Veterans of all ages were able to have their vision, hearing, balance and speech-language abilities screened at the first Veterans Readiness Initiative (VRI) event this year. The screenings were provided on November 20 during the Veteran’s Expo at Montgomery County Community College.

Launched in 2015, the VRI provides multisensory screenings to veterans at local community colleges with the goal of identifying and removing any potential barriers to reintegration and educational success. While the focus of the program is for student veterans, the screenings are open to veterans of any age.

“The VRI is a way for Salus to address sensory barriers to reintegration,” said Dr. Karen Hanson, the University’s special consultant for Program Development. “A lot of veterans enroll in school after being discharged. Academic success requires that you’re able to use your senses for a long period of time and sometimes coming out of the military, those sensory abilities are impaired.”

In previous years, the program only featured optometry and audiology screenings however this year, a speech-language component was added. The veteran population can be susceptible to traumatic brain injuries, which often lead to cognitive-communication impairments.

 “Things like attention, memory and executive function - all of those things can be impaired in an individual who has a mild traumatic brain injury,“ said Kathleen Youse, PhD, chair of the University's Speech-Language Pathology Department. “With the Veterans Readiness Initiative, during our part of the screening, we look at those abilities and look to see if anyone has any deficits.”
 
Speech-language pathology students were split into teams with the University'saudiology and optometry students to conduct the multisensory screenings, which also served as a clinical practice. The speech-language portion included a 10 minute screener that assessed each veteran’s short term memory recall, attention, concentration and language abilities.

“I’ve never had a screening like this done before. I think that veterans need to know that these services are out here and many of them are free. It’s important for veterans to know what’s available,” said veteran Rusty Kistner of Montgomery County.
 
Following the screenings, Dr. Youse, 
along with Lynn Greenspan, OD, PhD, assistant professor, and Bre Myers, Aud, PhD, assistant professor, reviewed the results and directed the veterans to a team of Veterans Administration staff members who were ready to make the appropriate follow up appointment.

In all, more than 60 veterans and their families attended the event and 10 were able to receive screenings. Many of the veterans expressed their appreciation to the students and staff for the care that they received.

“This was a good experience and it was right on time,” said veteran D’juan Burton, of Washington, D.C. “As a veteran myself and as someone who works to support other veterans, these events are really necessary.”