Providing Veterans the Care they Need

Salus University Veterans Readiness InitiativeSalus University is making its mark in the local Veteran community with the development of the Veterans Readiness Initiative (VRI). Many Veterans suffer with sensory deficits as an outcome of their military service. VRI’s mission is to assist those Veterans who suffer with sensory barriers to reintegrate into civilian life, including enhancing the prospects of employability, as well as helping ensure success for those pursuing higher education. To meet this mission, sensory challenges of Veterans have been identified through screenings and an integrated multi-disciplinary treatment plan addressing the individual’s specific issues has been designed.

Karen J. Hanson, PhD, special consultant for program development at Salus, further explained the project’s inception. It was initially born out of a desire to assist Veterans with sensory deficits— such as blurred or double vision, hearing loss and/or tinnitus—secure training or education, very often at community colleges, to prepare themselves for employment.

“We were interested in helping them get ready for their next phase in life,” she said. “Academic success requires sensory endurance. We want to help our Veterans achieve the next level of readiness for civilian reintegration.”

Salus was the perfect place to initiate screenings and associated follow-up care because of the University’s strong retired military presence; commitment to integrated healthcare, research and clinical services; and emphasis on neurosensory and sensory motor systems within its programs.

As a shared effort between the University’s Osborne College of Audiology and Pennsylvania College of Optometry, the VRI’s three external partners are the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Community College of Philadelphia, and Montgomery County Community College.

Using a multisensory screening protocol, sessions at partner community colleges included a 22-question screening interview and evaluation of visual acuity and function, hearing, balance and tinnitus. A hallmark of the screening protocol is that an Optometry student is paired with an Audiology student, and this team accompanies each Veteran through the entire screening process. Since April 2015, 37 Optometry and Audiology students along with supervising faculty screened 56 Veterans identified at two sessions held annually at the partner community colleges.

Salus University Veterans ClinicScreening findings revealed significant sensory deficits in the Veterans. Approximately three-quarters of the Veterans screened failed one or more of the vision tests, over half failed the hearing test, and nearly two-thirds reported symptoms of ringing in the ears (tinnitus).

These screening results led to the University piloting an interdisciplinary treatment initiative, the Hearing Vision Balance Clinic (HVBC), located on the University’s Elkins Park campus.

When Veterans are referred for additional post-screening care, the multi-disciplinary expertise of the doctors at the HVBC is available to them. The HVBC’s model of care includes a three-person clinical team and a care coordinator incorporating optometry, audiology, and vestibular/balance rehabilitation therapy.

In October 2016, Steven Bachovin, a United States Air Force Veteran and coordinator of Military/Veterans Programming at the Community College of Philadelphia, was the HVBC’s first patient.

“All of the Salus staff and students have been outstanding in their professional
interactions,” he said. “My experience at the HVBC has been very positive and I hope to be able to be more productive in my professional life [as a result of the care I am receiving].”

His integrated vision and hearing care was managed jointly by Lynn Greenspan, OD, and Bre L. Myers, AuD ‘07. “The benefit to the patient is the integrated care aspect, with open lines of communication and immediate communication between practitioners,” said Dr. Myers. “What we’re hoping is that the team approach leads to a better outcome so that we’re not missing any problems that might be overlapping.”

The current HVBC pilot is scheduled through June 2017, with a commitment to see all referred patients who chose Salus as the location for their care. Dr. Hanson looks forward to the team evaluating, disseminating findings and ultimately improving the process for future patients of the HVBC.