Audiology is a top source of complaint from Minnesota VA patients.
That's according to a source inside the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, who has asked not to be identified. Some veterans with hearing aids complain to the VA patient advocate that they're forced to go without their devices for up to eight months when they're sent out for repair, according to my source.
That is completely unacceptable. For reasons beyond the obvious.
If you are a veteran in crisis, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. Or text 838255. You can also receive confidential support here, via online chat. There is also accessibility via teletypwriter (TTY) service for veterans who are deaf or hard of hearing.
You may already know that hearing aids amplify sound, can mask the effects of tinnitus, and improve balance. But you may not know that regular use of hearing aids help your brain function more efficiently. When you have hearing loss, your brain dedicates more energy and focus to processing sound. The areas of your brain responsible for concentration and decision making take over to help you hear. But hearing aids relieve that mental strain! When you no longer have to dedicate so much effort to auditory processing, your brain's neuroplasticity rewires its pathways, dedicating more energy to higher-level thinking and other mental functions.
If a veteran has to go eight months without their hearing aids, they lose these mental benefits. This long delay could be detrimental to a veteran working to heal their mental health after they serve. Neuroplasticity aside, hearing loss can impact the way you're perceived by others, especially if you "don't look old enough." Being mistaken for stupid or disrespectful could exacerbate any anxiety or depression a veteran is already facing.*
Hearing loss is just one of the countless sacrifices veterans have made for our freedom. They deserve the same quality of care as the people they defend.
It is normal for hearing aids to need repair every couple of years. It is not normal for a repair to take eight months. I say this as a civilian with twelve years' experience wearing hearing aids. I receive my hearing care from Associated Hearing Care, an independent clinic in my community. When my hearing aids need service beyond basic cleaning and maintenance, my audiologist ships them to the hearing aid manufacturer, where they are repaired and returned in about a week. This suggests to me that it may be an issue with VA bureaucracy, rather than the manufacturer. As a civilian, I don't even have to go a week without hearing aids. I get a loaner pair, programmed with my unique settings, to wear while I wait.
Why doesn't the VA provide loaner hearing aids? My source at the VA believes a loaner program would reduce the high volume of audiology complaints. This person also feels the VA should bring back a "kiosk" where veterans could get routine cleanings and hearing aid tune-ups. Why did the hearing aid kiosk go away?
It is normal for hearing aids to need repair every couple of years. It is not normal for a repair to take eight months.
Veterans of all ages deal with hearing loss, tinnitus, and balance issues at higher rates than those of us in other occupations (CDC). These issues are often caused by exposure to blasts and loud noise from weapons, armored vehicles, helicopters, fighter planes, and other military technology.
My source at the Minnesota VA says most of their policy directives come from Congress. This Veteran's Day, I want to call upon our elected officials to prioritize adequate hearing care for those who have served. There is no question veterans deserve better hearing care. Hearing loss is just one of the countless sacrifices veterans have made for our freedom. They deserve the same quality of care as the people they defend.
Here are three ways you can advocate for veteran hearing care:
1. Contact the House and Senate Committees on Veterans Affairs
These are the top decision makers!
Social media channels (see website header)
Mailing address and phone number (see website footer)
2. Contact Your Member of Congress
3. Contact Hearing Habits!
Do you have a personal story about hearing care through the VA? Login with Facebook or Google to comment below, post your story in the Hearing Habits Forum, or email founder Erica Jansen at email@example.com
I want to get loud about hearing care for veterans via the above Congressional channels, demanding efficient repairs, a hearing aid loaner program for veterans, VA access to hearing aid maintenance, and improved hearing loss prevention. But as merely a supportive civilian, I'll be a lot more persuasive if I can tell true stories from real veterans.
Please clearly state if you want your comments to remain anonymous, and whether you would like your name in the signature of Hearing Habits letter(s) to Congress. I will post the letter(s) for you to read here.
Thank you, U.S. Veterans,
for your service!
* Important reminder that Hearing Habits is not a medical website. It is a personal blog based on the limited knowledge of one hard of hearing media professional. Always contact a medical provider when making health care decisions.