caregiver/partner/child/friend, take an active role in their health care. Be an advocate for them. This is your way of thanking them for their service in addition to saying “Thank you for your service.” I got out of the Army in 1974. This was a time when you kept quiet about being a veteran. Thirty six years later, in 2010, a nurse at the Casper VA Clinic said “Thank you for your service.” That was a first. It is okay to say “Thank you for your service” now. Now when people find out I am a veteran they often say thanks. It almost always startles me a little but I appreciate that and tell them. Veterans Day is a good time to think back and evaluate if we have done a better job in the last year of caring for our veterans.