WASHINGTON, DC—The Fit to Serve campaign, designed to allow and encourage the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to hire licensed hearing aid specialists to treat veterans with hearing loss, got a boost when U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) announced on May 8 that he would sponsor the Veterans Hearing Aid Access and Assistance Act (S. 564).
Schumer joined Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) in supporting S. 564, which was introduced in February and referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. The endorsement from Schumer was especially welcomed by Fit to Serve, since Schumer, the third leading Democrat in the Senate, is expected to be elected as his party’s leader in that chamber next year.
WOULD CUT “EXCRUCIATING WAIT TIMES”
In announcing his support for S.564, Schumer said that because there are not enough VA audiologists available to meet the growing demand for their services, the result has been “excruciating wait times for veterans looking to be fitted for hearing aids at their VA centers.”
Schumer, who was first elected to the Senate in 1998, stated, “It is inexcusable that the brave men and women in our armed services, many who lost some or all of their hearing while protecting the liberties we hold so dear, have to face such long wait times to get hearing aids when they return stateside.”
He added that passing this “common sense legislation would cut through the red tape at the VA and give our hearing-impaired veterans the resource they so rightfully deserve. We have a moral obligation to pass this bill with strong bipartisan support and show our veterans that our support for them will never waiver.”
“A TIMELY ISSUE”
Alissa Parady, director of government affairs for IHS, said, “We were thrilled to have Senator Schumer co-sponsor S. 564.” She noted that his support came about as a result of a constituent meeting with Schumer ‘s staff in March. Parady said, “His staff was very understanding of the challenges veterans are facing trying to access hearing healthcare through the VA. The issue continues to be very timely as hearing loss and tinnitus are the top two disabilities for which veterans are seeking care.”
There has been growing support from veterans groups for S. 564 and for H.R 353, the House of Representatives version of the measure, which was introduced in January.
The Fit to Serve campaign is also endorsed by the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS).
However, the legislative initiative also faces strong opposition, including from the major audiology organizations. Also, at a hearing of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health in March 2014, Madhulka Agarwal, MD, a VA deputy undersecretary, insisted that passing the house bill would serve no purpose since, she said, the VA can already make use of hearing aid specialists under existing law.
Advocates for Fit to Serve dispute that claim and are working to have a new hearing scheduled on the 2015 legislation.