Vietnam Army Veteran Donnie Acklin says he’s lived a great life, despite a few challenges. The oldest of seven children, Acklin was born on Thanksgiving Day in his grandmother’s house in the small Missouri town of West Plains.

Acklin was drafted and sent to Vietnam, where life was different.

Running convoys in the motorcade from Saigon to Cambodia was “quite something for somebody who’d never been anywhere before,” Acklin laughs. “It was eye opening. They shot back. Sure did make me love America.”

Working in motor pool took its toll

There were lasting physical effects, Acklin said. “I was a cook when I got drafted but when I got to Vietnam, they didn’t need cooks so I ended up in the motor pool.”

Acklin uses his phone to locate his hearing aids.

Repairing large vehicle motors took its toll. “None of us wore hearing protection.”

Hearing loss and tinnitus are among the most common service-connected disabilities among Veterans, and Acklin was no exception. He and his father (a Korean War Veteran) both experienced hearing loss associated with their time in the military.

They went to the John J. Pershing VA Medical Center in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, for help.

Made dad proud to be a Veteran

“We went to see Dr. Robert Noble, the lead audiologist. My dad was so comfortable with him and the staff at Poplar Bluff. They made him feel proud to be a Veteran,” Acklin said. “And it made me feel really good that they treated my dad like that. Dr. Noble wanted me to have a test too because he knew what was going on. And he was right. The private sector had given up on being able to help, but Dr. Noble took another step and figured it out.”

Pictured above, telehealth clinical technician Kimberly Melvin projects a picture of the inner ear on a monitor.

For the first time, hearing aids that worked

Acklin continued: “All of a sudden I was able to understand words in a song. I could carry on a conversation with somebody and understand what they were saying. Could pinpoint where sound was coming from better. I realized birds are high-pitched. I hadn’t heard them for years.

“There are four different settings on my hearing aids for different situations, like restaurant noise, for example. It’s made a real difference for my family, too. When you can’t hear someone, they just end up not talking to you.

“Being able to hear helps your marriage. When my wife and I are going somewhere and I have it set on ‘General,’ I can understand what she’s saying in the car now. It filters out the road noise.”

Saw over 1,000 patients with tele-audiology

Today, Acklin doesn’t have to drive two hours to Poplar Bluff to see his audiologist. The same services with Dr. Noble are now available through the cutting-edge tele-audiology clinic.

Wanda Jones, lead telehealth technician (right) and Kimberly Melvin, telehealth clinical technician, consult with Acklin and Dr. Noble during a telehealth appointment.

“We started tele-audiology for fitting hearing aids in 2016,” said Wanda Jones, lead telehealth technician at the outpatient clinic in West Plains. “In 2019, between fitting and hearing, we saw over 1,000 patients in tele-audiology that year.

“The Veterans love this clinic. They are so happy to be here. Some of them cry with joy because they can hear again.”

If a Veteran needs it, they are going to get it

Dr. Noble said the tele-audiology clinic offers all the services an in-person visit does.

“Any sort of diagnostic that involves hearing – check middle ear function, auditory nerve response, differentiate the types of hearing losses – any test that’s out there for hearing we can do through tele-audiology,” he said.

“With speech mapping – verifying the hearing aids – we get a much more accurate reading and the Veteran is happier with the result.  We don’t take a single shortcut. Everything that is best practice is what we do, which makes it good for everybody.

“If a Veteran needs it, they’re going to get it. And that can make their life a little bit better.”

Now a VA volunteer

Acklin is so pleased with his treatment at VA, he is now a volunteer for his local clinic. “VA made me feel welcome. They made me feel at home and special. I want to support VA. I know from personal experience how they treat the Veterans. It’s great.

“I make sure when Veterans come in here, they know they’re going to be cared for and get good care.”


Angela Smith is a public affairs officer for the John J. Pershing VA at Poplar Bluff, MO.

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8 Comments

  1. Daniel A DePinte February 11, 2021 at 3:54 pm

    Good article. I have lost a hearing aid while taking my Covid mask off. Unfortunately 2 years ago my hearing were discarded by a cleaning lady. So they got replaced. Now I have to wait another 2 years to get this last one replaced. I understand the policy and it makes sense in normal times. If it was not for the mask I would still have my hearing aid. I have offered to buy it but the VA says that’s not possible. Meanwhile I have to ask everyone to repeat. We all know what that means. It’s not fair for my family and friends that a conversation with me is somewhat difficult. I would appreciate your input. Thank you.

  2. Paul N. Rucci Jr. February 11, 2021 at 12:08 pm

    Who qualifies for this service?
    I am on a partial Disability for Asbestos exposure. I served in the Navy 4 years and my hearing is deteriorating causing me to look into Hearing aids.
    Thank you, Paul

  3. Terry Smith February 11, 2021 at 9:58 am

    Good article, except you left out telling us how to get the service. I could sure use some new hearing aids.

    • abe kreitman February 15, 2021 at 7:27 am

      How and who do I contact at the VA facility in Riviera Beach FL?

  4. John Richard Toliver February 10, 2021 at 8:05 pm

    Sounds great, but you have to qualify first. I was drafted in 1969, went through Basic and AIT at Fort Leonard Wood, MO as a Combat Engineer. I know exactly the day that my hearing was damaged, when we learned the throw grenades in Basic. The huge woompf of the grenade really blew my ear. However, I didn’t think anything about it at the time, just figured it was part of being in the military, so didn’t say anything. I was sent to Fort Campbell, KY in the 51st Combat Engineers Co. that supported the home base of the 101st Airborne Division. Never got orders for Viet Nam and completed my 2 years of service there. Still practiced etc. firing grenade launchers, M-16 etc. Now have hearing loss and tinnitus and am quite sure it was from training etc., but I didn’t qualify for the VA hearing aid program. Hence it cost me a whole bunch more money for my hearing aids.

  5. Carl D Kolin February 9, 2021 at 3:09 pm

    As a retired Navy vet, I’ve been getting my eye exams and glasses through both the Batavia, NY VA, and also the Orlando VA in Florida.
    My concern(s) are why does the VA feel it needs to contract with the cheapest suppliers of Eyewear?
    I’m also a 11 year VA retiree whose worked both in Buffalo, NY and Batavia, NY VA’s. This allowed me to know many things behind the scenes in the VA, especially how the VA and their procurement department works.
    I know first hand each department has a working budget, yet more often than not they are found to be buying inferior products, i.e. glasses and other essential medical items.
    As much as my experiences with the VA remain positive, the sub par quality of glasses has really brought attention enough to send this message and my dilemma in being able to see well!

  6. James a kennedy February 9, 2021 at 11:56 am

    That is great news, but it sure would be great if the VA Hospital Richmond, VA would open their clinic open so I could get my hearing aids fixed. The hearing clinic at the VA keeps canceling my appointment because of the virus . I can go to a civilian clinic and get all the help I need but not the VA. Government workers are right there with the teachers union, full pay stay at home

    • Mark Nash February 10, 2021 at 9:13 pm

      James, My name is Mark Nash, I am a retired Submarine Sailor. I was a Sonarman. I went to American Lake VA in Lakewood WA and they gave me hearing aids. after a year one on them quit working. When I inquired about getting it fixed, The gave me a mailing kit and I had to send them to Denver. About 3 maybe 4 weeks my hearing aids returned. The process was really simple. I wrote a little statement about what was wrong and filled out the little form. Put a shipping label on it and mailed it out with no shipping cost. When I got my hearing aids back they worked great. I hope this helps you in getting yours repaired.

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