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AAA joins the opposition to expanding HA specialists’ role in serving veterans

By David H. Kirkwood

RESTON, VA—As was reported here on January 1, the Association of VA Audiologists (AVAA) issued a statement on December 16, 2013, opposing proposed federal legislation that would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to make greater use of hearing aid specialists in serving the needs of veterans with hearing loss and related conditions.

On January 2, the International Hearing Society (IHS) posted a comment responding to the AVAA statement in which it argued for the bill, H.R. 3508, that was introduced in the House of Representatives in November.

Today, January 3, it came to my attention that the American Academy of Audiology also issued a statement in mid-December opposing H.R. 3508. AAA wrote, “It is the academy’s position that any obstacles to hearing health care that VA beneficiaries might experience would not be adequately solved by expanding the list of eligible providers to include hearing instrument specialists.”

As in AVAA’s statement, AAA’s position paper cited the more extensive education and training that audiologists receive compared with specialists and also pointed to the complex conditions that many of the veterans seen by VA audiologists have. In views of these considerations, AAA contended, “services provided to these patients under the proposed legislation would represent a compromise in quality of hearing healthcare services rendered.”

In the statement, AAA’s president, Bettie Borton, AuD, said, “We see no evidence that the current model within the Department of Veterans Affairs is broken. We have no shortage of audiologists seeking employment within the VA and would encourage additional positions be made available for qualified audiologists to mitigate any access issues that our veterans might experience.”

IHS sees the situation very differently from AAA and its president. That organization, made up primarily of hearing aid specialists, says that H.R. 3508 is needed because, “Despite the VA’s best efforts, the number of veterans in need of adequate hearing healthcare services is quickly surpassing the VA’s ability to adequately respond.” In fact, it was the IHS Fit to Serve initiative that inspired the introduction of H.R. 3508.

In addition to its statement, AAA also sent an “Action Alert” to its members urging them, “Write to your member of Congress today and ask them to oppose H.R. 3508.”