Advocating for Active Duty Service Members and Veterans
The ability to hear and communicate is important for us as human beings, but particularly for service members. If you can’t hear, and you’re not effective in the field. You put yourself and members of your team in a lot of danger. The service members need to have effective hearing — normal hearing — to understand on the battlefield, and also understand in normal everyday situations. Military operations by their very nature are very noisy endeavors. Noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common occupational injuries in the military. So we know that for many years to come, we’re going to be dealing with the effects of that. There was a growing conversation among DOD audiologists, researchers, otologists, that all of these different interests needed to be brought together to tackle the problem, kind of, head on. Congress saw a problem that was unsustainable and they felt that going to the source would be the best way to attack this problem, which is at the service level, at the military DOD level.
The HCE has different directorates, or arms, that are focused on specific areas that we feel are very important for our service members. Each directorate has a different level of responsibility within the HCE.
The Informatics Directorate is responsible for the registry build. The joint hearing loss and the auditory-system injury registry is our primary congressional mandate. That was the first directive out of the box. The mission of the Hearing Center of Excellence was to build a registry so that we could insure a continuum of care for our service members. It’s clinically relevant. So any time an individual comes into a clinic we’re able to look at their exposure data, their hearing trends over time, and to customize care for that individual. The other purpose the registry serves is to provide this sort of data, when we talk about big data as researchers, to go back and look at, population wide, what’s going on with an injury.
The Clinical Directorate does a lot of work with development of clinical practice guidelines and fielding technologies that allow clinical records to be merged in one spot. A focus on improving clinical care. Disseminating best practices, disseminating new knowledge products as they’re available, training providers. The Clinical Care and the Prevention Surveillance Directorates provide the improved hearing imbalance care for service members and veterans.
The HCE has a Prevention Directorate, which is focused on just that: prevention. A lot of their work is about the Comprehensive Hearing Health Program — implementing comprehensive hearing health across DOD and VA.If we can arrest hearing loss in its milder stages, then we can provide much more effective intervention and we can have an end outcome that results in much better quality of life for the patient.
We also have our Research Directorate, which looks at the gaps that persist in hearing loss. The Research Directorate is focused on not conducting research, but coordinating research across DOD and the VA, and bringing researchers together so that research is not done in a vacuum or in a way that is redundant to what other people are doing to increase that collaboration with research.
The Operations Directorate really is set up to support the primary pillars of the HCE, so their job is to make sure that the lights are on and the equipment is purchased and HR requirements are met.
The Directorates of the Hearing Center of Excellence all kind of function together. Without any one of them we’d be missing a piece of the puzzle. Everybody’s focused on the same goal, the same mission: to prevent hearing loss either through education, through research, through information management, or clinical care.
The Hearing Center of Excellence has really been a hub that has coalesced the programs under the respective services into one entity, and has become a conduit to really, sort of, hone and centralize the focus the hearing conservation mission, as well clinical care and services, research, and education … but then allowing each service to maintain the autonomy for their respective groups.
We have different perspectives that we bring to HCE and different ways of accomplishing our missions. And I think when we collaborate together it makes the military as a whole stronger. So much has changed in DOD because of the Hearing Center’s existence. You know, in the past we had a lot of good ideas in the services, but not necessarily the platform to implement those good ideas. So, the Hearing Center has been just that for us; we can come together as services and help collaborate on initiatives that allow us to do things in a standardized, unified way that then is implemented across the DOD that ultimately benefits the service members who we take care of.
We’re seeing results that benefit service members and benefit veterans. And things actually get done. We have a common objective, and that’s to prevent hearing loss and find better ways of treating it when it does occur. And I think that the collaboration that we see occurring today is right in there in the spirit of the same type of collaboration that we see occurring on the battlefield.