Hearing problems the most prevalent service-connected disability among veterans

in Contributors/Larry Dandridge/Military by

In last week’s Island News, we learned that it is VA Policy that all veterans enrolled in VA health care are eligible for medical services that include diagnostic audiology. Additionally, we learned that many veterans are also eligible to receive hearing aids from the VA. 

The first article also answered five questions about VA hearing care. This column will answer 14 more questions about the Ralph H. Johnson VA Health Care System (RHJVAHCS) audiology care. 

1. What special board certifications, state certifications, etc. does the Ralph H. Johnson VA Audiology clinic and employees have? 

Answer: All audiologists on staff have clinical doctorate degrees, are State Licensed professionals, and are either certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) or the American Academy of Audiology (AAA). 

2. Does the VA offer different styles of hearing aids? 

Answer: The RHJVAHCS offers all of the known styles including, Behind-the-Ear, Mini-Behind-the-Ear, In-the-Ear, In-the-Canal, and Completely-in-the-Canal. It also offers specialized medical devices like cochlear implants and bone conduction devices to patients with unique needs. 

3. What kinds of hearing aids are offered at the RHJVAHCS? 

Answer: All hearing aids are digitally programmable. 

4. Is it true that hearing problems, including tinnitus, which is a ringing, buzzing, or other type of noise that originates in the head — are by far the most prevalent service-connected disability among American Veterans? 

Answer: Tinnitus and Hearing Impairment are the No. 1 and No. 2 service-connected disabilities. 

5. Tinnitus is common in Veterans, is it still true that there are no objective tests to diagnose the problem? 

Answer: That is correct. 

6. Does the RHJVAHCS prescribe service dogs for some hearing loss patients? 

Answer: No, not currently. 

7. Veterans with tinnitus frequently have anxiety, depression, or both. Does the RHJVAHCS Hearing Clinic work together with the Mental Health and other departments to help the veteran with reducing anxiety and depression? 

Answer: All Audio Department employees undergo annual training in regards to Mental Health issues like anxiety and depression. In regards to patients with tinnitus; the clinics use Progressive Tinnitus Management – part of which may involve referrals to Mental Health; as needed. 

8. How does a veteran get emergency hearing care after normal business hours, weekends, nights, and holidays? 

Answer: The audiology department currently does not provide emergent care outside of normal business hours. Veterans may contact the RHJVAHCS by phone or secure messaging of their emergent needs. The Ralph Johnson VA has an excellent record in responding to patients who need help on a more urgent basis. 

9. How does a veteran determine eligibility for hearing care and hearing aids? 

Answer: Veterans may contact Health Administration Services or the Eligibility Department (843-789-7008) to find out what services they are eligible for. Each of the seven Ralph H. Johnson VA CBOCs (Beaufort, Goose Creek, Myrtle Beach, and N. Charleston, S.C. and the Hinesville and Savannah, Ga. Clinics) can also determine if a veteran is eligible for VA health care services. 

10. What is the average wait time for an appointment with the Hearing Clinic? 

Answer: Charleston – 2 weeks, Myrtle Beach – 7 weeks, and Savannah – 2 weeks. 

11. How often does the RHJVAHCS Hearing Clinic cancel an appointment? 

Answer: Audiology clinic appointments may be cancelled, as needed; usually due to service provider illness or emergency preparedness (i.e., hurricanes). 

12. Does the RHJVAHCS Hearing Clinic do regularly scheduled follow-up appointments or are all follow-ups scheduled by the Veteran – and how often? 

Answer: Follow up care is determined based on patient’s needs and are usually scheduled upon check-out after an appointment. 

13. Is it true that if a veteran with a hearing aid provided from a non-VA source sees a VA Hearing Doctor, the audiologist determines the effectiveness of the device in meeting the veteran’s rehabilitative needs and, if the device is sufficient for the veteran’s needs, no device will be prescribed, but the audiologist may register the hearing aids through the VA’s Remote Ordering Entry System (ROES) for free battery and repair services? 

Answer: This is correct; if the Veteran is in Priority Group 5 or higher. New hearing aids may be issued to that veteran in the future; as clinically indicated. Read about VA priority groups at https:// www.va.gov/health-care/eligibility/priority-groups/. 

14. How does a Veteran order new batteries for his VA provided hearing aid? 

Answer: A veteran may be eligible to order hearing aid batteries and accessories from the VA, if the veteran is enrolled in VA health care, and the veteran is registered as a patient at a VA medical center, and the veteran’s audiologist has prescribed hearing aids or other hearing assistance devices. A veteran can order batteries and accessories either by calling 303- 273-6200, or online through DS Logon, My HealtheVet, or ID.me, or by mail using VA Form 2346a. You can find the form and address to mail the request to online at https://www.va.gov/ vaforms/va/pdf/VA2346a. pdf. Read about ordering batteries and accessories at the VA website https:// www.va.gov/health-care/ order-hearing-aid-batteries-and-accessories/. 

The author of this article sincerely thanks Doctor David Chin, the Chief of the Audiology Department and Mr. William Brugge, the Assistant Public Affairs Officer, at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center for the information they provided to help with the publication of this article. 

Larry Dandridge is a retired Lt. Col. In the U.S. Army. He is a Vietnam War era wounded warrior, a combat and 100 percent disabled veteran, a former Infantryman, former Warrant Officer and pilot. Dandridge is also a past Veterans Service Officer, and a current volunteer Patient Adviser, CEO Advisory Council Member, and Patient and Family Advisory Committee Member at the RHJ VA Medical Center, as well as a published author and free-lance writer. He can be reached at LDandridge@earthlink.net.