Too big to fail? Like General Motors, Volkswagen — and the Veterans Affairs Department
Last week a I began a personal story about my search for new hearing aids to replace the obsolete 8-year-old ones the VA issued me years ago. The old ones were limited and couldn’t perform the functions of new “wireless” aids and their maker was out of business.
A friend told how she knew a man with hearing loss who could connect his cell phone directly to his aids at the jab of a finger.
I badgered the VA which had scheduled an updated hearing test months away and after Dr. Nanci Campbell had stepped in and performed the required hearing tests to confirm I was “still” suffering a hearing loss, the VA ordered new $6,000 wireless Oticon ones. (“Wireless” is used in the sense no wires had to be connected for the aids to perform). However, due to a shortage of VA technicians I would have to wait several weeks before receiving them, but they could make molds of my ear canals (which they tried to do twice, and I had to tell the tech I had already sat for the molds).
Frustrated, I went to Dr. Mark Weeks in Carson City to see if he would do the installation. After an hour of tests and demos he agreed to do the procedure with VA approval for a modest fee, but I had to clear it with the VA.
I went to Reno and made the request at the audio desk, but suddenly the VA could do the installation at once. Surprise!
The chief tech got my new aids which came in two parts, one small bulb plugging into the ear canal, and the control device tucked behind the ear. In 10 minutes I was instructed in how to put them on (difficult at first) and how to use the controls behind the ear, volume and program.
End of story?
No, I returned to the Reno VA four times over a month in an attempt to reduce the pain in the left ear from a too-large bulb. The tech examined the aid each time, did something with the computer and told me not to wear the bulb for two days. End of appointments.
The pain didn’t subside, so I turned to Dr. Weeks again, who reduced the aids’ size, but the pain remained. Meanwhile, he instructed me in all the wonderful features of the new hearing aids which the VA had ignored, including a device called the Streamer, a small rectangle that hangs from the neck. By pairing or linking it to my iPhone I could switch incoming calls directly to my hearing aids with the touch of a button. The sounds are much clearer and cuts out ambient noise. The VA hadn’t mentioned such a device, key to using the new Otican aids.
The Streamer also allowed me to control my aids’ volume. And listen to music via Bluetooth. It also could connect to building’s tele loops, which broadcast movie dialog to the hearing aids (The Galaxy movie theater had the tele loops installed when it opened but I haven’t tested the loops yet. Nobody seemed to know if they were functioning).
The Streamer also allows me to answer my landline phone with the touch of the phone button. One more handy aspect of the Streamer: I can bring TV sound directly to my hearing aids for clearer reception.
All of this Dr. Weeks explained and demonstrated for me (I had to buy a transmitter to hook up to the TV, $159).
Yes, the Steamer has to be charged nightly along with my iPhone. And I have had to advise my friends to use the iPhone number rather than the old land line one.
But the sound world I enjoy now has enriched my life. The left hearing aid still hurts but Dr. Weeks worked it down the bearable levels. And Dr. Weeks would accept no payment for the hours he spent with me (we agreed to a donation in his name to a charity).
So why did the VA not bother to help me get the most out of the $6,000 hearing aids? The acoustic department is always overwhelmed and my weekly visits always takes long hours of waiting. The staff is helpful and means well but is simply overwhelmed.
So is the VA, where before the hearing aids debacle had been a great help to me over the years, too big to fail, like General Motors and VW? To pay $6,000 for hearing aids and not bother to explain their advantages seems like too big to fail.
If you need replacement hearing aids and are not a veteran, Dr. Weeks can advise you how to get the wireless kind. Weeks knows hearing and helped me where the VA failed.