One day about twenty-five years ago, I was the resident on duty in the ENT Clinic at the County Hospital. Toward the end of this one particular day, I picked up a chart and stepped into the exam room.
A nicely dressed, very pleasant older gentleman stood to greet me. He had a neatly trimmed pure white beard and a distinct accent that confirmed that he had lived for decades in one of Milwaukee’s ethnic neighborhoods. I introduced myself and skimmed through his record. The appointment was a follow-up visit after a hearing test.
He leaned forward. “You will have to schpeak up, Doctor! I’m 84 years old and I have great trouble hearing!”
I loudly reviewed the audiogram with him. Indeed, his years of working in one of the city’s large manufacturing plants and his advancing years had taken their toll on his hearing. He had a severe bilateral nerve deafness.
He nodded in understanding. “Vat can I do, Doctor? Can you give me a hearing aid?”
We reviewed the different types of hearing aids and how they would help. He was stunned to learn how much they would cost. He was living on a fixed pension and Medicare would not cover hearing aids. His face fell.
“Too much, Doctor! Too much!”
There might be a way, I thought. I looked at his birth date again and calculated that he would have been in his late teens about the time World War I ended. “Are you a veteran?”
I asked. “Oh, yes!”
he replied proudly. “Our unit walked and fought our way half-way across Europe. Oh, the stories I could tell you!”
His military service was, indeed, good news. While the VA insisted on documentation of a hearing loss sustained during active duty for later veterans, World War I vets automatically qualified for hearing aids. It was just a matter of completing the paperwork and he would be home free. “I’ll help you set up a hearing aid evaluation at the VA in town. It might take a while, but they will get you a pair of aids that should make a world of difference!”
I pulled out a pad to prepare instructions for him. It felt like a small victory.
He frowned. “Um, Doctor?”
he asked tentatively. “Yes, Mr. Schmidt?”
I continued to write the information he would need when he made his appointment at the VA. “Doctor?”
I looked up. “What is it?”
“This von’t work, Doctor. I am quite certain that they von’t give me the hearing aids.”
“Of course, they will, Mr. Schmidt! You served your country! All World War I vets are eligible.” “Thank you, Doctor, but I vas on the wrong side during the war.”
I put down my pen. Good point, I thought. Back to square one.