Helping Their Fellow Service Members

These audiologists help their fellow service members get the help they need, when they need it

Former colleagues COL (Ret) Kathy Gates and COL (Ret) Vickie Tuten, who served as military audiologists in the U.S. Army, have dedicated their careers to providing hearing conservation and clinical services to service members, their families and veterans across the country.

They both served as Staff Officers and the Army Audiology Consultant when assigned to the Office of the Army Surgeon General. In these roles they both influenced policy change and made huge strides impacting Army Audiology. They both also served as Chair of the Department of Defense Hearing Conservation Readiness Working Group. Upon retirement from the Army, Dr. Gates and Dr. Tuten have continued to support military audiology working in the Prevention Branch, Department of Defense Hearing Center of Excellence.

We sat down with Dr. Gates and Dr. Tuten to talk through their time in the military, stand out moments in their careers and how holding and maintaining their ASHA-certification has impacted them.

ASHA: Has there been a particularly rewarding experience you’ve had with a patient while in the service?

Dr. Tuten: There’s no one patient that stands out, although I had wonderful experiences with a variety of patients over the years. I absolutely loved working with the military and veteran population. I really enjoyed my time at Brooke Army Medical Center, which was one of my more clinically-focused assignments because I did a lot of aural rehab with retired service members. I was working with the military’s Retiree At-Cost Hearing Aid Program, where retirees can pay for their hearing aids if they’re not service connected and don’t have access to the VA. For nearly two and a half years, I fit more hearing aids than most audiologists do over the course of five to six years.

ASHA: What was a defining moment of your career?

Dr. Gates: For me, it was when I had the opportunity to prepare the Surgeon General for a congressional hearing, and one of the topics was hearing loss. I got to speak openly with the Surgeon General and felt like I was the spokesperson, in a way, for every individual soldier in the foxhole. This conversation led to the opportunity to change the Hearing Conservation Program into the Army Hearing Program. That was a defining moment for me because I felt I had an impact on the individual soldier just by speaking up and advocating for them.

ASHA: How has having your ASHA-certification impacted your career? What have you enjoyed about it?

Dr. Gates: It’s allowed me to think outside the box about hearing health and how it is a population heath issue and not just an occupational health issue. Vickie and I wrote an article exploring this issue. In fact, it was published in the ASHA Leader and the article focused on moving toward a Total Worker Hearing Conservation program rather than limiting the program to solely noise-exposed workers. We both agree that hearing health should be a population-based program and services should be provided on a regular basis across the lifespan.

Dr. Tuten: I’ve enjoyed my affiliation with ASHA. I got my CCCs before I came into the military and I’ve been a Clinical Fellowship Year supervisor for about three individuals, as well. During the years when I was the Army audiology consultant, our externs would ask my opinion about choosing between doing their CCCs or another certification. I would leave the choice to them. However, I would share that their CCCs were more advantageous if they took on a teaching or mentoring role, which most of our military audiologists eventually do during their military career.

The other thing that I have really enjoyed and found fascinating about my career path, and I think Dr. Gates would agree, is how ASHA is working toward an audiology assistant certification. We both had the opportunity to mentor, teach, and groom audiology assistants and then work with them in varying capacities over the years. I found that to be extremely rewarding.