WASHINGTON, DC—Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, introduced a bill on May 8 supporting the International Hearing Society’s Fit to Serve campaign, which would authorize the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to employ hearing aid specialists to meet the fast-growing needs of hearing-impaired vets.
Senate bill S. 2311, which was co-sponsored by three other Democrats– Mark Begich of Alaska, Tom Udall of New Mexico, and John Walsh of Montana–is a companion bill to H.R. 3508, which was introduced in the House of Representatives last November and was the subject of a committee hearing on March 27.
In introducing the measure, Tester said, “Every veteran deserves timely, high-quality health care–and that care must adapt to the changing nature of war. More veterans than ever are returning home with seen and unseen injuries, including hearing loss. The VA must make sure these heroes get the care they need so they can reintegrate into society and support their families and communities.”
First Sergeant Matthew Eversmann, U.S. Army (Ret.), national spokesperson for Fit to Serve, thanked Tester “for leading the U.S. Senate on this vital issue.” Eversmann, who suffered hearing loss as a result of combat in Somalia depicted in the book and film Black Hawk Down, said, “Improving access to hearing healthcare is critical to ensuring the quality of life and future success of the men and women who have served our country.”
He added, “We hope that all members of the U.S. Senate show their commitment for the men and women who have served our nation by supporting S. 2311.”
GOALS OF LEGISLATION
Passage of S. 2311 would authorize the VA to hire hearing aid specialists internally to perform hearing aid evaluations and hearing aid fitting and dispensing services. It would also require the VA to report annually to Congress on appointment wait times and network provider utilization rates, in order to raise awareness of the VA’s work to increase veterans’ access to local and timely hearing healthcare services.
An IHS media release announcing the introduction of S. 2311 said, “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. Veterans often face long wait times for appointments, significant travel distances to the nearest VA clinic, and limited follow-up care. Fit to Serve is working to lift existing restrictions in order to allow all qualified hearing aid specialists to, alongside the health care professionals of the VA, provide hearing aid services to Veterans.”
During the hearing on the House bill, Madhulka Agarwal, MD, deputy under secretary for health, policy and services at the VA, testified against the measure, saying it was unnecessary since the VA already has the authority to hire hearing aid specialists. IHS disputes that contention.
In an e-mail sent this week, IHS urged members to ask their representatives in Washington to co-sponsor S. 2311 and H.R. 3508 and to spread word of the Fit to Serve campaign to veterans.
Tester, who was elected to his second term in the Senate in 2012, was raised on a farm and he and his wife still raise crops on his family farm.