Dr. Dennis, every now and then I see a veteran in the office. More often than not, I have no idea if they are eligible for VA benefits. Are all veterans eligible for VA hearing aid benefits? How do I know who is eligible? What is the protocol for a veteran to enter the VA hearing aid system? What type of instruments does the VA provide?
Are all veterans eligible for hearing aid benefits?
Not all veterans are eligible for hearing aids. Veterans who enroll for VA medical benefits are placed in one of seven eligibility categories based on service-related disabilities, income level, and other factors. All veterans with a service-connected disability for hearing loss or ear-related diseases (including tinnitus) are eligible for hearing aid services. The following veterans are also eligible: all veterans who are 10% or more disabled for any conditon or combination of conditions, former prisoners of war, veterans of World War I and the Mexican Border Period, veterans receiving special pension benefits, and veterans in several other special categories. Veterans who are not otherwise eligible in the above categories are entitled to a hearing aid only if (1) their hearing loss results from another medical condition for which the veteran is being treated at a VA facility or results from the treatment of such condition (e.g. ear surgery) or (2) their hearing loss is sufficiently severe that a hearing aid is necessary to permit active participation in their own medical care.
How do I know who is eligible?
Veterans with service-connected disabilities receive an award letter. Veterans who are 10% or more disabled recieve monthly monetary benefits. Non service-connected veterans are eligible based on medical necessity. These veterans must be enrolled for VA health care and must be receiving their medical care from the VA to be eligible for special services such as hearing aids. Veterans should contact their local VA facility for assistance in enrollment. Each VA facility has an eligibility office to assist veterans. Veterans can also contact their local service organization for assistance. Veterans may obtain literature on benefits from the local VA Regional Office or from the VA Homepage at www.va.gov.
What is the protocol for a veteran to enter the VA hearing aid system?
If a veteran has never used the VA before, he/she should take a copy of copy of his/her discharge papers (DD214) and a picture ID to the nearest VA facility. The enrollment process is similar to any hospital enrollment. If the patient is service-connected, he/she should bring the disability award letter. If you believe on the basis of the history that the hearing loss may be service-related (e.g. noise exposure in service), you should encourage the veteran to file a claim for disability through the nearest VA Regional Office. Establishing service-connected disbaility is a legal process requiring proof that the condition was caused or aggrevated by military service. Veterans are usually assigned to a Primary Care physician who oversees the patient's general health care needs. Most veterans are referred to Audiology, but some veterans (e.g. service-connected veterans) may obtain services directly from Audiology Clinics without medical referrals at some VA facilities. In those cases where eligibility is based on medical necessity, the audiologist determines if the patient will receive a hearing aid based on a needs assessment and local eligibility rules.
What types of instruments does the VA provide?
The VA issues over 160,000 hearing aids each year at cost of over $50 million. The VA purchases hearing aids on the commercial market according to negotiated contracts with hearing aid manufacturers. All types of hearing aids are available through contract or non-contract sources. ITE and BTE non-programmable and programmable analog hearing aids, special purpose hearing aids (CROS, BICROS), bone conduction, body, and eyeglass hearing aids are currently on contract. Digital hearing aids are not currently on contract but may be purchased for veterans when justified. Veterans are also entitled to spare hearing aids, a wide variety of assisitve listening devices, battery and repair services. Hearing aids and related services are free to veterans. For some veterans who have insurance, other than Medicare, the VA may bill the insurance carrier for some medical and audiological services. Some veterans may also be responsible for paying certain co-payments for pharmacy and medical services.
Dr. Dennis is Deputy Director of the National Audiology and Speech Pathology Service, Department of Veterans Affairs. The opinions stated herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policies of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The information contained herein is not intended to be a complete or official statement of VA eligibility rules. Veterans seeking VA benefits are encouraged to contact the nearest VA facility for assistance.