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Veterans

Hearing Care Benefits Available From the Department of Veterans Affairs

We appreciate all of our active and retired military personnel and all that they do. With hearing loss and tinnitus being the two most common post-duty conditions, we want to share exactly how to obtain low-cost hearing aids and other services through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

You served us, let us help you.

U.S. military personnel are exposed to noise levels and blast environments that are highly unusual in civilian work settings. Gunfire, heavy machinery, aircraft, and sudden eruptions of sound are common. The individuals that serve Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Airforce, and Marines are more at risk of hearing impairment than the civilian population. We believe they should be taken care of.

“Does the VA cover hearing aids?”

Yes! Most people wait 7 to 10 years before they do something about their hearing loss. Part of this is because hearing loss takes time to realize you know you have. Another part of the reason why veterans may be hesitant in asking for help is due to the perception that hearing aids may make you look older or less attractive.

You are not alone! Over 48 million Americans have hearing loss. That’s 20% of the population, or 1 in 5 people. With a rapidly aging population, auditory disorders like tinnitus, hearing loss, and labyrinthitis are expected to grow (Source).

Brief History of the VA

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is one of the oldest U.S. government institutions. It dates all the way back to 1663 when the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony were at war with Pequot Native Americans. Early on it provided pensions, disability benefits, and life insurance.

The VA hearing aid program began in the late 1950’s, soon after veterans returning home from what was then called “shellshock” post-WWII. The modern-day VA office – which can be reached at www.va.gov – also provides these services: GI Bill, home loans, and employment help.

Getting hearing tests through the VA

Veterans, active duty service members, and U.S. military personnel can obtain hearing aids through the VA. Many veterans suffer some type of hearing loss but need to prove that the hearing loss was service-connected before the VA will screen your ears, and cover the expense of hearing aids.

Since hearing loss, tinnitus, and other audiological conditions can take years to manifest, you may be experiencing these effects after you become a civilian. If you see the symptoms much later, don’t assume you will be denied benefits due to your age, or the fact that time has elapsed. It’s never too late to claim VA benefits!

  • Take some time and think back.
  • Were you near gunfire, aircraft, or loud motors?
  • Did you handle guns, mortars, or other loud weapons?
  • Were you required to wear earmuffs or sound dampeners when doing your job?
  • Were you operating heavy machinery that ran at 75 decibels or above?
  • Did any incidents occur where extremely loud sound reached your ear?
  • Did you receive an injury to the head?

Proof of service-related hearing loss<

Many veterans are unable to acquire hearing aids when they cannot prove that their hearing loss was related to the nature of their work while in the military. You will need to show you were exposed to loud noise during your service tours.

In your report to the VA, you will need to answer some of these questions and/or have an advocate back you up. Having another person of rank that can vouch for you is huge - and helps your case moving forward – getting you care quicker.

Whether this person is a commanding officer, a senior colleague, or a peer who served, you need someone in your corner who can help you with the documentation.

You need a spokesperson - preferably one with as much reputation as possible. This chosen representative should speak to the conditions, stressors, and noise-levels at your place of work. 

At the end of the day, you have to show just-cause that the hearing issue happened on their time, not yours.

The 2016 Veterans Benefits Administration Annual Benefits Report finds that there were 4,356,443 veterans receiving compensation benefits. Can you guess what the 3 most prevalent service-related disabilities of for ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ and ‘Iraqi Freedom’ are?

The most prevalent disabilities of all compensation beneficiaries are:

  • Tinnitus - 1,610,911 recipients
  • Hearing Loss - 1,084,069 recipients
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – 887,899 recipients 

Helpful Departments of the VA

The simplest way to apply for VA health benefits is by completing and submitting VA Form 10-10EZ Application for Health Benefits online. If you have questions here are two ways to handle it:

Old School (offline)

  • Call 1-877-222-VETS (8387)
  • Call 1-800-829-4833, if you are hearing impaired
  • Visit a VA healthcare facility

New School (online)

Visit the Inquiry Routing & Information System (IRIS) website which provides:

Good things about going to the VA office for your hearing aid The VA offers first-dollar coverage to eligible service members. The VA pays much less for the same hearing aid technology your ENT, audiologist, or private practice usually gets. Since they can order in bulk and have such a consistent stream of candidates for hearing aids, they are able to negotiate the price down with the top 6 manufacturers of hearing aids in the world. One study found that the VA gets your average hearing aid from a manufacturer for $400 per device (so $800 for a set).

Most veterans can expect to live longer than those in previous generations, however, this population – comprising of active and retired military personnel – are also more vulnerable to age-related effects. One of them is hearing loss, which affects more than 40% of people older than 60 years, more than 60% of those older than 70 years, and nearly 80% of people older than 80 years (Source)

We can’t speak to the quality of these hearing aids. However, the general rule with hearing aids – as with most things in life for that matter, is that “higher quality” usually means “more expensive.” More expensive hearing aids have better, more natural sound quality, additional features, digital connectivity, and custom options – when compared to lower-cost hearing aids.

Research has shown that VA clinics yield the same quality of life satisfaction and hearing aid adoption rates as Private clinics. Another good thing about going to the VA office is that if you qualify, you can get your hearing aids for a significantly lower price.

Difficulty with VA-Provided Hearing Aids

Be sure that the audiologist employs multiple fittings in order to tailor your hearing aid to you, or else you may wind up with a generic hearing aid, or one that has not been set up properly. Be sure you are not being sold hearing amplifiers. Hearing amplifiers increase the decibel levels of all sounds around you. Hearing aids, which run more expensive and better hearing amplifiers are tailored to your unique audiogram.

Importance of Hearing Aids

Distorted or incomplete communication can lead to isolation, social withdrawal, and lower sensory input. Your ears don’t hear, your brain hears – and when you hear less your brain can even atrophy because there is less information coming in for you to process. A prolonged hearing loss has even led to Alzheimer’s and dementia, disorders commonly associated with loss of mental acuity.

 

Blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people. -Helen Keller.

In personal relationships, it leads to frustration, anger, and antagonism between partners.

It can have a negative overall impact on job effectiveness, earning potential, opportunities for promotion, and lifelong earning power (Source). Get your ears tested today!

To find out more about your specific type of hearing loss, you'll benefit from a visit to your local audiologist’s office. Call our welcoming and friendly call center and our hearing specialists will have a conversation with you and set you up for an appointment in your area. Call SayWhat Hearing at 1-866-978-7321.

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