May 12, 2014

Udall, Bipartisan Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Improve Care for Veterans with Hearing Loss

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Tom Udall announced today that he has joined Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) to introduce a bill to improve health care for veterans with service-connected hearing disabilities. Congressmen Sean Duffy (R-WI) and Tim Walz (D-MN) introduced a similar bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bill seeks to improve access to hearing aid services for veterans by allowing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to hire hearing aid specialists, and requiring the VA to produce a report on timely access to hearing health services, staffing levels, and performance measures related to appointments.

Hearing loss and tinnitus - or ringing in the ears - are the most prevalent service-connected disabilities among veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. However, a recent VA audit indicated inappropriate staffing levels and delays in the delivery of services at VA clinics, causing many veterans to wait for long periods for their hearing health care needs to be met. Hearing loss is linked to chronic conditions such as depression, heightened stress, and fatigue, so proper treatment is essential for veterans as they reintegrate into civilian society.

"Our military service men and women make great sacrifices to protect our freedoms, and many return home with seen and unseen injuries, including hearing loss. Hearing loss doesn't get a lot of attention, but it can dramatically affect one's ability to interact with others at home and in the workplace," Udall said. "Fortunately, quality care can make a world of difference for a hearing-impaired veteran, and I urge Congress to pass this commonsense bill."

The VA currently relies on audiologists, many of whom are contracted, to treat hearing related disabilities. The bill would expand the pool of hearing health care providers to include hearing aid specialists, which would help to address staffing deficiencies and make the delivery of care more effective and efficient.

The bill is supported by veterans' advocacy groups, including AMVETS, Blinded Veterans Association, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and Vets First. Medical organizations also endorse the bill, including the National Medical Association and the International Hearing Society.

The "Fit To Serve" campaign, created by the International Hearing Society, is devoted to providing America's veterans with the proper hearing health care they deserve.

"Fit to Serve is very pleased to have Senator Udall join the fight for improved hearing healthcare for our nation's Veterans," said First Sergeant Matthew Eversmann, U.S. Army (Ret.), National Honorary Spokesperson for Fit to Serve, who suffered hearing loss as a result of combat as depicted in the book and film "Black Hawk Down." "His support of S. 2311 speaks volumes about his commitment to the men and women in uniform who have served our country."