Bipartisan legislation offers help for veterans with hearing problems

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“I frequently see my father sitting and smiling at conversations. He will ask for a conversation to be repeated only once and then just nods. Frustrated that he is not able to participate in the conversation, often he will just go to bed. He is a great family man, and this is hard for all the family to watch.”

The daughter of Dilbert Neitzel, a World War II veteran, recalls her father’s daily reality — one that is all too familiar for many of our aging and younger veterans returning from the battlefield, and for their families.

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More veterans seek help from the Department of Veterans Affairs for hearing loss than any other disability facing them today. The demand for audiology services is growing at nearly 10 percent per year. But with limited resources, the VA is struggling to keep up.

Veterans across the country are being forced to wait weeks, even months, for an appointment. In Marshfield, Wis., Roger, a 70-year-old Vietnam War veteran, sought help from the VA for his hearing loss. He was informed he could not get an appointment for six months. Unfortunately, Roger couldn’t wait that long, so he went to his local hearing aid specialist and was seen that day. Roger was willing to pay out of pocket for his hearing aids, but that is not an option for many of our veterans — nor should it have to be.

Currently, the VA is only allowed to use audiologists to provide hearing services to veterans. While audiology doctors are a great resource for the VA and provide adequate service for veterans, there are not enough to keep up with the demand and needs of veterans like Roger. 

However, there is another option. Hearing aid specialists go through a one to two year apprenticeship training period, complete a comprehensive written exam, and are certified by the state to fit and sell hearing aids. They are more than qualified to support the specialized services of audiology doctors by fitting, adjusting, and making minor repairs to hearing aids.

Our bill, H.R. 3508, would give both our veterans and audiologists much needed relief while conserving resources at the VA. If the provisions of this bill are implemented, VA audiologists can turn their attention to specialized cases and complex conditions, and people like Roger won’t have to wait six months for simple appointments to get hearing aids.

A recent report from the Office of Inspector General supported these findings: Forty-two percent of veterans wait more than 30 days from the time the medical facility receives the hearing aids to the time they are mailed back to the veteran, and often the delay in repairs is blamed on staff vacancies and an increase in workload. Our bill would allow the VA to fill those vacancies with specialists certified for adjusting and repairing hearing aids.

H.R. 3508 has the support of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the International Hearing Society, VetsFirst, Blinded Veterans Association, and American Veterans.

As Americans, we can never repay our debt to veterans like Roger and Dilbert, but Congress can pass common-sense measures like H.R. 3508 to help make their lives, and the lives of those who care for them, a little easier. 

Duffy has represented Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District since 2011. He sits on the Budget and the Financial Services committees. Walz has represented Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District since 2007. He sits on the Agriculture; Transportation and Infrastructure; and Veterans’ Affairs committees. He is the highest-ranking enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress.