The US Department of Veterans Affairs is the agency responsible for providing health care benefits for veterans. This agency oversees the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) which has approximately 167 VA Medical Centers and more than 1,400 community-based outpatient clinics. The VHA Medical Centers (aka VA) provides Audiology and Hearing Services for veterans.
In 2014, President Obama signed the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act (aka Veterans’ Choice Act) which allowed veterans who lived more than 40 miles from a VA to seek services from a non-VA facility.
The Veterans Community Care program is the replacement of the Veterans Choice Act and was designed to streamline referrals, provide better customer service, and to provide better access for new urgent care benefits.
How do I receive assistance from the VA and what does it cover?
To receive services from the VA, an Application for Health Benefits (VA Form 10-10EZ) must be completed. The following information must be provided with the application: Social Security numbers, Military Discharge documents (DD-214), current insurance information (insurance cards), gross household income and deductible expenses for the past year. You can provide the VA this information three different ways: online, by phone, and through the US Mail.
The VA states that once they receive your application and supporting documents, you should receive a response within one week. All veterans receive most of the health care services provided, but only some veterans will receive specific benefits.
For Audiology & Hearing services (including hearing aids), the VA Audiologist will determine if the veteran is in need of hearing help and will provide services directly or authorize the veteran to receive these services from various Community Care providers.
Are you eligible for hearing aids from the VA?
Basic eligibility requirements for Audiology & Hearing services (hearing aids) include the following: a veteran who served in the active military, naval, or air service and was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable may qualify for VA health care benefits.
According to Military.com, the following groups of veterans are eligible for hearing aids:
- Those with any service-connected disability
- Former Prisoners of War
- Purple Heart recipients
- Those rated permanently housebound or in need of regular aid and attendance.
- Those with hearing impairment resulting from diseases or a medical condition for which they are getting VA care or disability
- Those who have hearing impairment severe enough that it interferes with their ability to participate actively in their own medical treatment or daily living.
If the VA Audiologist is not able to provide hearing services or hearing aid help within 30 days, the veteran will be referred to a Community Care provider
Once You Are Approved, What’s Next?
According to the VA, once the application for benefits is approved, the veteran will receive a “Welcome Call” and help with scheduling the first appointment with a VA primary care physician. The VA Benefits handbook and a VA card will also be sent.
At your VA doctor’s appointment, if it is reported that hearing loss is an issue, the doctor will refer to the VA Audiologist. Generally, if care cannot be provided by the VA within 30 days, the veteran will be referred to a Community Care provider.
The VA typically authorizes five visits with the Community Care provider for hearing services which includes the Audiologic Evaluation, Hearing Aid Fitting and three follow up visits. Once the Audiologic Evaluation is completed, the Community Care provider will provide the test results and recommendations to the local VA and to the Veterans Prosthetics Appliances Department which is located in Denver, CO. The Audiologists and staff in the Prosthetics department will determine if the veteran is eligible for hearing aids and if so, an authorization will be provided to the Community Care provider for hearing aids. The timeline once the hearing test is completed has been approximately one week to 2-3 months.
Are my hearing aid batteries and accessories free of charge?
Hearing aid batteries are provided to the veteran without charge. During the fitting process with a Community Care Audiologist, a supply card will be provided to the veteran listing the batteries, wax baskets and domes the veteran will order from the Denver Prosthetics Department. Many veterans are opting for Rechargeable hearing aids, so ordering traditional batteries will not be needed for those hearing aid users.
Accessories are also free for those veterans who qualify, as determined by the Denver Prosthetics Department. Unfortunately, due to the supply chain issues facing our country today, many hearing aid manufacturers do not have accessories to provide their users currently.
What if my hearing aids aren’t working correctly?
If a veteran has malfunctioning hearing aids and the warranty is in effect, the Denver Prosthetics Department encourages the veteran to contact them to order a shipping label and box so that the malfunctioning hearing aid(s) can be sent in. This seems to be the fastest process for most veterans.
If a veteran does not choose to send the hearing aid(s) directly to the Denver Prosthetics Department, an appointment with the local VA Audiologist can also be made to receive hearing care services including hearing aid repair.
The veteran can also choose to contact TriWest and ask for additional appointments with a local Community Care provider. Once the provider has received TriWest authorization, the veteran can make an appointment so the hearing aid(s) can be examined and the determination will be made if repairs by the manufacturer are required. The provider will have to submit a request to the Denver Prosthetics Department for repair and wait for the authorization before the hearing aid(s) can be mailed to the manufacturer. Admittedly, this process may take the longest.
Veterans and Tinnitus
Tinnitus is the number one disability among veterans. In fact, veterans may become service-connected separately for tinnitus even if previous Audiologic Evaluations do not reflect hearing loss. However, many veterans are service-connected for both hearing loss and tinnitus.
For veterans with hearing loss, the most common treatment approach is providing amplification devices such as hearing aids. Many manufacturers have separate tinnitus programs in an attempt to provide relief in the quiet environments where tinnitus is the most noticeable.
For veterans without hearing loss, tinnitus maskers may be recommended.
Tinnitus sufferers may also benefit from biofeedback approaches, dietary changes, antidepressants, acupuncture, and stress management. Chiropractors may also provide tinnitus relief with cervical spine maneuvers.