When Meredith Willcox learned some Veterans had issues with comprehension because of COVID-19 masking policies, she did something about it.

Willcox, of Kirksville, Missouri, is the 95-year-old grandmother of a health provider at Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital. She used the internet and her sewing skills to make specialized masks to help Veterans with significant hearing loss.

“Hearing aids are wonderful tools,” said Laura Jacobs, an audiologist at Truman VA and Willcox’s granddaughter. “We use them to treat hearing loss in our Veteran patient population.

“The VA offers our Veterans state-of-the-art hearing devices that utilize Bluetooth technology. Our devices are the best of the best in hearing aids. However, even with extremely high-quality aids, some of our Veterans have such significant hearing loss that this technology isn’t enough for them to comprehend speech.”

Reading lips impossible with standard mask

Jacobs said that in extreme cases, some Veterans must rely on a combination of hearing aids and visually reading a speaker’s lips to understand conversations. This is extremely important during clinic visits with their providers. However, because clinicians must wear a mask, reading lips has been impossible ― that is, until now.

Meredith Willcox, a 95-year-old grandmother from Kirksville, Missouri, displays some of the specialty hand-sewn masks she donated to Truman VA’s Audiology team.

“After mentioning this issue to my grandmother, she went online and learned how to make masks that incorporate a clear mouth covering,” Jacobs said. “So far, she has made 40 specialized face masks for our clinic. I’ve always known that she was an amazing person. However, for her to take the ball and run with it as she’s done with these masks. Well, let’s just say I’m extremely proud of her!”

In the photo above, Jacobs wears one of her grandmother’s handmade masks while caring for a Veteran with profound hearing loss.

Generous support

Heather Black, LPN, Truman VA’s own Betsy Ross, displays just a few of the 623 masks she’s sewn for Truman VA Veterans, visitors and staff.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Truman VA has received an outpouring of support from the mid-Missouri community.

“I can’t put into words what it means to have this level of support,” said Patricia Hall, medical center director of Truman VA. “So many have come forward at a time of extreme uncertainty. I believe without a doubt that their generosity and support helped our team get through these dark times.”

“We truly appreciate everyone’s generosity,” said Ron Graves, Chief of Voluntary Services at Truman VA. “I especially want to thank Veterans United Home Loans. They provided daily meals for our front line staff for almost three straight months. They also made sure to use area businesses to help stimulate our local economy. I thought that was an amazing gesture.”

“There are too many individuals to name who have made reusable cloth face masks for our Veterans, visitors and staff,” Graves said. “But just to show you the level of support we’ve received in this area, Quilts of Valor, Central Missouri Mask Makers and Hanes Brands, Inc., together provided us with more than 3,000 donated cloth masks.”

Nurse sewed over 600 masks…on her breaks!

Graves said Truman VA staff also should be recognized. Housekeepers, warehouse employees, frontline staff and other support personnel ― all have been important in the fight against COVID-19. However, he acknowledged one individual for going above and beyond in support of her colleagues and the Veterans that receive care at Truman VA.

“Heather Black, a nurse in Specialty Care Clinic, donated 623 hand-sewn masks,” Graves said. “She works full time on-site. She brought her sewing machine to work and makes masks before and after her shifts. Also, during her breaks. How can you not be awed by such dedication?”

“For those individuals who have made masks for us, provided meals or in any other way supported us throughout this global pandemic, we truly appreciate your efforts,” Hall said. “Each one of you has made such a positive impact on our team, and we thank you!”

Jeff Hoelscher is a public affairs officer at Truman VA in Columbia, Missouri.

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Published on Jul. 6, 2020

Estimated reading time is 3.6 min.

Views to date: 408


  1. Denise July 9, 2020 at 12:07 pm

    God Bless! Grandmother, may God continue to bless you; I had not thought of those who might need to read others lips!

  2. DAVID YODER July 9, 2020 at 6:41 am

    Dave Yoder, living in Oxford N.C. (50 miles NE of Durham VA center), 100% hearing disability and a mask user. How can I gain access to these new masks?

    • Connie Whalen July 13, 2020 at 11:14 am

      I would like to buy two of these masks for my deaf daughter and her partner.

  3. Diann Norton July 8, 2020 at 10:02 pm

    This nurse deserves a special recognition, as this is above and beyond the call of duty! It’s not cheap either, providing materials, as well as time to do this. May God Bless her and her family!

  4. José Rivera Barris July 8, 2020 at 9:19 pm

    I live in Puerto Rico, in a small town called Naguabo. I am a low vision and hearing impaired veteran with 72 yrs. old. I read your article and I am highly interested in obtaining the mask. I received treatment at the Blind Rehabilitation Center, VA Caribbean and the President, Blinded Veterans Association, Puerto Rico & US Virgin Islands Region. Are they available for us? Our members are blind, low vision and some are hearing impaired. Please, consider us
    Mam, let us know the cost and we are grateful for assisting and remembering us, since very few do.

  5. Ardyth Austin July 7, 2020 at 12:12 pm

    I live in Orlando, Fl. and have problems with comprehension when people are using masks, as I, too, am hearing impaired and read lips in order to fully get the messages from others. I am enrolled at the Orlando VA. Are these masks available here at the VA clinic, Lake Baldwin? I hope so, and who do I contact for this information?

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