By David H. Kirkwood
WASHINGTON, DC–Twenty years ago, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Matthew Eversmann was under enemy fire in Mogadishu, Somalia, during a battle that inspired the 2001 movie Blackhawk Down.
Eversmann, who had just been given his first command, led his paratrooper unit, Ranger Chalk Four, to the assistance of a U.S. helicopter crew. Their chopper, Black Hawk Super-Six One, had been shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade and crashed in a section of Mogadishu controlled by the warlord Farrah Aidid. Aidid was bent on driving out the international force, including Americans, that had come to bring relief to the famine-stricken Somalians.
When Eversmann and his men reached the crash site, they put up a defensive perimeter around it and awaited evacuation of the two wounded helicopter crew members and the bodies of the two pilots who died in the incident. Before relief arrived, the trapped Americans had to endure a sustained assault on their position by the Somali militia.
Eversmann survived the Battle of Mogadishu, which took the lives of 19 American troops and over 1000 Somali fighters, and he was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor Device. However, his exposure to heavy weapons fire in Somalia and also in Iraq during a 15-month deployment there in 2006-2007 left him with permanent hearing loss, for which he wears hearing aids.
A NEW CAMPAIGN
Now, as a civilian living in Baltimore, Eversmann is taking on a new battle on behalf of the millions of U.S. veterans whose service to their country left them with damaged hearing. Last month, at the International Hearing Society’s Annual Convention in Washington, DC, he accepted the position of national spokesperson for the IHS Fit to Serve initiative.
As reported here last March, Fit to Serve is a grassroots campaign intended to improve hearing healthcare services for America’s veterans. IHS is asking that its members–hearing aid specialists as well as audiologists—be allowed to serve alongside Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) audiologists in helping the fast-growing number of veterans with hearing loss. Currently, hearing aid specialists are ineligible to treat VA patients.
In taking on his new role with Fit to Serve, Eversmann said, “I am pleased to join veterans and hearing advocates from across the country who believe, as I do, that men and women who served our nation have earned access to quality hearing healthcare services.” He added, “Despite the hearing loss I sustained as a result of combat operations, serving in the United States Army was a tremendous honor, and I am proud to now have the opportunity to advocate for those who have sacrificed so much for our country.”
Thomas Higgins, president of IHS and a U.S. Navy veteran, said, “IHS is honored to have Sergeant Eversmann join our campaign for improved hearing healthcare for our nation’s veterans. His remarkable service to America and the hearing loss he has experienced as a result of combat make him an ideal advocate for veterans everywhere.”
INTERVIEW WITH A HERO
Shortly after becoming national spokesperson for Fit to Serve, Eversmann agreed to be interviewed by Hearing News Watch (HNW). Following are edited excerpts from that conversation.
HNW: Do you believe that the VA needs additional help in caring for the hearing needs of American veterans? Eversmann: Absolutely. The VA is doing its best to serve the veterans given the resources available, and I get perturbed when people criticize them. But because of the sheer volume of soldiers who are coming home with hearing loss, there is no possible way they can keep up with the demand.
HNW: How would this IHS initiative improve the situation?
Eversmann: Fit to Serve would complement and augment the VA’s services. No one is trying to take business away from the VA, but there are many veterans with hearing loss who live far from the nearest VA center. Through Fit to Serve, hearing professionals could serve people who would find it difficult to get to a VA facility.
HNW: What is happening to veterans whom the VA isn’t reaching?
Eversmann: Having served 20 years in the army, I know soldiers who are not getting help for hearing loss. Many of them have other injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder that makes it harder for them to get help. As a result, many veterans are going through life with untreated hearing help. Their quality of life suffers, and often they drop out. One thing that Fit to Serve can do is to help them negotiate the bureaucracy so they can access the care they need.
HNW: Any final thoughts?
Eversmann: I am happy to represent the IHS Fit to Serve campaign. Our goal is to make it possible for all veterans with hearing loss to have an opportunity to get the care they need. That seems like a really great initiative to me.