Has hearing loss become a day-to-day challenge for you? Do you struggle to maintain conversations because you can hardly hear what is being said? If you or a veteran you know is living with some form of hearing impairment such as tinnitus, you should know about the various benefits and hearing aids that the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can offer you regarding your service-connected disability.
Even if you haven’t noticed a major shift in your hearing abilities, there are subtle signs that indicate you may be experiencing hearing loss. If you find yourself struggling to make out who is speaking in a noisy room, you’re frequently asking others to speak more clearly, or you find yourself constantly turning up the radio or television, it might be time to speak to a doctor.
Hearing loss is certainly a challenge, but it doesn’t mean you have permanently sacrifice the lifestyle you love or keep you from communicating with your loved ones.
The bad news is that, depending on your condition, hearing aids may be the only option available to improve your hearing. The good news is that, regardless of the cause of your hearing impairment, the VA offers coverage for several top-level hearing aids for those with a service-connected disability.
Like with lots of health-care issues, hearing loss can be a scary and isolating experience, but it’s important to know that you aren’t alone. Although hearing loss can be caused by a wide range of factors, including old age and genetics, veterans facing hearing problems at an alarming rate.
The VA predicts that, from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom alone, 59,000 American military members suffered from hearing damage. Today, it’s predicted that over half of American veterans and service members are struggling with some level of hearing loss.
In fact, as continued exposure to loud noise is all too common in combat zones, hearing loss is the single most common injury sustained by our service members. The Veterans Health Initiative even claims that audiology—the medical field that has led to innovative solutions for hearing loss—was developed after World War II in direct response to the number of service members returning home with hearing loss.
The VA hearing aids program has existed since the 1950s, when over 70,000 veterans were struggling with hearing loss. If this is your experience, then you too may be able to access high-quality, life-changing care that can dramatically improve your hearing and get you communicating easily once again.
What devices and brands are covered?
Of course, quality is always a concern when it comes to medical care. Luckily, the VA works with several top-of-the-line companies to offer veterans the best possible support. In fact, the VA provides approximately 20% of the country’s hearing aids, and around 10% of the hearing aids worldwide. For this reason, they have significant purchasing power and can get top-of-the-line devices for incredible prices.
Fortunately, a veteran’s eligibility for hearing aids will not be based on the underlying reason for their hearing loss—whether it’s the result of natural aging, a preexisting condition, or a service-related injury. However, going through the VA system can, unfortunately, be a timely and burdensome process. For this reason, it’s a good idea to investigate VA coverage as soon as you’re aware that you may need hearing aids.
Device manufacturers and brands
The VA primarily covers devices produced by six major manufacturers: GN ReSound, Oticon, Phonak, Siemens, Starkey, and Widex. These manufacturers have reputations for providing the most innovative technology and some of their devices will sell for astonishing prices in the private sector.
There are several kinds of hearing aids available to veterans and service members, depending on your individual needs. Some devices, such as the Invisible in the Canal (IIC) and the Power Behind the Ear (BTE), are well-known for being small, powerful and designed to remain invisible and unseen.
Of course, hearing aids are far from a one-size-fits-all solution. Once you’ve confirmed your hearing loss with your doctor, you can discuss which hearing options work best for you. If you have very stringent preferences, such as certain colors, sizes or shapes, you should tell your doctor. With a huge selection—and lots of leading manufacturers at the VA’s disposal—you will almost certainly find a device that works for you.
If you’re experiencing hearing loss, the first step you should take is to find a Veterans Association administration location and begin the process of enrolling for the hearing aids program.
Once you’re enrolled, the next step will be to visit a doctor, who will run some tests and recommend a hearing aid device. Your doctor will help identify the cause of your hearing loss, as well as the extent of the damage.
Your audiologist (a doctor specializing in hearing) will consider your lifestyle, workplace needs,and preferences, as well as the amount of time you’ve been struggling with hearing loss.
Depending on your condition, you may receive more than just a recommendation for hearing aids. For some, other products may be necessary, including special remote controls, microphones, TV streamers, or Bluetooth cell phone headsets. You will also be provided with the batteries, domes, and other supplies needed for hearing aid maintenance.
The VA also offers a three-year product warranty, which can ease the financial burden otherwise caused by loss or damage.
Living with a hearing aid
Your doctor might also recommend several changes in lifestyle, from cutting down on time spent in noisy environments to suggested volume controls for television and music. Ultimately, your doctor will try to find a hearing aid option that works with your lifestyle so, in most cases, only minor behavioral changes will need to be made.
No matter the reason, hearing loss can create barriers in your life, from making dinner table conversations a challenge of leaving you unable to enjoy sports, live music, and other noisy events. With the help of the VA hearing aid program, hearing loss doesn’t need to be a challenge you face daily, and neither does the cost of hearing aids.