An active member of HLAA’s Veterans Across America Virtual Chapter (VAAVC) since 2021, Vietnam vet Steven Sterry and his then-new hearing service dog, Zochi, were profiled in Hearing Life magazine’s Fall 2022 issue. In honor of Veterans Day, we asked him for an update on his many activities supporting veterans, both with and without hearing loss.
A Long Career Serving Veterans
Rev. Steven Sterry, 80, developed hearing loss and chronic tinnitus through exposure to repeated naval gunfire from the U.S.S. Galveston (CLG-3), while stationed on this guided missile cruiser over a nine-month period during the Vietnam War. Subsequently, he worked for 20 years assisting veterans with employment related issues as a Veterans Employment Representative with the State of California Employment Development Department (EDD). There, he helped military veterans find work and deal with physical and psychological issues that prevented them from keeping long-term jobs.
After retiring, Steven pursued his calling to the ministry and was eventually ordained first as a deacon, then as a priest in the Anglican Church of North America. Currently, in addition to his role as associate pastor of a local Anglican church, the Whittier, California resident serves as director of ministry and education for the United States Conference of Chaplains, is an affiliate member of Cru Military Ministry and serves as an ombudsman and military outreach member for the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a voluntary military support agency under the U.S. Department of Defense.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, he was also community sponsor to three Veterans in Prison (VIP) groups at the California Institution for Men, in Chino and one at the California Institution for Women in Corona, which are open to all inmates who have served in the military.
Currently, Steven is involved with a U.S. Department of Defense project, under a contract to General Dynamics Corporation, which he learned about through HLAA’s Veterans Across America Virtual Chapter (VAAVC). He participates as a panel member in peer reviews of medical study proposals related to hearing restoration or prevention of noise-induced hearing injuries.
Discovering HLAA and the Veterans Chapter
In 2015, Steven and his second wife, Jeannie, attended his 55th high school reunion in Belmont, CA, with both their service dogs in tow: Montera, his first hearing dog—a Labrador/Golden Retriever mix from Canine Companions (CCI), and Daisy, a Chihuahua/Terrier mix trained to alert his wife to the onset of migraine headaches. In a conversation about their service dogs, a classmate (Raegene Castle) shared information about HLAA. While attending online meetings of the HLAA Peninsula Chapter in San Francisco during the pandemic, Steven learned about, joined and became actively involved in the VAAVC in 2021.
“My ministry is supporting military veterans, and the HLAA Virtual Veterans Chapter gives me the opportunity to hear about other issues with which I can help them,” he says. “I believe there are many veterans with hearing loss who would benefit from membership in HLAA and the VAAVC. Although the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides first-rate equipment, it provides very little focused morale or emotional support to veterans with hearing disabilities. The HLAA Virtual Veterans Chapter has the potential to reach all those veterans with hearing loss who need us.”
Recently, Steven has joined with other VAAVC members to advocate for the VA to provide assistive technology like live captioning for online telemedicine services and activation of telecoils in VA-provided hearing aids, so that recipients may take advantage of hearing loops in public settings.
Hearing Dogs for Veterans
Steven received Zochi, his second hearing assistance dog, from CCI in June 2022, and is an enthusiastic proponent of the organization. As a team, they are often invited to attend local military fundraisers, including an annual veterans’ charity golf tournament each November.
Steven encourages other veterans, both with and without hearing loss, to consider getting a service dog, and often helps them apply for the Service Dog Veterinary Health Insurance Benefit (VHIB), a special VA program that provides veterans with veterinary care and medications for their service dogs.
“It’s important to know that eligibility for this program is restricted to service dogs that have been trained and gifted by a nonprofit member organization of Assistance Dogs International, like Canine Companions. A medical doctor must recommend the veteran and their dog and demonstrate that there is no more suitable assistive technology available to them through the VA. Because benefits are not retroactive, they need to apply for the program as soon as they get their service dog.”
HLAA Salutes and Supports Our Veterans
The mission of the HLAA Veterans Across America Virtual Chapter is to provide education, be an advocate for veterans with hearing loss and provide a support system to help them to return and adjust to civilian life.
Hearing loss and tinnitus are the most common military service-connected disabilities, affecting an estimated 3.6 million American veterans. If you are a veteran with hearing loss, or serve as a caregiver, you are invited to attend the online VAAVC meetings, every third Tuesday of the month. Visit our website for more information and join the online discussion forum.
Any veteran who would like to attend the annual HLAA Convention for the first time will have their registration fee waived—please reach out to email@example.com.
By Teri Breier, communications specialist, Hearing Loss Association of America
For questions, contact HLAA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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