Veterans Need and Deserve Quicker Access to Hearing-Aid Services | Letter to the Editor

This letter is in response to the commentary piece, “Don’t Cut Corners on Veterans’ Hearing Care” (Roll Call, Sept. 16), by Neil DiSarno.

AMVETS, as one of the most prominent veterans’ organizations supporting the Veterans Hearing Aid Access & Assistance Act (HR 353, S 564), wants to bring some clarity to this issue. This legislation does not seek to infringe on the scope of practice of audiologists or other medical professionals. Rather, the hearing aid specialist, working as part of a hearing health team and under the supervision of audiologists, would, as Veterans Affairs providers, perform the following types of hearing aid services:

Fit, adjust and service hearing aids.

Counsel patients on amplification expectations and limitations; battery life; insertion/removal techniques; telephone usage with hearing instruments and assistive listening device coupling as necessary.

Perform proper ear impression procedures.

Educate patients on the care and use of hearing instruments.

This type of division of responsibilities is accepted practice within the health care industry. For example: When you have a medical appointment or are admitted to the hospital, you will be attended by a team of progressively more skilled practitioners. If you need an injection or a blood draw, these types of procedures are rarely performed by a physician. Similarly, when you go to the dentist, the dental assistant has certain responsibilities, the hygienist has more specialized duties and the dentist has the highest of level responsibilities.

By adding the highly technical, rather than clinical, assistance of hearing aid specialists, doctors and audiologists are free to deal with the actual medical care and most complex cases, rather than performing routine, less skilled activities. This allows more veterans to have quicker access to more highly skilled medical professionals, while simultaneously saving both the VA and tax payers money.

Because so many veterans returning from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have sustained sensory injuries including hearing loss and tinnitus, the treatment of which often requires the use of hearing aids or other prosthetics, the VA has been unable meet the needs of veterans in a timely manner.

Keep in mind that many of these hearing impaired young vets will have a lifetime of hearing aid use ahead of them. If you add in the large numbers of aging veterans also in need of hearing health services, you begin to understand the value of, and need for, the hearing aid specialist.

For whatever reason, hearing health in this country is often overlooked by the insurance industry and while health, dental and vision insurance are readily available, coverage for hearing problems is harder to find and even harder to afford.

The fact that auditory deficiencies are invisible, makes acknowledgement of their validity that much harder.

This much needed legislation acknowledges and validates the needs of the ever-growing cohort of hearing impaired veterans who will need to have lifelong access to hearing aid providers who can keeps their prosthetics fine-tuned and working to their best ability. Because not every hearing related problem needs the highly specialized care of an audiologist or an otolaryngologist, this bill should fill a void in the VA health care system while simultaneously improving hearing health care access, service and outcomes for veterans, as well as:

Reducing treatment and follow up costs.

Shortening appointment wait times.

Strengthening the VA’s hearing health care team.

Shortening veteran travel time by providing access in rural and urban settings.

Mr. DiSarno’s status as either a veteran or as a hearing impaired individual is not specified in his piece. But in addition to being the AMVETS national legislative director, I am both and am grateful this legislation is being considered.

Diane M. Zumatto is the national legislative director of AMVETS.

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