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.