The International Hearing Society (IHS) announced that a bipartisan federal bill (HR 353) that aims to improve veterans’ hearing healthcare services was reintroduced this week in Washington, DC. This bill would enable the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to make hearing healthcare more readily available to veterans, in part by allowing them to hire hearing aid specialists to help address the increasing demand for hearing aid services. The bill was introduced by US Representatives Sean Duffy (R-WI), Timothy Walz (D-MN), and Raul Ruiz, MD (D-CA), and is strongly supported by the IHS and its “Fit To Serve” campaign.
Veterans represent a group that is particularly susceptible to hearing health issues, due to their exposure to loud noises and other sources of trauma to the ears during military service and training. According to the IHS announcement, hearing loss and tinnitus are two of the most prevalent service-related disabilities for veterans. Although the VA works to ensure adequate hearing healthcare for veterans, they continue to face challenges in accessing care. These challenges include long wait times for appointments, long distances to VA clinics for audiological care, and inadequate fitting or counseling services. As a result, many Veterans are seeking the help of independent hearing aid specialists for hearing tests, programming assistance, repairs, and counseling.
“Veterans in my district are driving up to 90 miles one way just to get hearing services from an audiologist at the Veterans Administration,” said Rep. Duffy, who helped introduce the HR 353 bill as one of his key priorities for 2015. “Veterans could receive the same service from a local hearing instrument specialist, but under current law, the VA is only allowed to use audiologists. This bill will change that. By adding hearing specialists to the approved list, it will give greater freedom, flexibility, and more options for the men and women who have served our grateful nation.”
The HR 353 veteran’s hearing healthcare bill is similar to those introduced in the 113th Congress, according to the IHS. It would enable the VA to hire licensed hearing aid specialists to participate on the audiologist-led VA hearing healthcare team, providing services comparable to what they are currently authorized to provide in the VA’s contract network. The VA hearing healthcare team would perform hearing aid evaluations, recommend hearing aids, and provide hearing aid fittings, adjustments, and repairs.
“Our Veterans have made the ultimate sacrifice and commitment to our great country, and we must do all we can to honor our commitment to them, including ensuring they have access to high-quality and convenient hearing healthcare,” said 1SG Matthew Eversmann, US Army (ret.) and National Spokesperson for the Fit to Serve campaign. “Hearing is essential to remaining productive in the workforce and leading a fulfilling and engaged life.”
The IHS says that the bill would also require the VA to report annually to Congress on wait times for hearing healthcare appointments, and the utilization rates of audiologists and hearing aid specialist both internally and within the fee-for-service network. It is hoped that this reporting requirement would encourage the VA to use all professional avenues available in order to address the backlog and improve care for veterans.
Legislation introduced in the previous congress gained the support of several prominent veteran services organizations, including American Veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Blinded Veterans of America, and VetsFirst, as well as the National Medical Association. The Senate bill, S. 2311, was also supported by the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.
“Hearing loss from veterans both young and old is becoming a growing problem and, because of an outdated law, the VA is struggling to keep up with demand,” said Representative Walz, the highest ranking enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress. “This forces veterans to travel long distances and endure even longer wait times. Our bipartisan, commonsense bill simply allows veterans to utilize hearing aid specialists to get the care they need, which will reduce the burden on VA audiologists and improve the quality of life for veterans in need of care.”
Source: The International Hearing Society (IHS)