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What Was That Again?"

War veterans with a hearing loss comprise the largest number of those requiring medical assistance from the V.A.  I served as an Army Chaplain in Baghdad in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2003-2004 (the start of that conflict). At one point, my fellow officers began to notice a hearing loss that required of me a medevac flight from Iraq to be fitted for hearing aids at the military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany before returning back downrange to again support our troops there.  Since the war, the care offered me at the Sacramento V.A. has been commendable - that is, until the pandemic of COVID 19 made the wearing of masks essential for both patients and staff.

For those with a hearing loss, even with their hearing aids, the masks imposed a barrier to hearing and understanding.  It began at the entrance to the VA Clinic where the patient was first asked questions related to the possibility of exposure to the virus.  It continued in the reception area of the Audiology Dept. with office staff  trying to communicate to the patient through their own mask and behind a plexiglass barrier.  With six feet of taped off chairs in the small but previously adequate waiting area, there was room for only two or three veterans, with any others moved to an adjacent and noisier lobby area where one felt out of reach. At least it was in my case, as the audiologist that day, whom I'd not yet met, finally found me. Though she was presently right in front of me, I misunderstood what she was saying to me through her mask, and asked more than once for her to repeat -- anembarrassment I've not gotten used to.   Apparently, she'd been calling out

my name several times from the adjoining main waiting room but I'd never heard it with enough clarity through her mask and accompanying face shield.

Things improved somewhat for another hearing assessment scheduled for that day, but I again had to wonder how many others with a hearing loss - veterans and non-veterans alike were struggling similarly through the pandemic with the multitude of ills associated with it.